By Dimitri Ehrlich
When I was 7 years old, my parents wrote an article about teaching kids to meditate and made me their guinea pig. The experiment was a success: I stuck with it, and 40 years later, I am teaching a course for Jewel Heart in Tribeca, where, in a room painted exactly like the traditional monasteries of Tibet, I attempt to get children aged 7 to 12 to sit down on burgundy-colored meditation cushions and focus their minds. I’m not alone in this endeavor. Other options for parents looking to raise mindful children in New York include the Kadampa Meditation Center, the Shambhala Meditation Center of NYC (both in Chelsea, both on Sundays), MNDFL in Greenwich Village and Vajradhara Meditation Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
The benefits that meditation and mindfulness may offer kids include increased attention span, better grades in school, relief from trauma, improved mental health, self-awareness and self-regulation. The challenge is, tweens who have been raised on screens aren’t easily coaxed into sitting still and watching their breath. So I devised a combination of reading the Jataka Tales (ancient Buddhist parables for children) with gentle movement including yoga and tai chi, and brief periods of guided meditations and sensory awareness experiments. Each of these is just a few minutes long: alternate-nostril breathing, a short guided visualization, and—the consistent favorite—mindfully eating a grape. I remember when my parents first taught me to meditate, sitting still for 20 minutes seemed like an eternity. So when I have young students who would rather build a fort out of meditation cushions, I fully understand. After all, the Buddha said meditation was like taming a wild monkey in a temple. And he didn’t teach kids.