Gautam Venkatraman found it hard to keep his eyes closed when he first started meditating at the age of seven. “I kept blinking or opening my eyes. Now, I can do five minutes straight,” says the nine-year-old. He was taking part in a workshop two years ago that taught children about mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as a form of awareness of the present moment. Meditation and breathing exercises are among the techniques that can bring about this heightened awareness. There are overlaps between mindfulness, meditation and yoga, which can be confusing. Some centres offer versions of all three, while some specialise in one area.
Proponents say the practice of mindfulness has benefits, such as reducing stress and improving concentration in an environment filled with smartphones, gadgets and other distractions. For children, it can be a relief from academic pressure at school.
These days, Gautam, who is a student at an international school, practises mindfulness to focus better when he plays tennis. When he is aware of negative thoughts, he deliberately takes a mental pause to calm himself and think more positively.
“A lot of times, in tennis, when you’re losing, you have to calm down and get back into the game. I don’t think about the points lost. I think ahead,” says Gautam. He took the mindfulness workshop with his 13-year-old sister, Sashwika, on the advice of their mother, life-skills trainer Vidhya Shailesh, 40, who also does meditation.
While mindfulness is increasingly a buzzword for adults who go for such training in their personal and professional lives, some parents are enrolling their kids in such courses. Purported benefits include being better poised to handle conflict and stress in school, during sports matches and in the playground.
How can children practise mindfulness when even adults often find it difficult to understand and practise? In teaching mindfulness to children, “you take it in steps”, says Mr Vikas Malkani. He is the founder of SoulCentre Academy, a centre for meditation and mindfulness for organisations, adults and children. The centre teaches children as young as six.
He says: “The first thing to do is engage the children. We get them interested by giving them real-life examples, such as actor Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies. He meditates regularly. We keep it fun for the children with stories, anecdotes, jokes and other activities.”