Life & Culture

You’re never too young for mindfulness

Even primary school pupils are learning meditation and yoga nowadays


Meditation has gone mainstream. There are apps to help us sleep, live mindfully, and find a momentary respite from our hectic lives and our 24 hour, technology driven world. As parents, we worry how the pressure and high octane pace of life is affecting our children. Could a dose of mindfulness be the answer?

Natasha Kaufman, 34, a teacher of English and drama at JFS, is acutely aware of the need for young people to learn self-support skills. She includes a 10-15 minute breath and mindfulness practise at the start of all her drama lessons. Her new book, Mindfulness for Students: Embracing Now, Looking to the Future explains brain development and why we act the way we do, progressing through chapters on “tuning in” and “knowing yourself”, with breathing and mindfulness exercises for anyone who experiences anxiety.

Kaufman admits that her own struggles led her to meditation, “I didn’t meditate when I was younger. Then as a student I had a break up, I didn’t know what I was doing and where I was going.

“I did an eight week mindfulness course for stress reduction. It helped with indecisiveness and anxiety. From then on I felt I could tap into it at any time, I know it helped my wellbeing.

“When my son was born he had to spend his early weeks in hospital and I used mindfulness to ground myself in the present moment rather than projecting into the future. These skills are helpful for students who may be constantly worrying where courses or work experience will lead them.”

Former JFS pupil Elliemae was one of the first guinea pigs for the classroom mindfulness sessions. “As someone who has dealt with anxiety, mindfulness is a technique that I was quite familiar with,” she explains. “However, mindfulness within a school environment was completely different and something I’d never came across before Ms Kaufman’s classes. I think my classmates were interested to try mindfulness, we definitely needed it, especially amid exam and university pressures. I was intrigued and excited to take a moment for myself during a jam-packed school day.”

The benefits of mindfulness to her pupils was clear to Kaufman and she approached a publishing company with her book idea. “I realised that mindfulness worked really well with the older students- I had seen it with my own eyes. The students would feed back after the sessions and say how much calmer they felt. I was really led by them.”

Elliemae confirms, “The mindfulness practise was just what I needed to keep me going, especially in exam season. I felt better prepared to tackle the academic and social challenges that are inevitable in school life.”

Even younger children can feel the benefits of mindfulness. Lawyer and homeopath Michelle Sorrell has devoted many years to supporting young children with yoga and meditation and now she has collected her favourite meditations in a guidebook for parents and teachers, The Wonder of Stillness.

Sorrell, 53, says parents need tools to help their children deal with pressure, scary world issues, technology overload, and the hazards of social media. Children need more space, and to learn that quiet time is important.

Yoga runs in her family, her mother practised regularly and her sister is a yoga teacher. Sorrell began teaching yoga and meditation when her kids were at Naima JPS primary school.

“I wanted to help them cope with their stress,” she recalls. “The pressure of the 11 plus, changing schools and the challenges of growing up. I asked Naima JPS if I could volunteer.

“I started off just teaching my own kids’ classes but eventually taught nearly every class in the school.”

In the past some Jewish organisations avoided yoga and meditation as they were seen as quasi-religious practices from other faiths. Now, Sorrell has found the Jewish community open to her work, “I volunteered at Kisharon and Akiva School, everyone was positive. We called the sessions relaxation or yoga. No one really thinks you are introducing Buddhism. ”

At first, life was a finely tuned balancing act for Sorrell, a practising lawyer at the time, working four days a week and raising three children. Then, 15 years ago, she trained as a homeopath.

“I liked the healing, holistic approach, and had always treated my children with homeopathy. I then did a course in meditation instruction and started a lunch time class for my colleagues in the City.”

Over the following years Sorrell composed many meditations, writing simple visualisations that parents and teachers could use with children. Her brother’s death was the inspiration to write the book. “My brother constantly encouraged me,” explains Sorrell. “He told me that I must be a master of my subject.”

The task of getting children to sit still and meditate is not necessarily straightforward, and Sorrell believes regularity of practise is important. “I would say meditating together is a bonding time, and to try some basic breathing exercises every morning. Maybe create a quiet den at home, in any part of the house. A place where they don’t have to do anything.”

Ora, 10, has been listening to Sorrell’s meditations during her yoga class. “I like Magical Waters. If I’ve been in a fight with my brother, it helps me wash out my anger and feel calm again. It makes me happy, and I drift away into a whole new world. If you’re stressed at school, you can just close your eyes and go to a different place where you’re calm and happy.”


Mindfulness for Students and Wonder of Stillness are available on Amazon.


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