This summer I worked in a middle school camp. I taught yoga to a group of students that you would think would be uninterested. A group of “baseball jocks” that fought to be my assistant during our daily yoga practice. By the end of the camp each of them knew the names of the poses I taught them and could successfully lead a thirty minute yoga practice without assistance from me. I was proud that I had instilled this love of yoga into these boys and the few girls who came to my classes. They were focusing on their breath and on the postures and they were taking it seriously. However, once they left the class, all their mindfulness was forgotten; as is expected with kids.
But, I began to become aware of a bigger issue overall when it came to mindfulness and how important it can be for our kids. During lunch and after the program ended for the day we would sell snacks to the students. I admit that these were not healthy snacks. They consisted of ice cream, chips, candy, sodas, more candy, beef jerky, and even more candy. The kids would shell out a dollar each for these sugary and salty treats. Kids would come to the counter with a $10 bill and spend the entire amount. I watched kids buy a soda, gulp it down in under a minute (not an exaggeration) and walk to the back of the line to purchase another. They didn’t even taste the soda. They would pop five or six peanut M&Ms into their mouths chew a few times and swallow. Snickers bars would be eaten in less than five bites. Kids do not, naturally, know how to go slow and savor.
Admittedly this is not just a concern with kids. Adults do not move slowly and savor. But, I firmly believe that the mindfulness gained from slowing our eating process down could go a very long way in battling our country’s growing obesity epidemic. I make that statement based on my own battle with weight. When I mindlessly shovel food into my mouth the pounds creep on. When I worked for nearly a year to lose forty pounds, my major strategy was to eat slowly and enjoy the flavors of what I was eating. I found as much joy in a 1/4 of the portions I had been consuming mindlessly. It takes as much as 20-30 minutes for your body to completely process satiety. Your stomach takes that long to tell your brain, “hey, I’m full, stop shoveling it in.” If you are not paying attention and eating too quickly you won’t know when to stop until you feel you are ready to explode.
Now, to turn this back to our children. By teaching them a few tricks, we can teach our kids to slow down and enjoy their food and they won’t need as much. The kids that drink their coke in under a minute and are grabbing for another are not even noticing the taste of what they are drinking and on top of that they are packing on empty calories. One trick I taught myself to stop guzzling or shoveling was to put down my glass or can between each sip. This also works when eating. Put your fork or spoon down on the table between bites. To take it even further, share with your kids that they should place their drink or utensils down for 3-5 beats or bites. In all honesty, this was a difficult task for me to learn and I have to remind myself often to do continue doing it. But, if you begin instilling this habit in your children early it will become ingrained. When the fork isn’t poised to bring another mouthful to the lips then flavor can be experienced.
Play a game with your kids. Once they put the fork down, have them chew and savor the food that is in their mouth. Then, have them describe the flavors to you. Don’t let them talk with any food in their mouths; this will also ensure the slower eating. In the beginning it’s ok if it’s a few simple adjectives. Then, as they become better at it, ask them to be more descriptive (as a former English teacher I love the idea of teaching kids to be descriptive). Do this when they drink as well. What are they tasting? The more time they spend thinking about what they are eating and drinking the slower they will move, the less they will eat, and the fewer pounds they will pack on.
Another great thing you can do with your kids is go on a walk with them. Go through the neighborhood and get their perspective. What do they see? What do they hear? Have them get in tune with their own mindfulness. What do they feel when they walk? What do they smell as they move through the neighborhood? Ask them questions. Listen to their answers. This will not only help them be aware of their surroundings; it will get them active and moving. If you make it another game they won’t feel as if you’re forcing them to exercise, they’ll see it as something fun. Then physical activity will become second nature.
The joys of mindfulness are not just for Buddhists or yogis, they are for everyone. We can all benefit from going slowly, staying in the moment. Enjoying our food, enjoying the company we’re with, and enjoying our children’s perspective on life. A slow mindful family dinner or walk will also allow you to make a stronger deeper connection with your children. It will also form a great habit that they will ingrain in their own children in the future. Start your kids on the path to mindfulness now; you won’t regret it.
- Engage your senses (thehindu.com)
- Yoga: Benefits for Children and Children on the Autism Spectrum (wholehealthyogakids.wordpress.com)
- Portion Distortion (33daychallenge.wordpress.com)