LET THE SUN­SHINE IN

Trans­form your fam­ily’s life by learn­ing to land in the mo­ment

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

It was one of those morn­ings. I hit the ground run­ning – pre­par­ing lunches, feed­ing lit­tle ones and at­tempt­ing to get ev­ery­thing done as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble. Kids shov­elled into the car as I scanned the house, the car, the kids and my­self to en­sure noth­ing had been over­looked. We joined the traf­fic as the chil­dren cre­ated an orches­tra of ques­tions, shrieks and de­mands. My mind, as al­ways, be­came a buzz of thoughts, which gen­er­ally re­volved around my to-do list. Work, school pick-ups, ex­tra cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties for the kids, doc­tors ap­point­ments, meal plan­ning, house­work. An in­ven­tory of do, do, do. This fu­ture-fo­cused think­ing had a way of tak­ing me away from re­al­ity to the point where my chil­dren’s ques­tions and de­light­ful views be­came a com­po­si­tion of noise and in­ter­rup­tion. By the time I dropped the kids at school, parked up at work and took the time to catch my breath, I re­alised some­thing of con­cern. Not only had I not heard a word that my older two chil­dren had said as I drove them to school, but I also had an in­con­spic­u­ous pas­sen­ger in the back­seat. Dur­ing my au­topi­lot haze of driv­ing to work, I had com­pletely for­got­ten to drop off my six-month-old son at pre-school. You hear of it hap­pen­ing, mums so caught up in the rush of morn­ing chaos that they for­get their ba­bies are still in the car and the con­se­quences can be cat­a­strophic. To this day, I re­mem­ber that mo­ment with a shud­der of what could have been had I not taken the time to pause and check the back­seat. Fast for­ward three years and the world of my lit­tle fam­ily could not be fur­ther from those end­less days, where I was com­pletely void of con­scious aware­ness. My chil­dren and I now walk to­gether to the school bus, tak­ing in the bou­quet of sen­sory de­lights that con­tinue to un­fold. We see the vi­brant, ev­er­chang­ing colours of the sea­sons. We ex­pe­ri­ence the tan­ta­lis­ing sen­sa­tions of wind, rain and sun­shine on our skin. The ar­ray of sounds act as re­minders to rel­ish the present mo­ment in ways we never truly ap­pre­ci­ated be­fore. Fi­nally, we have found a place where we can em­brace present-mo­ment aware­ness and our lives have been trans­formed be­cause we have in­tro­duced a sense of mind­ful­ness.

What is mind­ful­ness?

Ac­cord­ing to Jon Ka­bat-zinn, who is ba­si­cally the god­fa­ther of mind­ful­ness, it can be de­fined as “pay­ing at­ten­tion in a par­tic­u­lar way: on pur­pose, in the present mo­ment, and non-judg­men­tally.” When work­ing with chil­dren I sim­plify it even fur­ther to “un­der­stand­ing what is hap­pen­ing right now.” So it all seems pretty sim­ple, right? It is pretty sim­ple, but at the same time it can be in­cred­i­bly hard. Our brains are wired to think, think, think and in this mod­ern dig­i­tal age we, as hu­mans, are pretty much wired to do, do, do. So ac­tu­ally tak­ing the time to stop and pause is re­ally quite for­eign and of­ten takes some prac­tice. But by keep­ing it sim­ple and not be­ing too hard on our­selves, we can bring mind­ful­ness into our day-to-day lives and the lives of our chil­dren.

Is there sci­ence be­hind it?

Re­search in­di­cates one of the most evolved ar­eas of the brain, the pre­frontal cor­tex (PFC, the re­gion be­hind your fore­head), is ac­ti­vated dur­ing mind­ful­ness prac­tice. This re­gion

