“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” ~ Swami Sivananda
I am a teacher at a place called Life School. This year, I work with 23 students, ages 8 to 12. I teach English/Language Arts. Most of my students are bilingual, some trilingual. A few are just starting to learn English and a few are fluent, native English speakers.
Every morning, before launching into the lesson, we spend a bit of time breathing. I ring a Tibetan singing bowl and we do a few minutes of mindfulness practice. One aspect of our practice is called “heartfulness” which is the kid-friendly term for heart-based yoga and meditation.
Here are some lovely heartfulness practices for humans of all ages.
Breath is life. Deep breathing calms the mind and body. It helps us get ready to meditate. It helps us achieve our two goals in mindfulness: focus and relaxation. “Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Let it go.”
Tuning in with our bodies, we also bring our attention to our emotions. When we sit and meditate, we learn to identify our wide variety of emotions without reacting to them. “Notice how you feel.”
The crux of heartfulness is being kind, to ourselves and others. One way to do this is through mindful speech. Being positive, caring and kind in our words and tone. Thinking before we speak. “Are our words are true, helpful, inspiring necessary and kind?”
Forgiveness practice involves forgiving ourselves and others, as well as hoping that others may forgive us. With kids, I have them think of a time when someone hurt their feelings and imagine that person apologizing and them accepting the apology. Then, I have them remember a time when they hurt someone through their mean words or actions. They visualize telling that person they’re sorry and being forgiven. “May I forgive and be forgiven.”
Kids love loving-kindness practice, because it’s simple and powerful. We put our hands on our hearts and imagine ourselves. We make wishes for ourselves: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free from suffering.” Then we hold our hands out and offer those same wishes for others. Finally, we hold our arms up over our heads and send wishes of safety, happiness, health and freedom for all beings—every plant, animal and person in the world. “May all be safe, happy, healthy and free from suffering.”
We practice a kid-modified version of Tonglen. Students imagine an animal suffering (here in Guatemala, there are many street dogs, so the kids have seen plenty of them suffering). They imagine sending compassion and good wishes to that animal, wishing that it may be fed and cared for and loved. We also talk about people suffering and how to practice compassion for homeless and poor people we see begging on the streets. “I breathe out peace and goodness.”
We talk and write about the people, places and things we are grateful for in our life. We practice meditation and focus on a sense of gratitude for our breath, our bodies, our minds, our community, and our lives. “Let’s be more grateful today.”
I can’t think of a better or more important way to start the school day—or any day. Practicing heartfulness is an enjoyable, meaningful experience for kids and grown ups alike, and a wonderful way to cultivate compassion, kindness, gratitude and mindfulness.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman