The Family: Vicky Beall of Leonia, New Jersey, and daughter Jennifer, 9
Can this family make mindfulness exercises a part of their daily routine?
Seeking a mindful solution
When KIWI’s creative director, Vicky Beall, heard we were thinking about doing a meditation challenge for this issue, she asked if she could throw her hat into the ring for consideration. She and her daughter had been seeing a therapist for about two months to help Jennifer manage some behavioral issues related to her diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and their doctor suggested they start practicing mindfulness at home. The idea was that meditation-based exercises could help Jennifer stay calm and ease some of her compulsory tendencies—which, in turn, might also alleviate some of Vicky’s stress. “She was very scattered and absentminded,” Vicky says of Jennifer. “This was frustrating when it came to everything from household chores to her schoolwork—she couldn’t stay on task.”
To get started, Vicky and Jennifer spoke with children’s yoga teacher and mindfulness expert Lisa Roberts, author of Breathe, Chill: A Handy Book of Games and Techniques Introducing Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation to Kids and Teens. Together they came up with a plan that included various mindfulness and meditation techniques mother and daughter could try every day to help them both relax and learn to better handle their stressors.
Easing into “OM”
Lisa introduced Vicky and Jennifer to several different mindfulness activities, which included both introductory games and more advanced exercises. The easier activities were designed to teach them about basic meditation as well as controlled breathing (a key to mindfulness) through play and exercises. The more advanced options encouraged a “deeply relaxed meditation experience,” as Lisa described it. Vicky and Jennifer started by choosing two of the easier activities to try each day, cycling through all the options to see which ones they liked best.
The timing wasn’t perfect: Mom and daughter would soon be leaving on a 10-day trip to Japan to visit extended family, so Vicky knew she would have to adjust her approach to the meditation exercises as their schedule changed. But she was eager to get started, so they began by doing some of the play-focused exercises each morning. Vicky found, however, that they served only to increase Jennifer’s energy levels even more. For example, in one game you’re instructed to use your breath to keep a feather suspended in the air, demonstrating the different ways you can control your breathing. “The feather exercise didn’t calm Jennifer at all and mostly just made a big mess,” Vicky says.
They also had some trouble with an exercise that called for them to suspend a pencil between each of their palms while working together, “like a mirror,” to move the pencil around without dropping it. Each partner takes turns leading the exercise, and although Jennifer was able to concentrate when Vicky led, they found that when Jennifer was the leader she tended to focus more on making Vicky drop the pencil rather than the teamwork required to keep it up in the air.
Getting the hang of it
Their first real success came through a breathing exercise that used a Hoberman Sphere toy. The classic toy, which compresses to a small sphere and expands to a large open circle, was used to help Jennifer visually connect her lungs and breath. The instructions were to breathe out as the toy collapses and in as it expands. At first it seemed like another dud: The sphere Vicky bought, which was smaller than the one suggested for the exercise, led to frantic breath- taking from Jennifer since the globe didn’t expand very far. “She was breathing in and out so quickly that I was a little worried she might pass out,” says Vicky. However, through this exercise, Jennifer did eventually learn to focus in order to control both her breathing and how quickly she expanded and collapsed the sphere.
Encouraged, Vicky and Jennifer decided to move on to some of the more advanced deep-breathing exercises. Vicky found these exercises to be very helpful, with more obvious results. A favorite was the “iPad Reboot and Recharge” exercise, which uses the way kids shut down different apps on their iPad as a visual. Jennifer often plays on an iPad, so she really understood what was expected. As she sat in a reclined position, Vicky guided her to “shut down and reboot,” relaxing her from head to toe. “The first time we did it, it actually put Jennifer to sleep!” Vicky reports.
Although “Reboot and Recharge” was great when they were trying to unwind at home, Vicky found Lisa’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Chillax” meditation useful in other locations. The mantra-type breathing exercise can be used anywhere and is particularly helpful in moments of tension or anxiety—for both mother and daughter. Vicky would often use the technique in moments of frustration, such as when they were on a crowded subway car in Japan or at the grocery store with Jennifer begging her to buy something. “It forces you to take a breath and think about the moment instead of just reacting,” says Vicky. “That helped me learn to release the tension and stress.”
Although traveling made it tough for them to do an exercise every day—especially in the beginning—Vicky found it surprisingly easy to get into a routine, even once they got back home to their busy schedule. They continue to do a technique every day, with Vicky reporting that Jennifer is noticeably calmer and both of them are more aware of their thoughts and feelings and less likely to overreact. “Once we got familiar with the exercises, they really did help us both feel more calm and in control,” Vicky says. “They’ve definitely helped Jennifer better regulate her emotions.” As for the future: “We’re planning to continue doing the exercises before bed each night!”
To get more detailed descriptions of the activities used in this challenge, please visit kiwimagonline/meditationchallenge.