How Meditation Changes Your Child’s Brain

Posted on by Colleen Cash

You may have enrolled your child in a class for yoga, Portland parents, but what about meditation? More and more after school yoga classes are incorporating meditative methods of focusing the mind. And some parents find their little ones are fascinated by mom or dad’s meditation practice, and want to join in.

Researchers have discovered that meditation changes the brain, and in a good way. Long-term neurological outcomes of a consistent meditation practice include:

Better communication between different parts of the brain. Researchers call this improved “Functional Connectivity.” For a kid, it makes more sense to call it using your “whole brain” rather than just a certain part. With practice in contemplative studies such as meditation and yoga, Portland kids can learn how to take a step back from emotionally charged moments, take a slow deep breath, and make good choices using all parts of their brain.

Improved objectivity when thinking about the self. Meditators’ brains show lowered synchronization of the dorsal prefrontal cortex, meaning that they are better equipped to see themselves as part of a larger picture. That’s especially important for Portland kids, who must navigate relationships at home, school, and on the playground.

Neon lights in the shape of a human head and brainActivation of the “Rest and Digest” nervous system. Meditation turns on the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is the system that turns on when the body is at rest. In contrast, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the “fight or fight” system that ramps up energy and triggers stress hormones to ready the body for a potentially dangerous situation. Researchers say most people spend far too much time in SNS activation, and this leads to many modern health problems. Becoming still and breathing deeply in meditation basically tells the body that it is safe to relax. One bonus: PNS activation also stimulates the immune system, meaning that those who practice meditation and mindfulness probably get sick less often.

Finally, as we will be teaching in after school yoga classes across Portland, when the brain is in fight or fight mode, the emotional centers hijack the more advanced parts of the brain. When talking to kids, we talk about “the alarm part” and “ the smart part.” When you’re in the middle of an emotional crisis, the planning part of the brain just doesn’t work as well. Fortunately, applying a meditation technique—taking a deep breath, or listening mindfully for a minute or so—can calm down the brain’s alarm and allow the most evolved parts of the brain step in to make good decisions.

Research has yet to show how meditation might affect kids’ brains specifically, but knowing what we do about how thinking patterns become entrenched in the brain and are more likely to reoccur as a result, it seems Portland kids can only see positive outcomes from practicing meditation starting at a younger age.

Just as yoga looks different for Portland kids than it does for Portland adults, child-friendly meditation is different than meditative practices for the fully-grown set. Meditative moments in after school yoga classes may focus on mindful breathing techniques, for instance, rather than full on seated meditation. Or, a teacher might ask a yoga student to focus carefully on a seashell for a full minute, as a way to practice focusing the mind. Here are a few other meditation-like techniques you can try with your kid the next time an emotional hurricane seems to be taking over:

Breathe deep & make animal noises. This works even better if you incorporate arm movements. Doing the movements with your kid, raise your arms when breathing in, and make an animal noise like “hiss” or “buzz” on the exhale, while simultaneously letting the arms return to the sides.

Find a favorite meditation/relaxation CD. If you play the same CD every night, your child will develop a Pavlovian response, and immediately start to relax when the CD begins. (By the way, this works quite well for adults, too.)

Enroll for After School Yoga Classes. Portland kids will learn plenty of meditation techniques if they take a class in yoga. Portland schools are offering yoga more and more, and several studios around town have regular kids yoga classes as well. If you’d like to learn more about Move Yoga’s kids yoga classes, email us at info@moveyogastudio.com.

Sources: Buddha’s Brain, “The Child-Meditation Miracle,” “Long-term meditation leads to changes in brain organization

Photo Credit: Top: Original Nomad Middle: Dierk Schaefer

This entry was posted in Meditation & Kids, Yoga and the Brain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “How Meditation Changes Your Child’s Brain”

Leave a Reply

Yoga For Kids in Portland, Oregon