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"Monkey Mind" is a popular yoga phrase to describe when the brain swings from thought to thought, unable to focus. Left to the wilds, Monkey Mind can provoke intense distraction that hijacks the brain and veers humans towards increased agitation. Unfortunately, the fast pace of people's daily lives combined with widespread mental health conditions (ADD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc.) can cause children and adults to feel frequently overwhelmed. However, simple techniques of breathing, visualization, and movement can clear distraction, quiet the mind, and bring a sense of calm. But how do you engage children in the practice of mindfulness? Play...with the Monkey Mind Pirates method!

Monkey Mind Pirates is an innovative approach to combining playfulness with mindfulness that is based in simple ideas you can try at home with your children to cultivate calm.

Turning into senses:
Many meditation sessions begin by ringing a chime or a bell that produces a sustained tones. focusing attention on the sound can clear the mind of distracting or aggravating thoughts. Children can practice closing their eyes and listening to the bell, raising their hands when they first hear the ringing disappear and the silence emerge. In a group of children, each can take turns ringing the chime or bell and describing their experience of listening to quiet.

Seeing the Breath:
Breathing is one of the most powerful tools to combat stress bu may not be an activity that interests children on its own. Children make deeper connections to their breath when they can see and feel the action of the breath. Ask children to hold an imaginary ball with both hands. Using your own hands, demonstrate how the ball expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. Encourage the children to match the size of the ball's expansion and contraction with the length of their inhaling and exhaling. The Hoberman Sphere, available in toy stores (and seen in the Museum lobby!) is a collapsible plastic ball that also can mimic this expanding, contracting action.

Moving Meditation:
Often, meditative practices state stillness as an objective towards reaching the goal of calm. Although complete stillness may be difficult for young people to attain, many children like to play with moving in different speeds -- including slow motion. You can guide children to slow down by making it a game. Begin by turning on music and asking them to walk around the room in any pattern without talking. Periodically, call out instructions, such as, "As slow as you're moving, slow it down," until they are barely moving. To extend the experience, experiment with moving back and forth between slow and fast, always ending with slow motion. Afterward, ask children to describe the experience and what they noticed at the different speeds.

Drawing on the power of image and metaphor:
Metaphors such as Monkey Mind Pirates can provide children with language to talk about stressors in their lives in a story-based way. For example, children can create a character that represents how they feel when they are stressed. The character can take any form that the child suggests -- an imaginary creature, an animal, a person. Adults can encourage the child by asking questions: What is the character's name? What does it look and sound like? How does it move? What does it like to say? The child can draw pictures, tell stories, and act out events to bring the character to life. Adults can then refer to the character as a base for on-going conversations about the child's stress level.

An added benefit to practicing mindfulness with your children is that you get to develop some of the same skills along with them. The next time you find yourself at the end of your rope, take a moment to focus your awareness on your breathing. see if you can slow down and identify what type of character best depicts the way you feel. Talking with your children about your own challenges with Monkey Mind will encourage them to talk with  you about their own as well.

-Shari Aronson

Shari is an exhibit developer at Minnesota Children's Museum, a yoga teacher for youth and adults, and a puppeteer with Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, an award-winning performance company that is one of the collaborators of Monkey Mind Pirates.

Monkey Mind Pirates is a puppetry, rock n' roll yoga adventure to help families reclaim calm -- beginning with a camp for kids ages 8-11 at the Camden Music School in North Minneapolis July 19-23 and culminating with public performances July 23-24.


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