I’m sitting next to the fire as I write, taking time to warm up next to a place I love to be this time of year. Warmth; something I appreciate feeling, both physically and emotionally. As I sit here, I am feeling grateful about my morning. I have the honor of working with children and adolescents inside schools and throughout our community. I learn so much from these young people and I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to get to know so many of them.
This morning, I was teaching mindfulness to a group of first, second and third graders I have been working with for almost 2 months. At the beginning of the class today, we spent four minutes in silence, practicing mindful breathing. Yes, that’s right. Four minutes! 4 minutes in a still, upright posture, focusing on each in and out breath, noticing when thoughts and emotions arrive, and then returning attention back to each breath. I don’t know how many of you have tried that before? Let me tell you, it’s not easy! Not even for adults. When’s the last time you tried taking 4 minutes out of your day to sit quietly and breath? Let’s try.
Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down. Let your eyes close or let them rest softly open. Notice how your body is positioned and make any adjustments you may need in order to be comfortable and rest still for a bit. Let your attention drift to your breath. Where do you notice your breath? In your abdominal area? By your ribs? Near your nostrils? Somewhere else? Maybe you can notice your skin or clothing moving as you breath? Stay aware, focused and concentrated on as many breaths as you can. When a thought, memory, or plan pulls your attention away from your breath, notice that, and then gently and kindly return your attention back to your breath again. Repeat these steps for 4 minutes.
Back in class, after we had completed our 4 minutes of mindful breathing, one of the students softly rings a chime and we all come back together again. I usually take some time to check-in with the students and ask them how they are feeling. Responses vary, but often include: relaxed, calm, sleepy, peaceful, good. How do you feel after practicing mindful breathing? The only way to answer that question accurately is to try, and then ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”
Today’s new class activity was to explore the word grateful. I asked the students what other words they knew that could accurately describe grateful and here are a few words they came up with: happy, glad, love, thankful, appreciate. I think they did a great job with this list. What other words might you add?
Our next step involved sitting quietly for a few moments and coming up with 3 things we were grateful for. Once they had their own 3 things, we got back together as a group, grabbed a large piece of paper and began sharing and collecting their list. Some of their answers included: family, shelter, food, parents, school, dogs, cats, and friends. Then, we took an individual pause and the kids were asked to imagine their 3 gratitude selections positioned all around them; to their front, back, left and right sides. I asked them to notice what it felt like to be surrounded by gratefulness. What they came up with was very touching to me. Some of their answers included: loved, cared for, included, embraced, warm, safe. In a few short seconds, these 6, 7 and 8-year old children were able to feel, for themselves, the power of the practice of gratitude. We know from research and science, that the benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. And, people who regularly practice gratitude, by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for, experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. What’s remarkable to me is that in just a few minutes, these young students were able to understand many of these scientific findings all by themselves, simply by practicing and feeling gratitude on their own.
When is the last time you have allowed yourself a few minutes to practice gratitude? Let’s try:
Let yourself rest in a comfortable position. Bring to mind 3 people, places or things that you appreciate, and feel joy and gratitude for. Hold these ideas in your mind, body and heart. Notice how that feels. Now imagine yourself encompassed by these 3 things. Let that feeling rest inside of you, feeling connected and close to the 3 things that you chose. Notice. What are the words you would use to describe these feelings of gratitude? Stay with these sensations for as long as you can.
Mindful breathing. Gratitude. They can’t only be talked about. If you want to truly understand how they might impact your lives with greater peace, happiness, comfort and safety, you must experience them. You must live the experience. It’s like the experience of sitting by the fire. To truly feel the warmth and comfort of a fire, we have to sit by a fire. Talking about the warmth of a fire is not the same as sitting by a fire. Does this make sense? To really know it and to really understand it, it must be lived, felt and experienced, by you, first-hand.
I encourage you, now, rather than later, allow yourself to sit and just breath with awareness for several minutes a day. Take out a journal, or white board or sticky pad and begin practicing gratitude each day; three things. Maybe close your eyes and let yourself really feel gratitude. Don’t rush these experiences. Let yourself really soak them up and while you’re at it, check in, asking yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”
I’ll close with feedback that I always share with the kids (and that I remind myself of on a daily basis). There’s no wrong answer, no right or wrong emotion. Just try, right now. You can’t do this wrong.
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