What is Mindfulness and When is it Too Early to Start?

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Being mindful is one of the biggest wellness phenomenons to sweep through Shanghai. But what exactly does being mindful accomplish and when is it too early to start?

MommyDiaries met with Luna, who is hosting workshops to teach mindfulness to kids, teens and their parents to learn more about the benefits of having an early start on this practise.

1) What is being “mindful”?

A lot of people these days are using the term “mindful” to mean being thoughtful or careful. This comes from the way that attention and focus is developed from paying attention to the present moment. It actually means a lot more than just thoughtful or careful.

To be mindful is to have awareness of your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This cultivates responsibility to choose the way we respond to emotions, situations, challenges and problems. We can practise being mindful (paying attention without judgment) in formal seated meditation or through cultivating mindful lifestyle habits e.g. paying attention to the sensations we experience when in the shower, eating breakfast, brushing our teeth, walking to work etc.

The more we do this, the more we develop awareness of how we feel in the present moment and the strength to just sit still with the thought or emotion, rather than pushing it away or holding on to it. This is what we practise in a mindfulness meditation – paying attention to one subtle thing e.g. the breath, observing thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally, coming back to the breath.

2) When is a good age to learn about being mindful?

I believe mindfulness can be learnt from a very young age. The behaviour modeled to us from our parents and the environment we grow up in can promote mindfulness. If parents are practising mindfulness and modeling this attentive behaviour, children will pick up on this and be conditioned to behave in a similar manner.

Likewise a peaceful home or school environment can contribute towards children being more calm and focused. Mindfulness is all about engaging with your senses: breath, sight, sound, touch, scent and taste.

This is how children learn from a young age, by exploring the world through their senses. If children are continued to be exposed to these playful and creative opportunities they will continue to engage with the present moment through their senses as they get older, staying more grounded in their bodies and less in their minds. These are the opportunities I create in my workshops through fun activities as well as combining these with meditation and breathing exercises for children as young as 3.

3) How are mindful workshops offered to children in early ages beneficial?

It gives children opportunities to connect to the present moment by engaging with their senses as well as teaching them meditation and breathing techniques.

If these are practised regularly at home or school, children will become more calm and focused. It also helps to promote self-compassion and self-esteem as children learn to become more accepting of themselves and others.

4) What ways can mindfulness be adapted into the family environment?

Parents are strongly encouraged to attend my workshops to learn the kind of activities that can be done at home. I also hope that by sharing meditation and breathing techniques parents will be inspired to practise these on a regular basis at home, whether in the morning, after school or before bed.

It is a good idea to setup a special place together with your child where they will take time for themselves to breathe or focus on something calm and peaceful for a few minutes everyday.

I also believe that the best way to incorporate mindfulness into the family home is for the parents to practise meditation or mindful lifestyle habits for themselves as children pick up on the behaviour and atmosphere in the family home very easily. If you want your kids to do something, they need to see that you think it is important enough to do it yourself too.

5) What are benefits to being more mindful?

The past 40 years of research have shown that regular mindfulness practise has a wide range of benefits: reduced stress, anxiety and depression, increased concentration, improved pain management, sleep and immune system.

I believe that if children start practising this mental health care strategy from a young age, they will be able to deal with life’s challenges more smoothly and make better decisions. In the last century we have learnt the importance of physical exercise as part of our lifestyle, now is the turn for mental exercise and self-care.

Luna is a mindfulness teacher with a background in primary education. She specializes in teaching emotional management and self care strategies to children and also teaches mindfulness meditation to adults