Mindfulness is a wonderful, authentic way of being, one that allows us to stay present at the moment instead of worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Very often people ask me “but isn’t it hard to do practice mindfulness? Doesn’t it take a lot of training and practice before you can notice a change in you and have some good results?” I used to answer this question with lengthy scientific explanations of how mindfulness works, of how fMRI’s show that the brain’s activity changes the moment we start doing a mindfulness meditation exercise, getting technical and all that. Until one summer day, when we were sunbathing on a beach on the beautiful island of Santorini, a friend asked me the same question. Instead of my usual blurp, I simply asked:
“What color is the sea?”
“Why, blue of course,” he answered.
“Yes, what exact hue of blue?” I persisted.
“Well, let me see… It’s more of a light blue, turquoise I guess, right here, but then, as you see further, closer to the horizon it gets a deep blue color… and there’s the sunshine shimmering on its surface… why this is beautiful,” he observed.
“And what do you hear?” I continued.
“This soft sound from the coming and going of the waves,” he said immediately.
“Anything you feel on your face or body?” I probed further.
“Aaa, the warmth of the sun on my face and the grainy feel of the black sand on my feet,” he observed (yes, we were sitting under bamboo umbrellas on the Santorini’s famous volcanic black sand beach).
“Do you smell something?”
“Salty breeze,” he offered. And before I had a chance to ask my last question, about a taste that he might be feeling my friend exclaimed in true appreciation:
“Oh, this is so relaxing! It’s such a beautiful place!”
“Well, didn’t even complete our mini mindfulness meditation exercise and you already feel relaxed!” I noted.
“No way! Did we do a mindfulness exercise?” he was half-shocked.
“Indeed! That’s what a mindfulness exercise is, and that’s how you feel afterward,” I reassured him.
Focusing on our senses
When we focus on our senses, just like in the exercise described above, we effectively choose to live in the here-and-now. We allow ourselves to “just be present,” without worrying, without judging or criticizing, without allowing extraneous thoughts enter our mind. We just focus non-judgementally on what’s around us. We notice. We experience. We immerse ourselves in the present moment. And ‘present’ is a synonym with gift. Engaging in mindfulness exercises, we offer ourselves a precious gift- relaxation, peace, and calm. This happens because we focus on what’s going on in the present moment, which doesn’t allow much room for worrying about the future and criticizing ourselves or regretting the past. Mindfulness gives the brain a break from mental chatter, stress, worries, to-do lists, and negative thoughts.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Day
Use your senses- A Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise
One simple mindful meditation exercise is like that I described above. Tell your child or teenager:
“Notice your breathing…Now take with me three slow, deep breaths.
What are two things that you can see now?
What are two things that you hear see now?
What are two things that you can see now?
(if the situation allows it, you can add two more senses:
What are two things that you can smell now?
What are two things that you can taste now?)
Ask the child what they noticed when they answered each question. Ask them how they feel now.
Variations of the Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise
- Name five things you can see
In this variation, we want the child to be mindful of what they perceive with the sense of seeing. We ask them to identify five things they can see in the room, at the dinner table, on the ceiling, etc.
- Name five things that have the color …. (ask for a different color each time)
Simply help the child become aware of their surroundings by asking them to observe and notice what’s around them and come up with simple answers.
“Find something yellow in this room” and
“Name all the blue things you can see from where you sit.”
- Name five things you can hear
Again, this is self-explanatory, as we now ask the child to focus on the sense of hearing and have them identify five things they can hear in their immediate environment. Or you can ask the child to find words starting with a specific letter/sound (this way you practice reading skills and memory).
- Name five things you can taste
This is a great activity for the dinner table, as it helps children focus their attention on the hear and now, become less fidgety and grow an appreciation for the food they have on their plate.
- Name five things you can smell
Now that’s a tough one! But you can still ask the child to smell or notice the smell of fruits, vegetable, table linens, the kitchen, etc.
……………….And an important reminder! When you engage in these mindfulness activities with your child, you don’t just help them become more relaxed and peaceful, but you reap the same benefits too!…………