I’ve had a meditation practice for the better part of a decade. That doesn’t mean that I’ve been consistent. I definitely haven’t. But my goal for this new year was to take back those minutes or moments first thing in the morning, before my kids or my husband are awake. Or the middle of the night hours when I can’t fall back asleep. Instead of doom scrolling on my phone, thinking of all of the reasons I have to be enraged, meditation puts me in much different head space. One that is definitely preferable for me and my family.
So without further ado, three ways for you to start a meditation practice with your family:
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, calming the central nervous system instantly. There is truly nothing that has been a better tool for me, my husband, or my toddler, than taking a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Make an audible sigh when you breathe out. Stick out your tongue and roar like a lion. It’s truly all you need and if you end there for today, you’re doing something important and effective.
If you really are committed to starting a meditation practice, breath work is also the perfect gateway. There is a common misconception that meditation is just sitting quietly, and if you’re not or you can’t then you’re doing it wrong. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A great way to use your breath to begin your meditation journey is by counting your breath.
Find a comfortable seated position. You can close your eyes if you want (if you’re alone, if you don’t have to keep eyes on a tiny person, etc.) and take a deep breath in. Next a full, audible exhale. Then your next inhale is one. Exhale is two. Inhale is three. Exhale is four. All of the way up to ten, then begin again. If you’re doing this with little kids, or just want to make it more of a group activity with your family, you can count out loud. Otherwise, everyone can count quietly to themselves. You can set a timer, or you can just see where your breath takes you. You can end here, or once you’ve counted your breath for a few rounds and your mind feels more at ease, you can add on another component.
Mindfulness meditation is about observing the present moment as it is, without judgement. Noticing when your mind starts to wander, and without judgement, returning your attention again and again to the present moment.
A great way to teach this to both kids and adults is to imagine your mind like the sky. All of your thoughts pass by like clouds. Sometimes they’re stormy and they stick around for a little bit longer, but they never last forever. Sometimes your sky is bright and sunny. No matter what your sky looks like, you can be still, and without judgment, observe your thoughts as clouds passing by.
For smaller kids, like my 2 ½ year old, this is more of a concept than an actual practice. However, as your kids get a little bit older and their attention spans grow, you can make it a family practice of sitting together for 5, 7, or even 10 minutes. Find a comfortable, quiet place for all of you to sit, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and observe your sky. Set a timer, if it helps you to give your meditation some structure. Then, when your time is up, slowly blink open your eyes, sit for a moment in whatever space you’ve created, and share your experience with each other.
Another form of meditation that I find useful and practice often is called Loving Kindness, or Metta, meditation. I love this practice because like counting your breath, it doesn’t require complete quiet or stillness, which can be quite intimidating and challenging.
Metta meditation starts with you, and expands outward. Choose a simple mantra that resonates for you and your family, such as “I am safe. I am healthy. I am happy.” You can repeat it quietly to yourself or, if you are practicing with your family, especially smaller children, it helps to repeat out loud to keep their attention (and yours!). Whatever mantra you choose, repeat it three times then move on.
Next, choose someone you love whom you want to send loving kindness to. Repeat, three times, “They are safe. They are healthy. They are happy.”
Next, you choose someone who you maybe have a harder time loving, or are just going through a rough patch with at the moment. “They are safe, they are healthy, they are happy.”
Finally, hold yourself and all of those people together in your heart: “We are safe. We are healthy. We are happy.”
Just like counting breath, this can be the end of your meditation for now, or just the beginning. Often starting with a Loving Kindness meditation helps me to quiet and focus my mind, and I can continue to sit in stillness for a while longer in a mindfulness meditation, allowing my thoughts to rise and fall.
I can’t promise that starting a meditation practice is going to be some quick fix for you and your family. I’ve been practicing for years and I still struggle daily with being a human. But I can tell you that for me, the change in myself and my family is so apparent when we’re all striving to be a little more mindful, and doing it together.