Last time I wrote about mindfulness and why I believe it’s an important life skill to teach our children. When practiced regularly it can increase self-esteem, improve focus and concentration and reduce anxiety and depression. What’s not to like? But what exactly is mindfulness and how do you do it?
Mindfulness vs Meditation
These two terms are often used interchangeably which can cause a lot of confusion but there are differences.
Mindfulness is an informal practice that can be done anywhere and at any time. It simply means bringing yourself into the present moment and focussing your full awareness on whatever you’re doing at the time. Full awareness means using all five senses (where possible) to fully immerse yourself in the experience instead of doing it on autopilot whilst lost in thought.
So if you’re out walking, look around you and notice what you can see. Notice what sounds you can hear, what smells there are. Feel your feet on the ground, your clothes touching your skin, perhaps a breeze through your hair. Can you taste anything? Allow your curiosity to come out.
Try it while you’re eating or doing the washing up, brushing your teeth or having a shower. Try listening mindfully when someone is talking to you. They’ll notice and will appreciate it.
When I remember to be mindful during a normally ‘mindless’ activity, I generally find that the experience is richer and more interesting and I feel calmer and more relaxed. Don’t forget to talk your kids through these exercises. They’ll love it and will likely find it easier than you do as they have a natural curiosity for the life.
Mindfulness meditation is a more formal practice that involves setting aside a period of time to practice inner awareness. It generally involves focussing your attention on something such as your breathing or a candle flame while allowing your thoughts to come and go. This is also a mindfulness practice but it is a mindfulness of what is happening internally rather than externally. When we practice mindfulness meditation it can give us a greater understanding of how our mind works – in essence we get to know ourselves better. It also helps us to develop self-compassion as we learn to notice our thoughts and feelings without judging them.
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My Favourite Mindfulness Tools
Smiling Mind was my introduction to mindfulness meditation and one of the things I love about it is that it’s completely free. It is an Australian app and is run on a not-for-profit basis.
There is a huge focus on mindfulness for kids and there are guided meditations for children of different ages, from 7 up to 18. The meditations are very well thought out and reflect the stage of life that your child is at – where they’re at socially, emotionally and physically.
There is also a program for adults that takes you through the basics of mindfulness – teaching you to understand your emotions and engage your senses.
The app is beautifully designed and easy to use.
The other thing I love about Smiling Mind (other than it being free) is that they are working towards getting mindfulness on the Australian National Curriculum by the year 2020. They offer training programs for teachers so that they can bring mindfulness practice into their classrooms.
Try a Smiling Mind meditation:
Smiling Mind is a fantastic free tool for teaching mindfulness, especially for school aged children.
Headspace is my favourite mindfulness app for adults as it has a huge number of guided meditation programs for a whole variety of topics such as sleep, stress, creativity, patience, pain management, pregnancy, sport, anxiety, relationships, balance and cancer to name but a few. They are also continually adding new ones.
Depending on your needs, you can choose a single one off meditation or dive into a series that takes you through a 10 or even 30 day program.
Headspace is not free but it does offer a free 10 day trial and then three different subscription options. In my opinion, it’s worth every cent. It’s very in depth and a beautiful looking, intuitive app that will grow with you.
Headspace also includes eight mindfulness meditations for kids with options to choose the age range most appropriate to your child.
Try a Headspace Meditation:
Headspace is an amazing mindfulness tool for those who are serious about making mindfulness practice a regular part of their life.
My other favourite thing
The third tool I want to tell you about is the Happiness Trap and this one is for the grown-ups.
This started as a book by Dr Russ Harris and is now a brand new 8-week online course. It combines mindfulness techniques and a psychological model called ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) to help you live a fulfilling life that is in line with your values.
It’s called the Happiness Trap because it teaches that we are all caught in a trap of chasing happiness. We believe we should be able to be happy all the time if only we can find the right formula (positive thinking, affirmations, buying more stuff etc). Most of the things we do to try and make ourselves happy end up having the opposite effect. In the Happiness Trap we learn that we can’t be happy all the time and neither should we expect to be. BUT we can still make good decisions and live a valuable and rewarding life even when the @#$* hits the fan.
The book and the course are full of techniques that help you unhook from unhelpful thoughts (I’m fat, I’m a loser, I’m a bad mother, I’ll never succeed etc) so that those thoughts no longer hold us back from doing the things that are really important to us. Amazing!
I’m currently three quarters of the way through the online course and it is fabulous. I’ve learned so much about myself and how my mind operates. It’s full of ‘a-ha!’ moments and is truly life-changing if you’re prepared to commit to it and put in the work.
Here it is explained with a cute animated video:
Although this course is aimed at adults it will absolutely benefit our kids from the knock on effect it will have – more contented parents = more contented kids. You’ll also level-up your role-modelability in a big way!
Next time around I’ll be reviewing some of my favourite kids books that contain mindfulness themes and teach emotional awareness without being preachy.
Do you have any favourite mindfulness tools or techniques? Leave me a comment below so I can try them out.
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