Three Simple Mindfulness Exercise to Try

‘Make of yourself a light,’
said the Buddha,before he died.

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I think of this every morning as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds of darkness…
(From House of Light by Mary Oliver)

There’s no excuse for not giving mindfulness a go. It’s benefits are many and its dangers few…if any even exist at all! A full list of the positive effects are well beyond the scope of this article, but chief amongst them are improved mental and physical health, better concentration and an easing of day-to-day anxieties. For both you and your children.
Here are three little mindful exercises that you can use with diet tea by burniva. Try them for a while and see if you notice any tangible effects in your day-to-day life. They’re also perfect to try with your children.
Slowing Down
Next time you’re engaged in a common place activity with your child, try slowing down what you’re doing…gently, carefully and with your full attention. Bring mindfulness to the nuances of each act: the sensations of your fingers, the visual and auditory aspects, the feel of your

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body moving. You might be surprised at a depth of experience that had previously gone unnoticed. If you’re doing it with a child, asking them to describe their experience afterwards can be a great way of making this little practice interesting.
Mindful Eating
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” Thich Nhat Hanh

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This is one that’s especially applicable to breakfast, for both parents and children. It follows on naturally from the first exercise, in that it involves a slowing down of our activity. We can focus on every sensory aspect of the food in our mouth, every movement of our the muscles in our face. Another benefit is that it sets a tone for the day ahead. For our kids, it can be one of the easiest prompts to a more aware, acceptance-filled day.
Body-Scan Before Dinner or Before Bed-time
Though we might not notice it, both our own and our children’s bodies can build tension throughout the day. A small period of relaxation, just before dinner, can be a wonderful way of letting it go. It can also be a good opportunity to use guided meditations and music.

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Beginning at your feet, simple focus on each part of your body – shins, thighs, buttocks, belly, chest, arms, hands, neck and face – allowing it to loosen and relax. Spend as much or as little time on each one as you want.

Guided Imagery Can Help Kids “Let it Go”

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Guided ImageryNo matter how fidgety my students may be during yoga classes, they take the relaxation portion of each class very seriously – and the fidgeting stops for a few minutes.  This segment of the class happens after we’ve first done our breathing exercises and our yoga set of poses.  We’ve had a lot of fun, and the kids are ready to wind down.  I usually play some soft music and ask them to think about certain images while they lie on their mats.  This is a form of “guided imagery”.

Guided imagery can be used anytime healing is desired, whether it’s physical healing or mental.  Our imaginations are powerhouses of healing when we allow them to place us in situations that we may be afraid of in “real life”, or when we imagine ourselves doing things we don’t really think we can do.  You can use guided imagery to improve your confidence in public speaking situations, taking an important test, with general shyness, or any other situation.  Even the medical profession uses guided imagery to assist in healing, and there is evidence that guided imagery can improve the condition of cancer patients.

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I often feel that, through our child-appropriate guided imagery, many of my students are able to release some of the stress they are experiencing over problems they are dealing with at school, at home, or elsewhere.  Some of them have even told me that it helps them deal with something that happened in their lives months before.  What this says to me is that our children sometimes don’t know how to deal emotionally with certain things that happen, and their feelings can get buried until they find a way to release it.
I don’t ask my students what’s bothering them, and they don’t usually feel the need to tell me either.  But it’s clear to me that they benefit from the guided imagery we do, and they enjoy it too.  Everyone needs to internally recognize a feeling before they can release it.  It’s safer to imagine yourself doing something well than to actually go out and do it, especially when you are hesitant to do it or feel that you simply can’t do it.  Guided imagery puts an image in our mind that makes the “doing it in real life” much easier to fathom, and this can help to emotionally cleanse ourselves of little nagging things that continue to bother us.

