Why Adding Play To Mindfulness Will Benefit You And Your Loved Ones
You may have heard a lot about mindfulness lately. If you envision Buddhist monks sitting in a candlelit room, you’re not entirely wrong. The technique does have roots in spiritual practice.
However, in the western world, many people turn to mindfulness to manage their emotions. They use the practice in conjunction with traditional protocols to treat mental illness. Today, even some schools embrace the method to modify student behavior — so you know it can help with your children. Adding an element of play makes this esoteric-sounding technique accessible to the entire family.
What is mindfulness? What does it have to do with play?
Mindfulness sounds straightforward, but in practice, it can seem contradictory. Mindfulness entails fully attending to what’s happening, to what’s going on internally and externally in the present moment. However, you’re supposed to eliminate distracting thoughts. But wait! What if a racing mind is what’s happening at the current moment? That’s where the critical element of playfulness enters the picture. It’s likely that even Buddhist monks, who devote their lives to mindfulness practice, have to contend with intrusive thoughts when they hit the mat. The more you try to stop the natural flow of ideas, the more your mental monkey resists. It’s like telling you not to think of a pink elephant within the next 30 seconds. Guess what image your brain forms?
Playfulness allows you to observe your racing thoughts neutrally. Instead of getting caught in a downward spiral of rumination, when you sit in meditation, you perceive, “Hey, I just thought about how terrible I feel if my client proposal flops.” Then, you return your focus to your breath or whatever else to which you’re directing your attention. You can see how this practice is better than, “If this proposal flops, I’ll probably get demoted. I might even get fired. I’ll lose my home, and my kids and I will starve.” Are those catastrophic ideas likely to occur? If you examine them critically, probably not. By diffusing the negative spiral that can follow one thought you observe in meditation, you strip it of its power to control your behavior.
Kids benefit from mindfulness in many ways. Many children today spend five to seven hours a day staring at a screen. When they get lost in a virtual world, they’re not paying attention to what’s happening internally or externally. Before they know it, they’re hungry, or it’s bedtime — and without emotional regulation, they act out and misbehave.
Ideas for combining play with mindfulness
Fortunately, you can combine play with mindfulness in dozens of creative ways. The critical element is engaging your child’s senses and getting them into the present. Then, you can expand your practices and coach them in self-soothing behaviors. You’ll save yourself considerable gray hair, and your children will head off to school armed with tools to regulate their manners.
1. Texture Play
Who doesn’t love getting down and dirty sometimes? Relive the joy of making mud pies with your little one. While you do, ask them to describe how the substance feels in their hands. Is it gooey? Cold? Slimy? If you don’t particularly care to get dirty — or if you have inclement weather — you can make a sensory activity with household objects. Fill paper bags with items like cotton balls or grapes. Have your children try to figure out what the items are using their sense of touch alone. No peeking!
2. I Spy
Everyone’s favorite driving game can become an exercise in mindfulness. Challenge each other to discover how many things you can find that are red, or that start with a letter A. Scanning the environment helps focus your child’s mind on something other than, “Are we there yet?”
3. Sensory Walk
Go for a walk with your child, and describe the physical sensations you experience while you do. How do your legs and arms feel as you move? How does the air feel against your skin? What sounds do you hear?
4. Emotions Jar
You probably didn’t realize that a snow globe-like device could serve as an emotional regulation tool. Take glitter and water and place it in a mason jar. When your child experiences an emotional upset, shake the pot up. Explain that when you get caught in the grip of overwhelming feelings, your thoughts get mixed up like the glitter in the jar. However, if you set the vessel down, the glitter eventually settles. Use this technique to introduce meditation to your child and explain why mindfulness is crucial.
5. Darth Vader Breathing
Many mindfulness practitioners advise you to focus on the breath — it’s free, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. Practice ujjayi breathing, but make it kid-friendly by calling it Darth Vader breath. Inhale through your nose, and as you exhale, make a noise like the villain breathing through his helmet. This gentle hum helps you to exhale completely.
6. Guided Body Scan
Children can use mindfulness to tune into their bodies. Misbehavior results when little ones don’t feel well but lack the words to express what’s wrong. Have your child sit down or lie comfortably. Then, verbally guide them on how to scan their body, starting at their toes and working their way upward.
Add play to your mindfulness — or vice-versa — today
Mindfulness activities help your children regulate their behavior and soothe themselves when they feel upset. They also help you manage the stress of parenthood. Get the entire family involved in your practice today.
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