Mindful is the new busy. Backed by science showing that mindfulness boosts everything from immunity to productivity, workplaces across the world are encouraging employees to get back to the business of being right here, right now.
But it's not just overloaded grownups who can benefit from this age-old practice of paying attention to the present moment.
Our kids are stressed too. And studies show mindfulness can help children decrease anxiety, regulate their emotions, and increase feelings of optimism and well-being. Mindfulness can help foster kindness. It can even improve memory and math test scores.
Here are three quick and easy mindfulness exercises to help your kids tap into this source of calm amid the chaos:
1. Two minutes, no agenda
Google's mindfulness guru, Chade-Meng Tan, is the author of Search Inside Yourself, a book based on his global mindfulness training program of the same name. As one of Google's earliest engineers, he helped develop the company's first mobile search engine.
Every night before bed, he sits with his daughter for two minutes.
"I like to joke that two minutes is optimal for us, because that is the attention span of a child and of an engineer," he writes in his book.
During those two minutes, Tan explains, "we quietly enjoy being alive and being together." They have no agenda, other than to shift their focus from doing to being, which is a tenet of mindfulness.
Every night since reading Tan's book, I have done this with my skeptical teenage son. "Two minutes, no agenda?" I ask when we're winding down for bed. We start out in silence but generally end up talking.
After the first night, I asked him for feedback.
"It was a nice way to connect," he said.
Mindfulness in action. From a teenager. I can't emphasize enough the simplicity and preciousness of this practice.
2. The transitional pause
I first learned about this technique in mindfulness training, when the instructor told us to breathe in, and focus on the millisecond before our body began to exhale.
I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn't isolate that space between breaths. It mirrored my life at the time, racing unconsciously from one thing to the next.
"See if you can build more transitional pauses into your day," she said.
I didn't have time for pauses. Now I get it. A transitional pause isn't necessarily a stop in the action, but rather a heightened awareness--a flashlight of your attention, trained on what you're doing and how you're feeling.
Try this with your child: Tell her to breathe in deeply, and pause for a second. Ask her to tune into that space in between breaths.
Then, have her exhale deeply, emptying all the air out. Pause in that space. Then breathe normally.
Focusing on the space before something is about to happen can help you transition with greater awareness and appreciation.
Encourage your child to notice the transitions in her day: walking out the door in the morning, getting off the bus and heading into school, transitioning from one class to the next, shifting from school to extracurricular activities.
Encourage her to zoom her mental flashlight on these transitions--to focus on the moment when one activity ends and another begins. Just like paying attention to the space between the in breath and the out breath. No need to do anything other than simply notice the transitions. That flashlight beam is mindfulness.
3. Beginner's mind
In Buddhism, there's a concept called "beginner's mind." It's an openness and a willingness to view things from a fresh perspective, with wonder, like a child seeing something for the first time.
This mindfulness exercise nurtures the natural curiosity of younger children, while helping them develop presence and focus.
Ask your child to look at a familiar object. Have him talk about it as if he's seeing it for the first time. Which details does he notice that his eyes might typically miss because of the familiarity?
Try it with food. Ask him to pay attention to the smell, taste, and texture as if he's eating for the very first time.
You can also ask your child to look at you as if he's meeting you for the first time. Have him search your face for details he might not otherwise notice.
Speak, and ask him to listen as if he's hearing your voice for the first time.
Now reverse the roles, seeing him and hearing him with your beginner's mind.
Not only will your child develop a stronger sense of awareness, he will also know you took the time to help foster that. And you'll become a more mindful parent in the process.