Mindful Family Moments

This week I taught a family mindfulness class at St. Andrews Episcopal School with my MINDS colleague, Jennifer Jordan. While we wanted to teach specific practices, our ultimate goal was to have families convene at the end of our time together and decide on a practice they would like to commit to trying for the next week. With so many tools in our mindfulness tool kits —  each having infinite variations — Jen and I can get carried away teaching and forget to be mindful of the clock. Oops!  We hope families can use these suggestions to get started. Please tell us about your experiences, and the creative variations you will inevitably come up with.


These are times to be together as a family. Turn off cell phones and other devices; it’s only a moment! The goal here is to practice mindfulness (the emphasis is on practicing rather than achieving some ultimate state):

  • paying attention (I prefer “noticing,” as kids are so often exhorted to pay attention)
  • to the present moment
  • without judgment.


Shake a snow globe and watch each crystal settle, until the globe is completely clear. Imagine all the cells in your brain, mind and body as crystals that are melting down into the earth. [Can also use a Mind Jar or sand timer.]

Take 5 Breath. [color poster and video here: http://childhood101.com/2015/04/take-5-breathing-exercise/]


Give everyone an orange segment. Slowly break it apart and smell it. Notice the sensations in the body. Share what thoughts and feelings the scent evokes.

Use scented oils on a Q-tip. Pass it around and let everyone share. Or burn a scented candle. Discover which scents are calming and which are energizing (no right or wrong here).  You can be creative – boil a cinnamon stick; pick an herb from the garden; etc.


Family music time. Listen to a song together. Alternate who gets to choose the song. Offers a great opportunity to explore lyrics and meanings of the songs your children choose.

Ring a bell or a singing bowl. To make it more fun, roll a die to determine how many times you will ring it. Everyone listens for the full sound, and raises their hand when no sound is left.


Breathe sitting back-to-back. Make your breath big so that it expands your back. Notice the warmth of your partner’s back. Notice how you feel before and after. Switch partners and notice any differences.


The raisin meditation is a classic. Here is one script to get you started: http://blog.harvardvanguard.org/2013/04/smart-kids-practice-mindful-eating/. You can, of course, vary the foods. To add a family challenge, keep track of how many words your family can come up with to describe the food, using all of the senses.

A fun variation is to close eyes or use blindfolds, and have one person pass out a sample. The others have to guess what it is. Multilayered treats are fun, e.g. a chocolate covered raisin.


Try Bee breath. Sitting comfortably with legs crossed, breath in through the nose, then with fingers in your ears [and perhaps fingers covering the eyes as well] hum or buzz out your exhalation. The resonance has a calming effect and closing or covering the eyes can make it even more peaceful.

Ha! or Hot! breath is more energizing, and can be done standing or seated.  Breathing in, reach one arm up to touch the sun, then sharply pull it down, breathing out “Hot!” or “Ha!” Alternate arms. Notice how it feels to vary the speed.


Mindful Bodies Challenge. In my yoga and mindfulness classes, children love to best their own “mindful moment” times. We begin by moving our bodies until we feel ready to settle into a comfortable seated position and get into our mindful bodies. Start with one minute of mindfulness – silence and stillness — and then try to add 15 or 30 seconds each time you practice. Joining together for the challenge motivates the kids to try their best. Of course, it is important to always recognize the effort, even when someone does call out. Remember, mindfulness is about non judgment, so not besting your time only means that you get another opportunity to try.

Breathe In.

Breathe Out.



Reflections on 7 Trips to Haiti

This was a  blog by yoga teacher Kathleen Reynolds of Allay Yoga. https://musepracticeallay.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/dharma-discussion-seva/.  

Kathleen introduces Lauren Rubenstein from Go Give Yoga, the organization to which Kathleen donates all proceeds from her monthly Early Morning Meditation Classes.

A Note From Kathleen:

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good.
– Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 19), translation from Stephen Mitchell

Seva is a Sanskrit word often translated as “selfless service.” For me, the spirit of such a concept is best understood in its demonstration rather than its dissection. For this reason, I am happy to offer this space to Lauren Rubenstein who just recently returned from her seventh seva trip to Haiti with Go Give Yoga. I first learned of the work of Go Give Yoga when Lauren presented on a panel during my yoga teacher training.

If you are interested in learning more about Go Give Yoga, please visit http://www.gogiveyoga.com. I am honored in my own very small way to support their work by teaching the monthly early morning meditation classes at Allay on the second Tuesday of each month — all donations from these sessions go to Go Give Yoga.