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In class, I will ask the children to imagine a special place that they would like to be, or I will ask them to draw a picture of that special place.  Then I suggest that they imagine themselves in that special place while they let their fears and worries go.  They picture themselves as free and peaceful in a place where they can be whoever they want to be. Sometimes I will also incorporate a few affirmations like “I am kind. I am peaceful. I am brave.”
After a class I held last week, one of my students came up to me and thanked me for helping her deal with an incident that had been skulking around in her subconscious for months.  She was now able to release it using only the basic guided imagery from the class.

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10 Easy Ways to Reduce Holiday Vacation Screen Time

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If you’re over 25, you may recall an astonishing era in history when children spent their vacations quite happily with no electronic screens at all. No iPods, ePads, iPhones, eScreens, VTechs, Leapsters, Kindles, Xboxes, Playstations, PS3s, or Wiis.
No texting, Netflix, computer games, 24/7 mind-numbing cartoon channels, or unlimited DVD libraries either.
And somehow, incredibly, we all survived. You might even say that our brains and bodies developed quite nicely despite the lack of continual flashing, shouting, drum beating and explosions.
In 1998 – only 14 years ago – the majority of homes in North America had NO computer, NO internet, NO pager, and NOT EVEN ONE cell phone. It’s hard to believe today, but since the dawn of time, children have grown up remarkably happy and often quite well-educated without any electronic screens or communication devices.
Many Canadian parents today believe that they are actually hindering their children if they don’t provide them with the latest device – even though there are thousands of years of history which clearly disprove that theory.
If you’re one of them, it’s important to keep in mind this widely-recognized marketing mantra: Sales cannot exist without the creation of a universally perceived need. So if you think you need something, or your child thinks he needs something, just remember that these perceptions of need could be based on nothing more than a continual barrage of advertising messages.
This knowledge will help you stand your ground this coming holiday vacation when the requests for new toys and marathon gaming days start to pour in from your offspring.
Knowing what you know about your own childhood, world history, and marketing will boost your confidence and strengthen your conviction when you set out your new rules.

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Home Holiday Vacation Time Electronics Rules

  1. Stop believing that electronics are educational. They’re not. They simply train an active mind to be a passive mind, no matter how many clicks or stylus movements are required.
  2. Post an electronics schedule. If your kids are old enough, sit down with them and tell them you want to come up with a schedule that everyone can live with. My suggestion is that children under 3 get no electronics whatsoever. Most pediatricians will agree with this rule. Ages 3-5 should get 1 hour maximum per day, and ages 5+ should get 2 hours maximum per day, including phone use. How simple is that? Show your kids how easy it is to get enough games and texting for one day into that period of time.
  3. With your children’s input, choose the specific hours of the day during which their electronics hours will occur. Post these on your schedule.
  4. Prohibit the games and shows that you don’t want your kids to play or watch. You know better than they do. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  5. Confiscate and hold all electronics in your possession until the agreed-upon times. Collect all devices again when the time has elapsed. Again, no ifs, ands or buts.
  6. Your next job is to prepare yourself emotionally for the inevitable Occupy Smith Home protests. My advice is to threaten removal of all electronics from the home, and to tell them to count their blessings as an alternate activity. Electronics withdrawal symptoms usually last only a day or two, and before you know it, you’ll find your kids coming up with all kinds of creative ways to keep occupied.
  7. No means no. Don’t negotiate or get into big rationalisations with your kids. This will only make their withdrawal longer-lasting and more painful for everyone.
  8. Set an example of necessary-only electronics use yourself. Your own computer use should be limited to work only. Put your phone in one spot, turn off the volume, and check it only a couple of times daily. Or change the ringtones to tell you when it’s a family member versus a work call versus personal calls. They can wait, and besides, twittering during the holidays is passé.
  9. Spend some time with your kids. When was the last time you sat down and created Play-dough objects, or drew pictures with them? You know you have board games – use them. Make cookies. Make a snowman. Read out loud from an actual book. Take a short walk – it doesn’t have to be a day-long hike. I did this the other day and we ended up picking up leaves, red berries and pinecones, which spontaneously (and without my suggestion or assistance) prompted the creation of a beautiful holiday diorama that my child is very proud of! Holiday vacation time activities don’t have to be a big production, or a special show, or anything that takes longer than 20 minutes. Your kids just want you to do something with them. Anything. Just do it.
  10. Don’t spend all of your time with your kids. It’s actually just as detrimental to them to fill their non-electronics time with zillions of other activities. Let them be bored. Being bored is a skill that we all seem to have forgotten about. Being bored inspires creativity and imagination. Just sit back and watch when your kids have “nothing to do”. I guarantee that you will be amazed.

