It’s amazing the power that simple breathing exercises can have for a stressed out mind. Techniques like meditation and mindfulness are especially useful now as people across the world grapple with illness, economic impact and social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To get a step-by-step guide on how to make use of these techniques, SurvivorNet consulted mediation expert and author Mallika Chopra.Read More
“The reason I love writing the kids books is it’s the same techniques for children and adults — but when you write or explain things to children, it’s just explaining the ideas or the ways to do it,” Chopra says. “So, I’m finding a lot of adults, teachers, parents … these are the techniques they can use for themselves, as well as their children.”
“The techniques are very basic,” she adds. “They’re basically about using breath, about being aware of our body, being aware of what we say to ourselves in the world. These are things that really any age can do. [But] when you write it for kids, you don’t have to adult the philosophy.”
How to Teach Children to Find Calm
Copra has written four books, the fourth of which — Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More — is a meditation guide for children. And the first step in practicing mindfulness with your children, she says, is to first search for and identify a practice that works for you personally.
Commenting on the high-stress environment many families are currently living in amid the pandemic, Chopra says the first thing to realize is that it’s very normal to feel overwhelmed.
“It’s totally normal and natural how our bodies and minds are going to react in this situation — to feel overwhelmed and stressed,” Chopra says. “For those that aren’t feeling it — I’m amazed … one of the first things we can do is just recognize that we have those feelings. Both as parents and as kids, we’re feeling sadness and grief for things that we’re missing out on, or grief for people who are unwell. It’s important to recognize that those feelings are normal and they’re natural and we can’t force them away. People react to things in different ways.”
In addition to accepting your own feelings and reactions to the current pandemic, Chopra says it’s also important to realize that your kids may react to these stressors in completely different ways — and that’s OK too.
Once you accept these feelings, you can begin to practice other mindfulness techniques — likely with more success — like breathing exercises and other techniques.
“Find your own techniques … and then you can share those with your kids by example,” Chopra says. “So, that may be taking some of the breathing exercises. It may just be going outside and standing and taking some deep breathes of fresh air if you can. It may be going for a mindful walk, which is going for a walk and putting all your devices away and just being aware of what’s happening with the breeze and the colors around you — and those are things you could start doing with your kids [too].”
What’s a Breathing Exercise?
When Chopra refers to breathing exercises, she’s talking about a concept where you continually come back to your breath — consciously thinking about it — as a way to relax and “quiet the mind.”
“It really begins with just taking a deep breath in to the count of four, pausing, and breathing out,” Chopra says. “What that does is it helps us transition our bodies from the fight-or-flight response that we have that stimulates all types of stress hormones to having a more reactive and mindful response to any situation.”
Being mindful means to be aware of your body, your thoughts and what is going on around you, Chopra says. Taking a few moments to breathe deeply and focus on mindfulness can have a really profound effect on overall mood.
Chopra also suggests people do a body scan — which means taking a moment of quiet thought to breathe and check in with the various parts of your body.
“Set aside a minute or two, sit in a comfortable position or lay down. First, take a deep breathe in and out … then, shift your attention, starting from your feet and moving up your body,” Chopra explains. “With your breath you can transition up. So, start with your feet, move up your legs, focus on posture, notice how you may be sitting or standing or lying down, and then move up to your stomach and with each part of the body, take a conscious breath.”
Chopra recommends looking for different feelings in every part of the body — such as butterflies in the stomach or anxiety manifesting in various body parts.
Meditation for Cancer Survivors
For people who have been through cancer or some other health struggle, meditation can also have a really profound impact. A lot of that, Chopra says, is due to the fact that these practices are meant to help quiet the mind, and that allows the body to rest and recover.
“I do find in having worked with people who are going through physical or mental illness, or just grief, that these techniques just help to quiet the mind and get more rest in the body — and that’s what the healing response is all about, just getting to rest,” Chopra says. “These techniques help not just physically, but they also help to come to terms with transitions that are sometimes inevitable when people are going through something difficult.”
And if you’re attempting to use mindfulness techniques and hitting some road blocks, Chopra says not to worry. It happens to everyone — even someone who has been practicing for 40 years, like herself.
“I am the first person to recognize that I still struggle — even 40 years later — to find the right practice, and that’s part of the process,” Chopra says. “My book for adults is called, Living With Intent, but the subtitle is My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy — and the most important word there is messy. Because we all lead messy, complicated lives and we’re seeking tools to help us get through everyday, and particularly challenging times.”
For people willing to put in the work and practice mindfulness, Chopra says, it can be a really helpful tool in your coping toolbox.