28 May Working the Compassion Muscle Through Mindfulness
Over recent years there have been several acts of violence that have rocked communities to their core, increasing anger and vengeance towards our fellow neighbors. Some of these acts of violence have been committed by young teens in the past, and continue to be committed by the youth in our communities. How do we begin reaching the children and teens in communities? How can we make a difference at home with our own children? How can we model for others the way to a compassionate heart? When our hearts are full of compassion for others, there is no room for anger or vengeance.
In the past two segments of this series, we have discussed what compassion is and how to start growing the compassion muscle through focusing on ourselves. For a look back at these articles, The Power of a Compassionate Heart and How to Build Fierce Self-Compassion. In this segment, we will focus on one strategy that research has shown to significantly increase happiness, empathy, and compassion towards self and others. This strategy, known as mindfulness, can be used by adults, teens, with children, or as a family.
Mindfulness and Meditation
According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is our ability to be fully present. Being present encompasses being aware of our surroundings and our actions without becoming overwhelmed. We all have the natural ability to be mindful, where we are bringing awareness to our experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Some popular examples of mindfulness practices are: focusing on your breathing, guided imagery, and body scans. Another way to practice mindfulness is through meditation, specifically compassion meditation. Focusing on compassion meditation will support the growth of the compassion muscles. First, let’s look at some specific points to demystify meditation and answers some questions of skepticism that you may have.
You do not become free of thought. You will actually have several thoughts when you are moving through your sensations and emotions. However, being mindful is being able to release all judgement and have a sense of kindness to ourselves and others in regard to those thoughts. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment, while acknowledging and releasing any judgement you may notice.
Research. There is an abundance of research stating that mindfulness meditations change the brain by remodeling the physical structure of the brain, as stated by Mindful.org. Research also states that there are several benefits of meditation, including lowering stress, anxiety, and depression, and improving attention and sleep.
Mindfulness is for everyone. Even children. Mindfulness meditations can be done by anyone, anywhere. There is also no right or wrong way to meditate!
Meditation can be short and sweet. Meditation does not need to consume your day or even an hour of your time. Practicing mindfulness through meditation can be as simple as a 5 minute exercise. However, mindfulness is a technique that needs continued practice for the benefits to be achieved.
The Compassionate Brain through Loving-Kindness
Now that we have discussed some questions you may have about mindfulness and meditation, lets focus on increasing compassion through mindfulness meditations. One of the more popular meditations that is shown to build compassion is called the Loving-Kindness Meditation. This meditation helps support the cultivation of empathy through accessing the brain regions that make someone more sympathetic, as stated by Psychology Today. The following recording is provided to you by Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of California at Berkeley, through Self-Compassion.org. Before pressing play, here are some tips to improve your experience:
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lay.
- Notice what your arms and legs are doing. Try not to be stiff and be in a position that feels natural to you.
- Soften your gaze downward or close your eyes, whichever is more comfortable to you.
- Notice your breath through the rising and falling of your belly or chest.
- Be kind when your mind begins to wander throughout the exercise. Notice that your mind is wandering, return to your breath without judgement.
- Release all expectations.
When you feel comfortable and are ready, click here, press play, and begin the exercise.
How was that for you? What was your experience with emotions and thoughts? Take time to practice this meditation and let the benefits roll into your life! If you would like more examples on how to bring Loving-Kindness practices into everyday life, click here to check out this video series by Western Buddist teacher, Sharon Salzberg. Now that you, as an adult, have become familiar with mindfulness and meditation, let’s take a look into including children.
Loving-Kindness for Children
You may be wondering after completing the exercises above, “How can this meditation even be done for children?”, or “My child would never sit still long enough for this.” While the latter may be tricky, the benefits an adult can get from practicing mindfulness is the same for a child. Specifically, mindfulness can build a child’s compassion muscle, as well as increase their ability to regulate emotions, which in turn improves their ability to remain calm and focused. There are a lot of different ways you can begin teaching your child about mindfulness. A good place to start is through introducing the importance of the breath and helping them to focus on their breathing. For example:
Use a Hoberman sphere. This tool allows you to have an object in your hand while simulating the breath. While modeling for your child, regulate your breathing with the sphere as it folds and unfolds. Click here for a video on the Hoberman sphere.
Bubbles. When children are blowing bubbles, they are forced to take deep breaths to create the bubbles. Guide your child into focusing on their breath by modeling and giving directives. You might try saying, “Take a deep breath in for me, and blow out slowly to make as many bubbles as you can.” Be sure to point out that without the breath, there would not be any bubbles!
After introducing the importance of the breath, try to incorporate a loving-kindness meditation. A great video to begin practicing can be found, here. Take the tips from above and talk through them with your child. Model for them what mindfulness meditation looks like, and remember, there is no judgement towards self or others.
Participating in mindfulness and meditation practices will bring you and your family one step closer to becoming full compassion warriors! Stay tuned for the next segment in our compassion series that will provide a more in depth discussion on how to engage children in mindfulness practices.
If you find that you or your child continually struggle with depression, anxiety, emotion regulation, etc., consider finding a therapist to provide other helpful tools, including more mindfulness and meditation tools. A trusted therapist can guide you and your family through mindfulness exercises and meditations to ensure successful practices. At Carolina Pediatric Therapy, there is a team of behavioral health therapists who can provide mindfulness and meditation skills to build your and your child’s compassion muscle. To schedule an appointment with a trusted therapist at Carolina Pediatric Therapy, call 828.398.0043.
Working the Compassion Muscle Through Mindfulness
Adrienne Stover, MS, LPCA