Remember, no long discussion is necessary. Yes, you should tell them that you understand how unfair it may seem. That you know that all their friends get to use whatever electronics they want, whenever they want. Tell them that you want better for them, and yes, they will understand this when they get older. This is about love, so speak lovingly and firmly. And relax and enjoy the new peace that you’ve created in your new limited electronics home.

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Yoga and Games

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Even little ones can receive benefits from yoga practice. Yoga for kids is a sound way to improve concentration, boost immunity and add strength and flexibility to your child’s health. Yoga can also help teach children invaluable tools for coping with stress throughout their lives. For now maybe they only have to contend with bedtime woes, but later in life, with the help of yoga, they can stay calm, cool, and collected even when ‘adult’ problems abound. Yoga for kids teaches foundational yoga tools including:
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  • Asana (yoga postures – most of which are named after animals so kids can instantly relate and remember specific postures).
  • Breathing exercises, called pranayama, which help kids balance their nervous systems and increase lung capacity. Pranayama practice can help kids calm their minds, boost their immune systems and even increase IQ levels.
  • Have you ever read the poster that says, “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten”? Yoga has a few items to add to that list. Yogic precepts gleaned from the ancient sage Patanjali, offers advice that children can absorb and apply to their every day lives. These include non-covetousness (non-stealing), service to others, and love of self. These basic ethics can be taught through yoga and help to build a well-rounded human being.
  • Body Awareness
  • Mental fortitude and pliancy

When teaching yoga to kids, we can use games to keep their attention and insinuate important yogic principles. Some of the types of games we play include :

Call to Peace.

Kids don’t always want to stay seated on their yoga mats. They have lots of energy! We play this game throughout class when we need to have a calm, quiet moment. At the start of the class, we tell everyone that whenever they hear a bell ring, it is a ‘call to peace.’ They have to quickly come and sit in an easy pose on their yoga mats. This develops listening skills, and teaches them that the still, small voice within them can guide them back to their practice.

Light as a feather

This is one of a game we use to teach breathing or pranayama to children. They lie on their backs and either using an imaginary feather or a real one, they try to blow the feather as high into the sky as they can, increasing lung capacity and teaching them how to breath ‘like a yogi.’

Animal Pose Red Light Green Light.

At the head of the class a student acts as a ‘traffic cop’ and calls out ‘red light’ and ‘green light.’ The rest of the class is in a line at the back of the room. When the student at the head of the class says ‘green light’ they all have to run / walk / skip as fast as they can towards the front of the room. When the student at the head of the class says ‘yellow light,’ everyone slows down and start to get into the pose. Student at the head of the class slowly counts to 5 giving oppurtunity to others to get into a pose and says ‘red light,’ they have to pause right where they are, frozen in a yoga pose that resembles an animal, like downward dog, or camel pose. Student turns around to spot anybody moving dlouhy garage door repair. AnybodyWhoever gets to the front of the class first becomes the new traffic cop.

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There are lots of fun ways to teach yoga, that help children stay engaged in the activity and make use of their natural eagerness to learn and unbounded energy. The skills they learn in yoga class will serve them now and for the rest of their lives. Hop over to this site to know more.

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"But Mom, it's too cold outside!"

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yoga for kids“But Mom, it’s too cold outside!”