is re­spon­si­ble for higher level func­tion­ing such as em­pa­thy, re­sponse flex­i­bil­ity and emo­tion reg­u­la­tion. Strength­en­ing our un­der­stand­ing to regulate emo­tions through mind­ful­ness en­hances our abil­ity to be calm when emo­tion­ally charged, or in a state of un­der­ac­tiv­ity or de­pres­sion. Emo­tion reg­u­la­tion also in­cludes fear mod­u­la­tion, which helps us to recog­nise how re­al­is­tic our lev­els of fear or anx­i­ety ac­tu­ally are. When we re­act to sit­u­a­tions with fear, anger or anx­i­ety, this ac­ti­vates the lim­bic re­gion of the brain, in par­tic­u­lar the amyg­dala (the emo­tion cen­tre). This re­gion is re­lated to our “fight, flight or freeze” re­sponse and can be vi­tal in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, but not so help­ful dur­ing times that don’t present threat. The more we re­act with fear or anger, the more likely it is that such re­ac­tions will be­come our de­fault re­sponse. Be­ing mind­ful of our ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing times of height­ened emo­tion helps to de­ac­ti­vate the amyg­dala and en­gage the higher-or­der pro­cesses of the PFC. Mind­ful­ness prac­tice helps to strengthen the PFC like lift­ing weights helps to strengthen mus­cles. The more we prac­tice, the eas­ier it is to utilise func­tions such as emo­tion-reg­u­la­tion and em­pa­thy. This can then re­sult in re­duced stress, en­hanced re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers and a hap­pier ap­proach to life.

Top Tech­niques

If there were three top tech­niques that I could give you to bring mind­ful­ness into your life they would be the fol­low­ing: 1. MIND­FUL BOD­IES: Stop and take the time to be still, re­ally still When we put on our mind­ful bod­ies, we take this time to be still, re­con­nect with the present mo­ment and qui­eten our in­ner dia­logue. 2. LIS­TEN... truly, deeply lis­ten Mind­ful lis­ten­ing is a tool that is so painfully lack­ing in our world. Have you ever spo­ken to some­one and re­alised that he/she isn’t lis­ten­ing to you? How did that make you feel? In a re­cent work­shop I ran with girls aged six to nine, a young girl men­tioned that her par­ents didn’t lis­ten to her. This com­ment en­abled other girls in the group to ad­mit that their par­ents also had a ten­dency to switch off. In fact, I too had to ad­mit as a mother I wasn’t al­ways present to hear ev­ery­thing my child had to say. What was eye-open­ing, how­ever, was how this one girl felt when she was un­heard. Ac­cord­ing to her, mum and dad’s in­abil­ity to lis­ten made her feel as though she, “Wasn’t im­por­tant.” By lis­ten­ing with aware­ness we not only re­it­er­ate how im­por­tant our chil­dren are to us, but we en­able deeper con­nec­tions to be made with them. Th­ese deeper con­nec­tions de­velop trust, a sense of se­cu­rity, iden­tity and self-worth. 3. OB­SERVE No mat­ter how fo­cused you be­come, thoughts will still ap­pear (up to 70,000 per day). Recog­nis­ing that we have be­come dis­tracted by a thought is when mind­ful­ness is tak­ing place. We are then able to ob­serve our men­tal ac­tiv­ity and bring our­selves back to a present state of aware­ness. Th­ese prac­tices are ben­e­fi­cial to ev­ery­one, but in my work I see the ben­e­fits of in­tro­duc­ing mind­ful­ness to chil­dren to not only be worth­while, but trans­for­ma­tive. Kids are in­stinc­tively mind­ful, but it doesn’t take long be­fore this bal­anced way of be­ing is lost. Granted, some schools have been able to see ben­e­fits and im­ple­ment teach­ings, but many are lag­ging be­hind, while lev­els of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and sui­cide soar. Many par­ents are at a loss when it comes to of­fer­ing sup­port to strug­gling kids and chil­dren are left feel­ing they must com­bat ob­sta­cles alone. As par­ents, we have the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop our own mind­ful­ness prac­tice. By shar­ing this with our chil­dren, we pro­vide them with cog­ni­tive tools that can help when fac­ing chal­leng­ing emo­tions. This cre­ates a men­tal space when chal­lenges arise, en­abling us to re­place hasty re­ac­tions with thought­ful re­sponses. Mind­ful­ness also as­sists in the de­vel­op­ment of fo­cus and at­ten­tion as well as a sense of grat­i­tude, em­pa­thy and op­ti­mism. 

Mind­ful­ness is pay­ing at­ten­tion, on pur­pose, in the present mo­ment, and non­judge­men­tally, to the un­fold­ing of ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ment to mo­ment Jon Ka­bat-zinn Def­i­ni­tion for chil­dren: Un­der­stand­ing what is hap­pen­ing right now

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