A very simple but effective type of meditation is the practice of fixing your gaze on one steady object for a set period of time. You may have heard of an adult practice of fixing one’s gaze on a candle flame. With children we get more creative to find safer variations of the practice.
1. Choose something to be the object of your gaze. This is an important choice. A candle flame works so well for an adult practice because it is at once con- stant and ever changing. A candle flame has a small amount of movement that keeps drawing you in, but it doesn’t change so much that it inspires thoughts or ideas. Try to choose something with similar qualities for your practice with your child: a sand timer, a jar filled with water and glitter that you can shake, a battery-operated flickering candle (try putting it inside a brown paper bag), or something out in nature such as a stream, clouds changing shape, or leaves moving in the wind. Involving your child in this choice will make the entire practice more interesting to him.
2. Sit down on your yoga mat with your chosen object in front of you. If you are outside using an object in nature for this practice, make sure you have some- thing clean and comfortable to sit on. Sit up tall and take a few full breaths to prepare.
3. Set a timer for two minutes (this is a good amount of time to start with, but you can try more or less depending on your child’s prior capacity and experience).
4. Fix your gaze on the object you’ve chosen, and let it fill up your mind.
5. Now, here is the most important part of this practice: When your mind wanders away from your object, try to notice right away, and then bring it back. The exercise of noticing your mind wandering, and practicing bringing it back, is the true purpose of this activity. Keep practicing until your timer goes off.
6. When the timer goes off, close your eyes and try to keep the object you have been gazing at fixed in your mind. Take a few full breaths, and when you are ready open your eyes.
Follow-up: Talk with your child about his experience practicing Single-Pointed Focus. Allow him time to share whether he was able to notice his mind wandering, and even what his mind wandered to. Practicing this alongside your child, and sharing some thoughts about your own wandering mind, is a helpful part of the experience. As your child gets more comfortable with this practice, extend the amount of time on the timer.
Challenges: Some children feel frustrated when they notice their mind wandering. They think that the point of the practice is to stay connected to their object for the whole time they are practicing, and that if their mind wanders they are doing something wrong. Make sure your child knows that everyone’s mind wanders. It is the job of his mind to make thoughts, and that is a good thing! Remind him that this activity is about noticing when his mind wanders, and that every time he notices his mind wandering he is doing the activity perfectly.
Daily Practice: Learning to notice when your mind wanders, and bring it back to the activity you want to be focusing on, is a vital life skill. Your child can remind himself of this practice anytime he has something important to do. Encourage him to take a few full breaths before starting, and remind him that it is totally natural for his mind to wander. Whether he is trying to focus on homework, a test, learning a part on the piano, or listen- ing to a friend talk, his mind will still keep making thoughts. The important thing is that he can recognize when his mind is wandering, and bring it back.
See this and many more activities in LFY founder Jennifer Cohen Harpers book, Little Flower Yoga for Kids: A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance, available now for pre-order from New Harbinger Publications.