If any month signals the grand entrance of winter in Ontario, it’s November. There’s no denying the chill any more. Fleeces, woolens, and footed PJs are out in regular rotation now, along with sniffling noses, dry coughs, and dry skin.
Many Toronto-area homes also see an increased use of televisions and computers this time of year. Electronic distractions simply have become the easier default when layering clothes and finding that other mitten seem like too much of a bother.
But even when it’s cold outside, bodies young, old, and in-between all still need regular exercise to stay healthy. And just as important, our minds and those of our children need both peace and stimulation during the dark winter months ahead.

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So how can you and your children stay active through the winter? Here are some great ideas when it’s just too cold, or time is too short, for going outdoors:


Find an easy recipe for seasonal foods (hot cocoa, pumpkin pie, any kind of pasta) and whip up a culinary masterpiece with your kids! The key to successful cooking with children is to expect the mess and enjoy the fun. Give yourself enough time, let the kids do the measuring and mixing, and don’t worry about spills.

Sculpting with modeling clay, play dough or silly putty

Nothing like some good old-fashioned kitchen-table sculpting with your kids. You can make the dough yourself or use store-bought, but the main thing is sit down and do it with your kids, and to let their creativity flow. If they need ideas (and they usually don’t), give broad categories so that they can use their noggins to come up with their own. Or let them copy what you’re doing – it doesn’t matter.

Indoor Obstacle Course

This is a child favourite no matter the season. Clear floors as best you can in one or two large rooms. Draw arrows on small sheets of paper to show your kids where to go next. Include chairs to crawl under, boxes to crawl through, a jump rope with instructions to jump 5 times, an instruction to walk like a gorilla (or any other animal you or they like), an ottoman to leapfrog over, etc. You get the idea!

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Indoor Treasure Hunt

The great thing about treasure hunts is that it’s the hunt that kids love; what the treasure is usually doesn’t matter! Hide one prize for each child all in one spot. Then write a cryptic (or easy, depending on ages) clue on a piece of paper describing the treasure location, and put it anywhere in your house. Now write a clue to that location and repeat until you have 10 or more clues for the kids to follow around the house. It’s roaring fun. The first clue they find (the last clue you write) can be located at your home’s entrance for a wonderful surprise when they come home from school.

Window painting

Two words: Washable paint. Two more words: Have fun!
Some more ideas:
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  • Have your child write a story and then help him act it out, or use a story he already loves to act out
  • Practice yoga poses and create your own poses
  • Play chess or checkers
  • Make holiday cards with glitter, felt, stencils, etc. to get into the holiday spirit

By now you can see how easy it is to have fun with your child and get some exercise inside your warm and cozy home. It’s hard to get motivated when the couch, a good movie and a fire beckon. But by all means, get outdoors with your kids whenever you can, even if you’ve only got 30 minutes – and the inclination to brave the elements, of course!
Let’s face it: Winter’s just not winter if you don’t get a bright red nose sledding, hiking, angel-making, snowman building, skating, snowboarding or skiing. In addition to these classics, here are a few road-less-travelled outdoor activities to try with your children this winter:

Build an igloo

You’ll need sticky snow conditions, a shovel, a few rectangular-shaped plastic storage containers, and some unbridled enthusiasm: Dig out a circular pit, including a passageway, using the dug-out snow for bricks. Fill in bricks with loose snow, leaving a few gaps for ventilation and working toward the middle as the layers are built. Your final brick for the top should be slightly bigger than the gap. Voila – igloo fun!

Snow shoeing

These days, you can find snow shoes for kids as young as two years old. As long as your child can walk, she can snow shoe, and she’ll love it because she can stay on top of the snow instead of falling through! This is great cardiovascular exercise too – you’ll all be warm before you even get inside!

Snow Angels

This actually comes under the Classic activity category, but it’s such a kid-pleaser that we had to make sure you saw it! All you need is a good snowsuit and some new fluffy snow. Use food coloring or to “paint” the wings, clothes and faces of your creations. Kids get such a big kick out of this it’ll be hard to get them back indoors.

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Now get out there, DVR that movie, and watch it later on — guilt-free and as a family — with hot cups of cocoa to warm you back up!

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