|Natural Health & Well-being|
Cool for kids
Meditation classes are helping children to reduce anxiety and combat school-related stress. Charlotte Smith takes a look.
We like to think of childhood as an idyllic, worry-free time, but the reality is very different. Exam stress, bullying, peer pressure and family break ups are rife, and even time off is often a barrage of noise and image in the form of computer games and television. Many children don’t have a chance to catch their breath before it’s time for bed.
Worryingly, conditions such as anxiety disorders, hyperactivity, aggression, insomnia and depression are all too common amongst children and adolescents. More than half of Britain’s under 11s now suffer from stress at school and one in five suffers from a stress-related disorder.
Meditation is one tool that both adults and children can use to alleviate tension. Advocates say that it gives children power over their thinking and emotions, not by a repressive self-control, but by enhanced self-understanding and self-acceptance. According to psychologist Professor David Fontana, co-author of Teaching Meditation to Children (Element Books), most children can benefit from listening to their inner voice. “There’s no doubt it can increase a child’s attention span and improve memory. It allows the child to recognise the value of silence an it teaches them to allow their body and mind to relax.”
In addition, a considerable body of research has shown that meditation result in substantial reduction in high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, two of the main causes of heart disease, so it makes sense that teaching our children strategies fro stress management while they are still young ca be nothing but beneficial for both their long and short term health and happiness.
As yet, meditation for children is still a relatively new concept. However, parents have been quick to catch on to the possibilities that it has to offer. Christiane Kerr, teacher and mother-of two, started doing guided visualisations with her children when her three-year old daughter was having nightmares and sleep disturbances. “I noticed that the demands on children were increasing and they got no quiet time,” says Christiane. “My children really seemed to benefit – my daughter started sleeping more peacefully and my son was less anxious.”
Christiane went on to set up meditation and relaxation courses for children called Calm For Kids and also runs training courses for parents and teachers and a consulting services for schools. Her classes use well-established meditation techniques but don’t follow any particular religion and philosophy. “I aim to give children a positive introduction and solid foundation to meditation, along with ways in which they can calm themselves in stressful or difficult situation. My classes take a multi sensory approach and are centred on singing and chanting, breath awareness and focused games.”
Reactions to Christiane’s methods are very positive. Children enjoy the fun, informal classes and parents appreciate the skills that their children acquire. “Meditation doesn’t perform miracles, but it does help children with sleeping problems, ” she acknowledges. “One child in my group with an anxiety disorder now experiences panic attacks much less frequently. On the whole, most children benefit from learning how to relax, listen and concentrate.”
Top of the class
So far, there’s only one school in the country where meditation forms part of the curriculum. The Maharishi School in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, was started in 1986 by a group of dissatisfied parents (all meditators). It had one teacher and 14 children. There are now 100 children, ranging from the age of four to 16 and the school is academically placed in the top 2.5 per cent of the country.
To an outsider, the staff and pupils appear no different from those in any other well-run school – smartly dressed in conventional uniform in orderly classrooms. But there is one fundamental difference. Each day, staff and pupils begin and end their schooling with transcendental meditation, a state of deep calm and restfulness, which they say allows them to give their best throughout the day.
“The overall aim of the school is to achieve education through enlightenment,” says head teacher Derek Cassells, who believes that mediation helps bring the nervous system into balance. “From that balance comes a greater ability to focus, better comprehension and an ability to understand the subjects more clearly and at a more profound depth. As a result, the children are at ease, automatically enjoy learning and can utilise more of their potential. All we do is just bring out what’s already there.”
For TM teacher Leslie Kirk, mediation can start at a tender age. As well as holding private classes, she regularly visits St mark’s Square Nursery School in London to lead a Maharishi Word of Widsom session with the infants, aged two to six. Unlike adult transcendental meditation, in which a mantra is repeated twice a day for 20 minutes, in Word of Wisdom – or Walking Mantra – children repeat their word as they play. According to the nursery’s head teacher, Sheema Parsons, the children learn better as a result of TM.
“It enables children to be grounded and centred in themselves,” says Leslie. “I know Sheema has notice improvements in concentration and co-operation, and I certainly have done with my two boys, who practised Word of Wisdom from a very young age. I think it gives children a resource for themselves to help with stressful situations and it stays with them throughout life. When they’re older and stressed out about something, they’re better able to deal with it.”
RELAX WITH YOUR CHILD
Here’s an example of a simple visualisation exercise, devised by Christiane Kerr. Adapt the language to make it appropriate for you child’s age and choose a topic that interests him or her. Use calm, relaxing images, avoiding anything that’s violent or exciting (such as pirate ships or theme parks). Ask your child to lie on the floor, with his hands by his sides and his legs relaxed. Be flexible on position – the most important thing is that your child is comfortable enough to lie still. Ask your child to shake out any tense or stiff bits of his body. If he wants, he can close his eyes. Speak in a calm, soothing voice. Don’t use too much intonation – it shouldn’t sound like you’re reading a story. Say: “Today we’re going to fly off on our magic carpet. You will be very safe on this carpet. The carpet flies up into the sky. It’s a warm sunny day and you can feel a soft breeze on your arms. Notice the fluffy white clouds and birds as you fly. You land on a beach and you can smell the fresh, salty air. You can hear the waves lapping against the shore and the call of seagulls.
You get off your magic carpet and feel the sand beneath your feet. You run down to the water’s edge and paddle along the shoreline. The water feels warm on your toes. You decide to build a sandcastle, so you dig with our hands, feeling the wet, sludgy sand. You create a magnificent castle with turrets and a drawbridge. You then explore the beach looking for shells to decorate the castle. It’s the best sandcastle you’ve ever seen.
It’s time to return now, so you get back on your magic carpet and fly up into the sky. On your way back, remember what a lovely time you had on the beach. You return to this room and wiggle your fingers and toes very slowly. When you’re ready you can sit up and tell me all about your beach.”
TM teacher leslie Kirk: 020 7433
Maharishi School, Skelmersdale: 01695 729912 www.maharishischool.com
Christiane Kerr at Calm For Kids 020 8742 1326 www.calmforkids.com
Words of Discovery 0116 262 2244
Teaching Meditation to Children by David Fontana and Ingrid Slack (Element Books)