Stress less: meditation is for everyone
There’s a free and easy way to tame the stress that seems to hover over everyday life – and it’s available for kids and their parents. Meditation can be as simple as a quiet moment to center your thoughts on the present moment, according to Chad Dingman, Director of Oncology Support and Center for Integrative Medicine at the Gibbs Cancer Center-Spartanburg Healthcare System,
“I think there’s a misconception that it’s Buddhist monks in Nepal in orange suits being silent,” Dingman said.
But that’s simply not true. Learning to practice meditation is for all ages, all faiths and anyone wanting to slow down and get more out of life.
“There’s a concentrative type of meditation where you focus on something – your breath, someone’s voice,” Dingman said. “I really gravitate to active meditation. Swimming is probably my most meditative activity. Meditation is really mindfulness. It’s a practice of being in the here and now.”
Living in the present means – as much as possible – letting go of regret about yesterday and worry about tomorrow. And it turns out to be a healthy way of reducing stress.
Dingman advises simply looking around to see what you notice. Take a walk and let little ones join in. Dingman encourages curiosity and asking kids what interests them.
“A misconception is that mediation is a visual thing,” he said. “Meditation uses all of our senses. Hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling – that’s all part of being mindful.”
Traditional practices such as yoga and tai chi can be incorporated, of course, but so can dancing, walking barefoot on the grass or having a quiet, electronics-free family dinner together, Dingman said. With younger children, including movement may be especially important.
“Allow your kids to share what they’re interested in and turn that into a mindful activity,” he said. “It can be simple tasks that we do every day. Focus on the task and take your time.”
The practice of meditation takes our minds and bodies out of the high stress “fight or flight” response that was designed to protect us from danger.
“Meditation has been widely studied,” Dingman said. “You are reducing the stress responses in your body. You’re in survival mode. We’ve now turned stress into mortgage payments and social media. When we carry that stress around, it’s very harmful to the body. By practicing mindfulness and meditation, that’s really allowing the body to elicit the relaxation response.”
Learning to calm ourselves and slow down means we can react to stressors out of thought, not habit, according to Dingman.
“Start small,” he said. “It’s something very easy and simple. You can take 30 seconds and do some form of meditation. Experiment with what works and feels good.”
That might mean swimming like Dingman, sitting quietly or going outdoors.
“It’s portable,” Dingman said. “It’s free. We’re talking something that has been proven through science to be beneficial to chronic stress and disease.”
“Thank You Body, Thank You Heart: A Gratitude and Self-Compassion Practice for Bedtime” by Jennifer Cohen Harper (PESI Publishing and Media) is a gentle, rhyming book that is a wonderful starting point for gratitude and meditation as part of a bedtime routine. For details, visit https://www.littlefloweryoga.com.
“I Yoga You” by Genevieve Santos (Simon and Schuster, ages pre-kindergarten and older, available Dec. 10) This padded board book is perfect for lap reading. When little ones get squirmy, they can learn fun (and relaxing) yoga poses, too.