A few months ago, while immersed in creating curricula to assist families incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives, I realized that I was becoming the caricature of the acclaimed architect who leaves her own house unfinished. The fact is, that while I was focused on guiding and encouraging others to find ways of integrating meditation as a mindful practice, I was not doing the same for the people nearest and dearest to me – my own family.
And so one day during dinner, I decided to announce my hope that we would all start a regular meditation practice. The reason I gave my audience, made up of my husband, my 2 year old daughter and 6 year old son, was that it is a practice that essentially gives us super powers.
Meditation is like doing push ups for your brain. It literally makes the part of your brain that is in charge of controlling your emotions, your behaviour and your creativity, bigger. The stronger it becomes, the better you are at focusing your attention, which is important for performing your best at whatever you want to do. It also feels good to do it and it is a tool that you can use to calm down when needed. Dealing with challenges without feeling overwhelmed, leads to better decisions, and ultimately allows us to lead happier lives.
I am telling you, I sold it well. Everyone was on board. The sell was easy. As for the implementation…? Well, that did not go as smoothly.
To be clear, it’s not that my children are completely new to meditation. I have incorporated some kind of guided meditation in their bedtime routines for years. However, I felt it was time to up the ante a bit and make it a more conscious process, so that it could become a go-to strategy they could use in their waking lives.
My initial idea was for all of us to get in the habit of doing a breath meditation for 2 minutes when we got home as a way of transitioning from the activity of the day to time together at home. Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? But the reality was that, for my son, 2 minutes of quiet focus was up against the lure of LEGO, toys, TV or whatever it was he had his heart set on doing.
Soon, the enthusiasm he had for the idea in the abstract, quickly became the barrier to fun in reality. It was something that had to be done in order to get to the good stuff of being home; something that had to be done to appease Mom. This was definitely not the vibe I had intended nor was it conducive to the practice itself.
And so I retreated and recognized that the answer to getting my family to buy into adopting a meditation practice lay within the core of the resistance I faced. I had to find a way to make it fun.
As if in direct response to my quest, the Universe answered in the form of an Instagram post by my colleagues at the Integrative Health Institute featuring the MUSE Headband. Bingo! I had my answer.
The Muse Brain Sensing Headband essentially reads your brain waves as you engage in a meditation session and gives you feedback in the form of a change in the sounds you are hearing to let you know when you have drifted away from focusing on your breath to reviewing the to do list, replaying a scene from the day, or the million other random things that pop up when the monkey mind is in full swing. When you are in a calm meditative state, you hear soft rippling waves on the beach. When you maintain that calm state for a while, birds start chirping. When you drift, you hear the low rumbling of thunder, like a storm approaching from the distance. This is the cue to just come back and refocus on the breath. Brilliant!
Even cooler, is that once your session is done, you get to see your own data: the percentage of time your brain was actually in a calm vs. neutral or active state, and a graph of exactly when those different brain states happened over the course of the meditation.
And for those with a healthy sense of competition, there are extra points you can earn based on the amount of time spent in the calm zone, recognition for high levels of performance and the ability to advance to a higher level once you have demonstrated mastery.
Whoever developed this device clearly knew their stuff when it comes to both brain science and how to foster motivation. Not surprisingly, a quick perusal of the team behind the product confirmed that none other than Dr. Norman Doidge, Toronto psychiatrist, and bestselling author of The Brain’s Way of Healing and The Brain That Changes Itself is on the advisory board among other top researchers and tech developers. Enough said.
So now, with the help of the MUSE, we are playing “the meditation game”. My son not only loves it, but like many children, he is a natural Zen Master. And he is curious to see how he will do as he advances to the next level and meets new challenges. Mission accomplished.
Just as going to exercise classes with me from the age of 3 months to 3 years helped to imprint exercise as a fun game he loves to play vs. something he “should do”, my hope is that playing the meditation game as a family and cheering each other on as we progress to higher levels using the MUSE will help ingrain this practice as part of a healthy lifestyle that will be maintained for years to come.
In the meantime, I am curious to know what you might have tried to integrate meditation into your family life? What has worked? What have been the challenges? I’d love to hear about your experience, so please share your thoughts and experiences. We can all benefit from learning from each other.
I look forward to hearing from you.