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JANUARY COFFEE BREAK:The new ABCs: attention, balance and clarity

Imagine the sound of a chime or gong that invites you to take a moment to breathe slowly from your belly, experience what is happening in this very moment with the breath, in the body’s sensations, and in the mind’s activities.

See if you can sustain a state of present attention with the breath while clearly perceiving thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions as they occur without reacting in an automatic or habitual way.

Sound easy or even a bit strange?

This month’s Coffee Break introduced Laguna Beach parents to InnerKids (www.innerkids.org), an organization that has become a national leader in teaching Mindful Awareness to children in pre-kindergarten through middle school.

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Founded by Susan Kaiser Greenland and Seth Greenland in 2001, InnerKids teaches students simple self-directed games and activities that are designed to develop attention, balance, and clarity — the new ABCs — at a time when our children are that much more challenged by a multi-tasked and multi-media world.

Mindful Awareness is aimed at increasing one’s ability to feel present, focused, and calm. A higher quality of attention occurs when we can notice and identify mind and body states in the present moment, without labeling them as good or bad.

The InnerKids organization uses the awareness of breathing (just as it is in the present moment) to help kids develop their attention skills. Activities and games take into account developmental and age differences.

Young children, for example, may play a game where a little stuffed animal is placed on their bellies to observe their breathing patterns, while older children may be asked to focus on “soft belly breathing” while sustaining attention for half a breath.

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The fundamental rules are to keep it simple, keep it fun, and keep your sense of humor. Some exercises ask kids to sit in a circle and pass each other a cup filled to the top with water, or hold a piece of ice in their hand and experience the sensation it creates and their reaction to it.

These exercises are meant to be fun while helping kids focus their attention directly on the moment, developing an awareness through sensory experience like touch, sound, taste, smell, sight, and intuition.

Music, art, and movement exercises are also introduced to help kids direct their attention while moving. Often kids move a lot because it’s difficult to tolerate keeping still.

Moving becomes a coping style aimed at managing anxiety. Students at InnerKids use a card called the “mind meter” to notice and identify mind and body states in the present moment.

Questions used to identify a mind state might be whether the child feels clear (point to blue) or confused (point to red).

The meter is also used to illustrate that mind and body states may not always be aligned (for example, your body may be relaxed and your mind distracted; conversely, your mind may be focused and your body tense).

The most important concept that InnerKids tries to convey in the mind meter game is that there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. Everyone has a hard time paying attention and sitting still sometimes, just as everyone may feel focused and calm sometimes.

The intention is to help children notice and identify mind and body states without labeling them as good or bad just to see what is happening in that moment.

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Balance develops when a child can observe his or her mind and body states without reacting in an automatic or habitual way. It takes attention to facilitate the capacity for better balance. Through balance comes more clarity and calm.

We have seen the effectiveness of Mindful Awareness training through empirical research studies with adults.

In the next week, InnerKids will be part of a major research study at UCLA. For more information visit www.innerkids.org or call (310) 440-4869.

 


  • Karen Redding is a social worker/psychoanalyst in private practice in Laguna Beach. She can be reached at (949) 715-7007.
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