The 12 Thai boys trapped in a cave for two weeks kept their calm through meditation, taught to them by their coach, a former Buddhist monk. Here’s how meditation can help your child keep it together during and after a crisis. Meditation is no longer a luxury but a necessity for your child.
By Megha Pai
Manal Carara, a former professor and an Art of Living teacher who has been taking meditation and breathing-based trauma relief programmes in war zones for over a decade now, talks about a 12-year-old Syrian boy (name withheld) in Lebanon, who saw both of his brothers being killed by the ISIS.
“Every time he closed his eyes to meditate, he would see them. He would draw Kalashnikovs. He never slept. On the last day of the workshop he said, ‘Those 10 minutes I am able to meditate here, are worth eight hours of sleep for me because I am finally able to rest’,” Carara shares. Since last year, more than 16,000 children in the refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, have been trained in meditation and child-friendly deep breathing techniques.
“What is so unique here is that we teach techniques that kids can use daily at any time, which help reduce stress, without being dependent on a psychologist or a social worker,” says Chris, a senior resilience workshop trainer with International Association for Human Values, “Now they have the tools to prevent any kind of tension or critical situation they might face in the future.”
In times of crisis, be it a war or natural calamity, plenty of organisations pledge financial support for medical aid, homes and clothing. But the humanitarian medical response does not pay enough attention to the aspect of mental health and the urgent need for psychosocial support that arises in such times. Chris explains that these workshops are a result of this crying need to address this gap in mental health aid. The modules he teaches offer more than the traditional psychosocial method of addressing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress among children. “It is holistic in that it works on the body and breath and addresses the trauma at emotional, mental and levels of social interaction.”
More recently, the world witnessed the brave, meticulous and near miraculous rescue operation of the 12 Thai boys and their football coach. But the fact that has left everyone amazed is how peaceful and calm the children and their coach were through the entire ordeal. Ten days after the group of 13 had gone missing, two rescue divers found them sitting in the dark and meditating. Meditation helped them stay calm but also mentally strong at the same time.
Meditation is the art of being in the present moment. Children naturally live in the present moment but due to stress this mechanism begins to fail. When they are stressed, their brain loses the ability to think clearly and find solutions. As a result, they begin to panic and most often land up making wrong choices. Fear and doubts give rise to anxiety, which hinders their intuitive abilities and problem solving skills. Regular practice of meditation sharpens their gift of intuition among children. This is key for children to handle critical and stressful situations.
Meditation fosters positivity which gives us hope in tough situations. Meditation helps create synergy, team spirit and harmony. In a group, attitudes can be contagious; strength instills courage and negativity begets defeatism. Along with a positive mindset, meditation also brings faith and steadiness of mind without which the mind falls into doubt and negativity. This is probably what kept the group morale of the boys up in such a dire situation.
Meditation and breathing exercises are not just a great tool to help deal with a present situation, but these practices also help children wipe out the lingering effect of traumatic memories and release the stress caused by it, which if not attended to, could snowball into aggression, fear or lack of trust and violence. Meditation gives them the attitude to face all odds in life with calmness, courage and conviction.
Here are some things you can do to introduce mindfulness into the lives of your children:
* Get your child into the habit of sitting for a few minutes with eyes closed and internalise attention.
* Make sure your child stays well hydrated as water is essential to clear and focused thinking.
* Encourage your child to take a few observant deep long breaths every day and pay attention to the movement of the breath.
* Children can be taught exercises like the humming bee, power breath or the straw breath that instantly calm down the nervous system and increase energy levels in the body. Also called the Pranayamas, these are breathing exercises that increase the “prana” or life force energy. You may teach your child a few Mudra Pranayamas such as Chin mudra, Chinmayi mudra, Aadi Mudra and Merudanda mudra.
* Foster the right attitude in your child by teaching them to relax and respond to the situation rather than react to it.
* It’s important for the child to learn to recognise and follow their intuition. Intuition is simply having the right thought at the right time. Powerful breathing rhythms like Sudarshan Kriya can help your child to release stress, develop intuition and be in the present moment effortlessly. Practicing deep breathing techniques reduces the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. This naturally leaves the child feeling fresh, calm and enthusiastic.
(With inputs from Shreya Chugh, International Director, Art of Living Kids Programs)