The theory and practice of mindfulness as a way for children to calm their busy minds, self regulate, become more hopeful and happy has been an area of increasing interest. The potential impact on our culture is great as it affects future generations.
It’s my pleasure to bring you this interview with Amy Saltzman, MD a holistic physician in Northern California who has been integrating mindfulness with children and teens for many years. Her current research has found significant impacts on children in the areas of attention, anxiety and compassion. I’ll be watching Amy speak at Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in San Diego on February 4 -5.
Today Amy talks to us about what the still quiet place is for children and teenagers, the impact of her research with children, and a little practice and advice to help us parents, caregivers and teachers along the way.
Elisha: What is the “Still Quiet Place” within for children and teenagers?
Amy: The Still Quiet Place is a way for children and teens to experience pure awareness. Awareness is a concept that may not make sense to young children. However, with guidance most children can discover that stillness and quietness (aka awareness) is alive inside of them. When I introduce mindfulness to children I begin by inviting them to attend to the breath– the feeling of the expansion of the in-breath, the stillness between the in-breath and the out-breath, the release of the out-breath, and the stillness between the out-breath and the in-breath.
Addictive behaviors are universal. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in eight Americans suffers with addictive behaviors regarding drugs or alcohol and it costs society approximately $250 billion per year.
In addition to addictive behaviors potentially having a strong genetic link, the increasing stress in our culture makes it obvious why so many of us are craving avoidance and escape.
How do we break free from that next fix?
Every moment of our lives our brains are rapidly taking in information and making snap judgments, interpretations and decisions based on what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Depending on how we’re feeling we’ll interpret it differently.
Even though we believe our thoughts represent reality, the truth is, our thoughts are not facts. A lot of us live without an awareness of this, operating mostly from a state of auto-pilot, sleepwalking through life. The good news is we can train our minds to become more aware of this automaticity, get perspective and tune into what really matters.
Here’s an example I often do with my own patients to illustrate why we don’t need to believe everything we think:
Today I grab a quote from a man whose dream lifted millions of people and whose inspiration is felt all over the world today. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This reminds me of an earlier blog post I did which quoted Rumi saying:
“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington to let us all know that he “had a dream.” In this dream he inspired hope, belief, and faith in millions of people.
If you’ve been following The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog, you’ve read and interacted around the psychology and neuroscience of mindfulness in relation to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and so much more. Today, I have the honor of interviewing, Megan Cowan, Co-founder and Executive Director of Mindful Schools bringing mindfulness to children. Megan will be speaking at the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth at UCSD February 4-5 2012.
Today Megan talks to us about why mindfulness helps children and gives us some tips to begin working with our kids at school and at home.
Elisha: A couple years ago the video below came out via ABC News with some amazing responses captured by the children who were touched by Mindful Schools. Looking at this video, what is it about what you do that leads to these results?
The experience of gratitude has now been well researched and documented as something that is good for our health and well-being. But more importantly, with any of experience gratitude, we experience health and well-being and that has to be the most important indicator to generate this in our daily lives.
Perhaps it’s because when we feel grateful, it immediately creates this experience of connection. If we’re grateful for something that has to do with ourselves, we’re connecting to something internally (health, body working, joy), if it has to do with something outside of ourselves, we’re connecting to something externally (e.g. nature, people, higher power).
At a recent TEDx Conference in San Francisco, Blacklight Films founder, Louie Schwartzberg shows us how if we pause and pay attention, gratitude will naturally arise. Watch this:
I see it every day. We all hold grudges against other people who we feel have hurt or offended us in some way or another. We even hold these grudges for people who aren’t even alive anymore. We do this with the false idea that somehow we are making them suffer by being hurt and angry with them.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being angry with someone, but it is how we express this anger that makes all the difference on us and our relationships. What is a grudge anyway? Maybe it’s harboring ill feelings toward another in the need to settle a score. Let’s try a little experiment.
There’s a funny cartoon out there of some cows in a pasture eating grass. One cow’s head is lifted up with a sense of horror on his face and the caption reads “Hey wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!” If I asked you, have you ever been sitting at a meal with someone or even by yourself and been halfway through the meal without having tasted the food? In my experience, the odds are likely that you’ll be nodding your head up and down. Our heads are often simply somewhere else, worrying about where we need to be, watching television, or engrossed in conversation.
This unawareness is the seed for making poor food choices, not to mention missing out on enjoying the food. This unawareness can also drive people to overeat as a way to cope with unacknowledged feelings and emotions. You may be in search of a “quick fix” that consists of caffeinated beverages and highly refined foods that burn very quickly and spike up the metabolism. Many people have learned to comfort and sedate themselves with food. Sadly our “super-size” culture not only supports these tactics but also capitalizes on it.
Since preparing and eating food is such an essential component of our lives, why not bring mindful awareness to this?
“May we all recognize in this New Year that the moments of our lives are rare and precious. Open to them, Bask in them, We are alive.”
The reality is we often hold things that are rare in our world to be precious. These rare things are held to a high value, whether it’s gold, an unbroken sand dollar on a beach, or the short time that a baby is a baby before growing up.
If you peel the lens back for a moment you can see our lives in this very same way. We’re a blip in time in relation to the life of this planet we stand on and this Universe we live in. All the moments of our lives are rare and precious and it’s incredibly important to bring that awareness back to our lives.
What happens when we start seeing our time on this planet as rare and precious?