“Unleashing Happiness” a monthly blog by Karen Lee Stevens

Founder and Director of Wellness Programs, Karen Lee Stevens shares her insights as she explores regular topics and experiences through the lens of mental health, wellness and the human-animal bond.

BLOG POST #7 – Sit. Stay. Breathe.

February 6, 2024

by KAREN LEE STEVENS

The children were sitting on a multi-colored rug in their classroom, calmly awaiting my arrival and eager to see which therapy dog would be joining our Mindfulness class that day. I, on the other hand, was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway, my monkey mind in overdrive… What if I were late to class or worse, I missed class altogether? That would throw off my whole schedule for all the classes and meetings I had planned for that day, not to mention leaving a roomful of disappointed children.

Thankfully, traffic soon started flowing again and I arrived at the school just in the nick of time. As I settled into one of the tiny blue chairs normally reserved for little ones, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and be vulnerable with the children. I shared with them that I was feeling a bit stressed because I had just spent an hour on the freeway and I was worried that I was going to be late to class. “Would you help me calm down by taking a few nice, deep breaths with me?,” I asked. These darling third graders immediately jumped at the opportunity to help me feel better and together we closed our eyes and started to slowly breathe in and out three times.

Ah…what a difference those three breaths made! I immediately felt more centered, the children were attentive and ready to learn, and therapy dog, Dandelion, was contentedly chewing on a crunchy dog chew, adding a calming presence to the classroom.

Breathing is a fundamental aspect of mindfulness and teaching children the simple act of taking deep breaths is like giving them a superpower, where they feel empowered and in control of their emotions. And, by making breathing exercises fun, perhaps associating them with blowing bubbles or pretending to be a dragon releasing gentle puffs of air, we’re introducing mindfulness in a language that resonates with their youthful spirits.

 

The playful aspect of mindfulness is what makes it so accessible to children. Blowing bubbles becomes a metaphor for letting go, and pretending to be dragons allows them to embrace their power within. It is a reminder that, as adults, we too can infuse a sense of playfulness into our own mindfulness practices, turning what might seem like a chore into a joyful exploration of the self.

As I looked around the room, I marveled at the impact of such a simple yet profound exercise. It was a reminder that mindfulness isn’t just a technique; it’s a shared experience that connects us on a deeper level. The classroom, once filled with giggles and the buzz of anticipation, now exuded a calm energy that set the perfect stage for our mindfulness session.

 

The experience also served as a poignant lesson for me who, at times, still needs a gentle reminder to slow down and center myself amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life. And, the vulnerability I displayed in admitting my stress became a bridge that connected all of us. The children, with wisdom beyond their years, became my teachers, showing me the power of the present moment and the effectiveness of a few intentional breaths.

As I left the classroom that day, I carried with me not just the gratitude of witnessing the transformative power of mindfulness in children, but a renewed commitment to integrate the practice into my daily life. And the gentle wag of Dandelion’s fluffy tail seemed to whisper to me: “Remember to sit, stay, breathe and be open to all of the experiences that life has to offer.”

 

Questions or comments? Contact Karen@TherapyDogsSB.org

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