Pictured: Lauren with some of the young Haitian teachers they trained; Lauren, her son Jake and Michelda – ready for church; Lauren and Showty having fun with partner poses – he is the first Haitian yoga teacher they trained, and he has become a fabulous kids’ yoga teacher; some of the little ones tag along with their older siblings, so Lauren notes “We improvise!”

image copyPictured: Lauren with Michelda and her mom, Marie Claude; more shots showing the joyful connections in the yoga classes, including when Alexandra spontaneously led a class – Lauren notes that “As the cook’s daughter, she has probably taken as many yoga classes as any of the kids, and show real promise as a teacher despite her young age.”

image copy 2
Duvennes, Michelda’s younger brother, in savasana. The kids often fall asleep; many don’t have real beds to sleep on, or space of their own, and the mat provides their own space, even if only for an hour.

by Lauren Rubenstein

I know lots of people with Life Plans: Visions! Short-term goals! Long-term goals! Action lists!…. Contrary to what appearances might suggest, I am not one of them. Had an intuitive told me I would ever:

(1) teach yoga
(2) to kids
(3) in Haiti
(4) 7 times,

I would have laughed.

Seven seva trips to Haiti later, I am so grateful for two of the more impulsive decisions in my life: to take a children’s yoga teacher training in 2009, unclear why I was doing it; and to sign on for a Haiti trip with Go Give Yoga in July 2011. The first trip was monumental. I truly had no clue about Haiti or any other “Third World” country. Conditions in the post-earthquake tent camp were shocking. Even as I was trying to process what I was experiencing, I kept thinking with frustration, there will be no words to describe this situation once I return home.

Four years ago, Go Give Yoga went to Haiti with the idea that teaching yoga to children who lived in extreme poverty and had experienced a tragic earthquake just might be a way to serve. Staying on the grounds of Partners In Development (www.pidonline.org), a nonprofit that provides free medical care, a child sponsorship program, small business development and other wrap-around services, we worked alongside medical volunteers. During shared meals, some of them loved to recall in graphic detail what they had seen in the clinic. We heard from Mr. Genois, PID’s social worker who is tasked with determining which family’s needs — all dire — should take priority. For example, if someone told him their tent was leaking and they had to sleep standing up when it rained, he would wait until the next rain and check it out. In other words, a job that would break most people’s hearts.

For the most part, the children we teach don’t get much adult attention. Many of their parents are out sun-up to sundown trying to sell something on the open market so they can give their kids a hot meal that day — something the children cannot take for granted. Most school in Haiti is private, and many families simply cannot afford tuition, uniforms and books. Clean drinking water is a luxury. We quickly learned that the children were coming to yoga hungry and thirsty, so we incorporated a hot meal program. We did arts and crafts with the kids after yoga. The first time I cried was when we gave the children drawing materials, and so many of them drew houses….

But it wasn’t all trauma and tears. The overwhelming majority of the children we taught positively lit up with joy during yoga. Despite the language barrier which required translators, our experience confirmed what know: that yoga is about connection — to one’s own wholeness, and to each other. Some of the most poignant moments were looking into a child’s eyes during partner poses, as we were hand-to-hand or foot-to-foot. Holding the little girl who never cracked a smile and would not lie down during savasana (Michelda stole my heart and I have been sponsoring her through PID ever since). Spontaneously doing yoga with kids who show up between classes, when there is no interpreter, just gesture and touch. Indeed, neuroscientists appreciate how important this non-verbal, “right brain to right brain” connection is to human development.

Despite the inner knowing that we were being of service, reservations haunted me after the first trip. The medical volunteers were doing such “important” work, I thought, while we were “just playing.” I overcame these doubts by reminding myself that play is the work of children; that most NGOs in Haiti provide basic needs, while fewer offer children playful human interaction. And there were the wise words of Mr. Genois before we left: “I have been watching you out my window all week. What you do is so much more than play. You are reaching the children’s bodies, minds and hearts.”

The cultural divide also gave pause, especially once I started educating myself about Haiti. There’s a term in social work, “well-meaning white woman.” What could outsiders like us who could never hope to fully understand this culture possibly have to offer? How could we reassure parents and teachers who deeply suspected that yoga was about teaching kids to levitate, or getting the spirit to leave the body? On the other hand, wasn’t yoga an equally foreign practice when it first came to the U.S. from India?

Like any subject, the more I learn about Haiti, its culture and history, the more I feel humbled by what I don’t know. And yet. Trip #7 felt like a watershed, a breakthrough of cultural barriers.

