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A Breakfast-Table Loving-Kindness Meditation

Or how to set the family’s mood for the day

Nothing beats a good start of a day, of any, ordinary day. It sets the mood for the rest of the time, and that’s contagious- all it takes is a happy person to spread happiness and sunshine in the family. My older kids love doing meditation and guided imagery exercises, but my youngest, at the ripe age of three, is not into it. Or so I thought. Because just a couple of days ago, as we were having breakfast I heard my little one’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

“I wish you a good morning!” he beamed.

“I wish you a good morning too!” I replied, slightly amused by his use of words.

“I wish you a nice cup of coffee!” he continued. I thought he was getting into his pretend play and magic wand wish-granting and transformation, so I said:

“I wish you a magic frog,” to which he frowned and replied:

“It doesn’t go like this! I wish you something good for you, something you like,” he said and surprised me (well, for starters I thought that a magic frog was something really good, truly splendid, but then again…).

“OK, OK, I wish you lots of fun at school today,” I corrected myself. That did it because then he continued with…

“I wish you many good books,” and before recovering my surprise to answer him, he started sending his warm wishes to his sisters.

“I wish you dancing and dancing today,” he told one of the twins who was fixing her ballet bag and

“I wish you a nice cup of milk and cookies,” he sent some more kind wishes to the other twin who was ready to have a not so healthy breakfast. “Are you having a party without me?” my husband joined us and picked up the little one for a scratchy kiss; still in his dad’s arms, he teased:

“I wish you soft cheeks.” And then something magical happened. Everybody started laughing and sending warm and kind wishes to each other.

The wishes included to learn more, to play more, to have fun, to have lots of extra recess, to bake double chocolate cupcakes after school, that sort of simple, everyday things.

Then they though to include grandma and grandpa and started sending them kind wishes.

Then I told my kids…

“I know a secret! Did you know that you can actually send kind wishes to yourselves?” We practiced some of that too, sending wishes to ourselves about staying happy, positive, stress-free, doing stuff together, reading more books, doing more painting, staying up late (I knew it would come up!) and so many other beautiful wishes that I didn’t jot down.

My kitchen and my heart were brimming with joy, positivity, and kindness.

Suddenly there was a shift. An important shift from complaining and seeing the negative side of things such as “I never get to do things my way” and “that’s not fair!” and “how come, and she gets more?” and “I know it’s going to be a bad day,” etc. to being positive.

The kids were happy. My husband was happy. And all that because kindness changes the way the brain works.

According to Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan, the human brain is programmed for kindness, because along with love, compassion, and care it allows us to survive as a species. Professor Barbara Fredrickson made an important discovery: people who do loving-kindness meditation on a regular basis and feel happier and more socially and emotionally connected had a significantly more toned vagus nerve. The vagus regulates how efficiently the heart rate changes with breathing. The greater its tone, the better for the heart. It also influences the release of oxytocin, the social and emotional bonding hormone.
In other words, studies show that when we exercise loving-kindness, and we feel it in our hearts and minds, then there are physiological changes in our body, with better heart rate variability, less chance of heart disease and a stronger immune system as well as psychological changes, with higher levels of positive emotions, happiness, emotional and social connection to others.

So, research shows that people who are kind to themselves and others have lower chances of getting stressed, anxious and depressed, and are much more likely to be happy, positive, optimistic, resilient about their life.

Remember, we are often our own worst enemies, as we criticize and berate ourselves either silently in our minds or speaking to ourselves, while our kids are listening to us and our nasty, self-critical comments (and guess what our kids will learn to do! Yes, criticize themselves, just like they see us doing to ourselves).
Instead of focusing on negative self-evaluations and predictions “I am not good at it,” “It’s too hard, I can’t do it,” “that was so stupid of me,” etc. we can stand up to them and be kind to ourselves. That doesn’t mean we won’t see our weakness and the points we need to improve. On the contrary, it means that we will notice them and then gently encourage and support ourselves to become better.

Kids can also be self-critical, as they tend to say, “I will never learn this,” “I will fail,” “Everybody is better,” “My parents yell at me all the time,” “Nobody loves me,” etc.

By practicing loving-kindness meditation, we open our hearts to ourselves, to our loved ones and let in the positive emotions that will transform us.

Warmly,
Dr. Liza

 

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