A group of 7-year-old boys sit very still on grass. With their hands on their lap, they close their eyes.
Even with the roar of passing airplanes, they focus on their breathing.
They listen to instructions: Deeply inhale for three seconds through your nose. Hold your breath for three seconds and then exhale through your mouth for another three seconds.
On a hot, sticky summer evening, the boys are introduced to meditation at a sprawling football field in College Park. The rising second-graders are all playing in a rec football league. But before they tackle ladder drills in football practice, they get a lesson in taking deep breaths and learning to live in the present.
The instructor is Prince Daniels Jr. (better known as “P.J.”), a former NFL player who also had played football at Georgia Tech. After suffering a career-ending injury and being let go by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, Daniels turned to the ancient practice of meditation to help him come to peace with the end of his football career.
“Don’t think about your parents. Don’t worry about the planes overhead. Don’t touch the grass. Focus on your breathing,” said Prince, a still muscular and fit 32-year-old yoga and meditation instructor who lives in San Diego and visits Atlanta frequently. He led the meditation exercise in College Park as part of a several-day visit to Atlanta on a book tour for his children’s book, “Danny Yukon & the Secrets of the Amazing Lamp” (The Sager Group, $18.99).
Meditation (also known as mindfulness) is becoming popular for adults and children. Workplaces such as Google and Target are introducing mindfulness into the workplace as adults turn to it for more calm and balance in their hectic lives. More children are also learning about meditation to help them relax, focus and assist others.
The practice of meditation often involves focusing on a target such as breathing, sound (such as a bell or a spoken affirmation) or object (such as a candle); noticing when your mind wanders; and bringing your attention back to the target.
Meditation is offered at private schools across metro Atlanta, including Paideia and the Galloway School, as well as at Atlanta Public Schools. This fall, Atlanta Public Schools will unveil new mindfulness techniques at several schools, including all of the district’s middle schools, as part of a new initiative aimed at teaching children comprehensive social and emotional skills (such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making).
“We are looking to develop the whole child,” said Kori Sanchez Smith, Social Emotional Learning coordinator for Atlanta Public Schools.
A growing number of small studies of children and meditation suggests the impact from meditation can be powerful, helping youngsters with everything from improving their social skills to improving their focus in school. A 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, based on about 400 low-income elementary school-aged children, reported that those who participated in a three-times-a-week meditation/mindfulness program showed significant improvements in all four areas measured — paying attention, self-control, classroom participation, and respect for others.
As the heat hovered in the air at the football field, Daniels led the group of youngsters in ladder drills and other football drills, encouraging the kids to take a moment, “to just breathe” between each exercise.
“We can get overwhelmed,” Daniels said. “And sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to just breathe, and be. My interest is in getting kids to meditate, to learn to control their emotions when you encounter the urge to lash out.”
MINDFUL LISTENING, A MEDITATION EXERCISE FOR CHILDREN
Sitting comfortably, bring out a bell, chime or anything that makes a simple sound that will carry when struck. Allow the children to hold it in their hands, feeling and hearing its sound as you ring the bell, chime, etc.
This time, ring the bell and have the children listen very carefully — paying attention from the very first moment the child hears the sound of the bell all way to the end. When the children can’t hear the sound anymore, they open their eyes or raise their hand. You can first try it with eyes open and then with eyes closed.
Source: Stephanie Clement, owner of Stillness Yoga and Meditation Center in east Cobb For more meditation exercises, go to http://parenting.blog.ajc.com/.
Joree Rosenblatt, author of the new book “Squirmy Learns to be Mindful” (YouthLight, $14.95), a children’s book that teaches children about meditation through a story about a caterpillar anxious about turning into a butterfly, offers the following tips:
Take a minute and just breathe. Slowing down to take mindful breaths will calm your brain and calm your body, allowing you to respond and not react to whatever is happening in the moment.
Practice being more aware of the here and now, rather than focusing on the past or worrying about the future.
Have an attitude of gratitude. Paying attention to the positive helps you deal with things that feel negative.
When you get distracted, bring your attention back to the present moment by saying the words “breathing in, breathing out” inside your mind.
Remember that the most constant thing is change. It is important to learn how to adapt to change, rather than fight or resist it.
Slow down. Don’t force it. Try to be present in the moment. Everything happens when it is supposed to, so enjoy the process.