~PID’s cook, a conservative Christian woman whose church forbids women to wear pants, makeup, jewelry or nail polish (as I learned when I started painting the girls’ nails and an older girl came over and signed that their parents would punish them for it), began to attend class. I had shown her downward dog on a previous trip, as a possible way to ameliorate her leg pain.
~A local pastor told us yoga was helping him with his sermons.
~The older teens and school teachers we had trained to teach yoga were moving ahead full speed, teaching classes in their communities.
~Most poignantly, the kids were teaching each other — and us! Nine-year-old Alexandra assembled a group of 18 and taught an impromptu class. Six-year-old Miranda conducted a private session for the 15-year-old American “brother” of her American sponsor family. When I looked and saw Miranda sitting face-to-face and leading Miles in meditation, following by asana and ending with savasana, yoga again proved to be a profound form of non-verbal connection.

In what is sometimes referred to as the “Republic of NGOs,” aide workers are criticized for driving around Haiti in shiny black SUVs, their feet never touching the ground. Go Give Yoga is on the ground in Haiti, literally as well as figuratively. Are we helping or fixing Haiti? Definitely not – nor is that our intention. Are we serving Haiti by offering our presence? By sharing a practice that might grow inner resources in some of the least-resourced children? From the bottom of our hearts, we hope so.

Class Plan based on Visiting Feelings

There are many activities to expand on Visiting Feelings.  The Parents’ Note at the back of the book describes several.  Here are some other ideas that can be combined into a class.  Feel free to pick and choose depending on time, space and audience.

Read Visiting Feelings

Yes/No Game:  “Sometimes I feel…..” This can be used as a warm-up, or to get the kids moving after having sat for the book reading.

Divide the room into two sides, one for Yes and one for No. Call out, “Sometimes I feel happy.” The kids who agree run to the Yes side; others go to the No side.  Keep it fun, and adapt to the age of the group.  E.g., with little ones you might use wiggly, giggly, huggy or snuggly, grumpy, etc. Make sure to sprinkle in some outrageous statements that are likely to evoke No’s.  E.g., Sometimes I feel like a grandma, an octopus, a tyrannosaurus.

Brain Lesson: Wizard vs. Lizard brain. This will be the subject of an upcoming blog.

Guess the Feeling Game:  Whisper a feeling into a volunteer’s ear, and ask her to act it out without words. The other children guess what the feeling is, then describe how they knew. Progress from easy (happy, sad, angry) to moderate (excited) to more difficult feelings (confused, frustrated), depending on ability and interest.  If the children are engaged and there are too many for each to get a turn, assign partners and give them a feeling to demo together. Encourage the children to get very specific about how they identified feelings – you will be surprised at their skill.

Integrating Yoga:  So many yoga poses are suggestive of feelings.  Let your imagination be your guide. I like to group poses together based on basic shapes.  Depending on activity level, you can begin with standing poses and work down to the ground, or begin on the ground and transition to standing.  Introduce a pose, e.g. Star, and ask, “If the star had feelings, what might they be?”  Or, “What are three words to describe a Star?” The feelings listed are just ideas – the children will be delightfully creative.  As an add-on, you might ask, “Show me how you breathe when you’re [feeling].”

Standing Poses

  • Star – proud
  • Mountain — strong
  • Tree—steady, focused
  • Warrior—brave, powerful
  • Volcano—explosive, angry

From All-Fours

  • Mouse — shy
  • Turtle–scared
  • Child’s — relaxed
  • Puppy – excited, playful
  • Puppy peeing on the carpet [table with lifted leg] – naughty? Ashamed?
  • Cat—angry vs content
  • Dragon, fire-breathing
  • Rainbow


  • Butterfly, flower
  • Lion–fierce
  • Boat—graceful, ease, go-with-the-flow
  • Laughing Circle (or pedal laughing on back) – silly
  • Tarzan’s Thymus Tap


  • Snake – sneaky
  • Lizard – lazy


  • Pedal Laughing = silly
  • (Happy) Baby
  • Fish
  • Starfish
  • Birthday Candle (shoulderstand)

Optional Partner Work

Divide into pairs and have them breathe seated back-to-back, feeling their partner’s breath.

Ending Class

In Savasana, use an iRest guided meditation, asking the children to locate opposite sensations in their bodies: e.g., warmth then coolness, tight then relaxed.  Or read Bubble Riding by Lori Lite.

A nice way of ending is with Electric Circle from YogaKids, where the children pass a hand squeeze around the circle.

