Grow Your Mind teaches pre and primary school aged children about compassion, mindfulness and brain awareness. Part of our job allows us to work with teachers and parents also. Sometimes we see and can feel eye rolling when we mention the word mindfulness. There is a fatigue associated with its claims. Other times the mere mention of the word and you have people holding your gaze telling you yes, this is so needed, mindfulness can change the lives of our young people, why on earth aren’t we doing more of it in schools? The truth between the sceptics and the believers lies predictably somewhere in the middle.
As part of the lead up to mental health month, Grow Your Mind is writing a small piece on each invitation on our checklist poster. This week the call to action is “Take three mindful breaths”. N.B it does not say “Meditate for 2 hours” or “Lie down and do a body scan”. Both by the way have been researched and do have their benefits.
Checklist for our Mind - poster by Grow Your Mind
Our invitation is to simply pause and take three mindful breaths. Three breaths where you are aware of the fact that you are breathing, three breaths to allow you to pause and come back into this present moment. Sounds obvious yet for the most part, the majority of us are living in the future. Kids are generally great at being present however they too catch on to this idea of talking about what is yet to come. And in this age where ‘busy’ is an answer to “How are you?” 90% of the time as well as a badge of honour to display to all those around you, teaching our kids to stop and take three breaths is a start at some invaluable rewiring work. Because our pattern to rush and our pattern to bypass this moment because somehow we believe the future is more important is ingrained in our society. Which seems a shame, for the only thing that is really certain, is this moment, right now.
When we teach children to take three deep breaths we talk about practising shrinking their Guard Dog. That’s the name we have given the amygdala. You see, humans are the only animal that can activate the stress response just by thinking about something that “could” happen, even if it’s not happening, or likely to happen at all. We can also elicit the stress response when we are not in danger e.g. a friend is unkind, we don’t get our way, we have a setback, make a mistake etc. When our amygdala is activated our Wise Owl AKA the prefrontal cortex is off line. Which is not convenient as the prefrontal cortex allows for higher order thinking and decision making to take place. So it stands to reason, if we can elicit a stress response even just ‘thinking’ about something — we can also elicit a relaxation response by simply pausing and allowing oxygen to again return to our invaluable Wise Owl.
The Brain Poster - Grow Your Mind
We are all guilty of telling our students and our children to focus. Are we equally as guilty of skipping the part where we teach them HOW to focus? Taking three mindful breaths is a start at this. We want our children to be kind, to have compassion for others. It is very difficult to behave in this way when our Guard Dog is big and bossy. It is also tremendously hard to notice someone needs help if we are too busy rushing around. When we stop and take three breaths we allow ourselves and our children the opportunity to notice people around us. What are their needs? What are my needs?
So, how do you take three mindful breaths and when and also how on earth can I remember to take them?
Take three breaths when you are calm: practice makes progress with nearly all skills. The same is true for bringing awareness to your breath. Practice doing it when you are calm and you will have a greater chance of calling on this skill when your stress response has been activated.
Start simple: breathe in for 2, hold and then out for 4. Or simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Display a reminder to take three breaths: make a drawing and pop it up in the kitchen, leave a sticky note on your driving wheel or at the front door for when you are all leaving the house in a mad moment i.e. most mornings before school.
Let go of any expectations: this practice will not change your life or your child’s. It will not solve all of your problems. Meet whatever comes up with curiosity. At the very minimum you are learning to pause, a skill for life we firmly believe at Grow Your Mind!