Or, cultivate peaceful feelings by having the class repeat after you, “May there be peace in my mind [touch head], peace with my words [touch mouth], peace in my heart [hands on heart], and let’s send peace out into the world [place palms together at heart center, then extend arms out].

Hand out stickers with a visual from the book and the line, “I visited my feelings today!” Email me at DrLaurenRubenstein@gmail.com for a PDF sheet you can use; just buy sticker paper, print and cut!

What activities have you done based on Visiting Feelings?  Can you add to any of these activities, e.g. another yoga pose?  We would love to hear some of your ideas!

Four Roses Practice: from Dr. Kristin Race

Surviving Generation Stress: 4 Roses
How to recognize and engrave good experiences into your brain
Published on January 26, 2014 by Kristen Race, Ph.D. in Generation Stress

The 4 Roses practice has been adapted for families from Rick Hanson’s inspiring work in Hardwiring Happiness. ROSE is a simple process for engraving the good things that we experience over the course of the day into the neural structure of our brain. It is a profound Mindful Parenting practice that the entire family will enjoy!

Rose stands for:


Soak it in

Engrave it

Recognize 4 Roses each day – A rose does not have to be a grand experience. Good things happen all around us, but much of the time we don’t notice them. Take the time, that singular moment, to recognize that the sun is shining, that your house feels warm, the smell of your coffee in the morning, or the feeling of your child’s small hand in yours. We can’t change the past or the future, but we can take in the good during this moment.

Observe how this recognition makes your body feel. Where in your body do you feel it – does the moment cause your belly to soften, or does your heart seem to flutter just a bit? Does it cause you warmth, or give you chills and goose bumps? Take that extra second, from when you recognize the moment, to observe the impact on your body.

Soak it in and savor this experience. Let your attention remain focused on the way your dog wags her tail when she sees you, before moving on to your next thought. Unless we bring conscious awareness to good experiences, they bounce right off of us (remember our brain is more sensitive to the bad then the good). We have to hold our attention on these good experiences for several seconds to make them stick. The longer a positive experience is held in our awareness, the more emotionally stimulating it is. This allows the neurons in our brain to fire, and thus wire together.

Engrave it into your being. The old saying about creating a goal is that if you share it, that goal becomes much more likely to be obtained. Similarly, in order to engrave these good experiences into the neural structure of your brain it is vital to go one step further with them. That step is to share these roses with your family over dinner, or write them down before you go to bed.

This exercise can be particularly valuable for kids who suffer from anxiety, as they tend to downplay or ignore good news. It is also valuable for kids whose attention tends to bounce rapidly from one thing to the next and thus don’t give positive experiences a chance to reside in their brain for any length of time. With kids and grownups alike, it is important to encourage pausing here and there and noticing the good things in our lives.

Why it works:
At birth, the human brain is in a remarkably unfinished state. Most of its 100 billion neurons are not yet connected in networks. Connections among neurons are formed as a growing child experiences the surrounding world and forms attachments to parents, family members and other caregivers.

These connections form an elaborate network that is sometimes referred to as the brain’s “wiring” or “circuitry.” All of our thoughts, experiences and interactions create connections – they shape the neural structure in our brain.

The neurons that are particularly active become even more responsive to input because these busy regions in our brain get more blood since they need more glucose to do their work. The more our brain uses a certain pathway, the more it likes to use that pathway or as neuroscientists like to say “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Our emotions of love, worry, joy, frustration or anxiety also make physical changes in our neural structures. Even when we are not experiencing an event, our thoughts about an event use the same neural pathways as when we are experiencing it. So if I lie in bed dreading about tomorrow’s dentist appointment, these neural pathways are developing similar to how they will while I am in the dentist’s chair. When we have prolonged or repeated mental activity we leave an enduring imprint on our neural structure. Thus a state can become a trait.

Our goal through the 4 ROSE practice is to bring conscious awareness to positive experiences so they can create lasting positive emotions to help create a more positive, happier and optimistic brain. Similar to our five minutes of breathing, this process is simple, but not entirely easy. Provide yourself the opportunity to re-shape your brain in a wonderfully powerful way.

I challenge you to engage in an experiment with your family. Challenge your kids and yourself to find 4 roses everyday during the school week. Each night at dinner, share your experiences and see how this small practice can make a big difference in your life and in the lives of your children!
Proverb – If you can take care of the minutes the years will take care of themselves.

Dr. Kristen Race is the author of Mindful Parenting and founder of Mindful Life.

Reference: Hanson, R (2013) Hardwiring Happiness: The New brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. New York, NY: Harmony.

New review in School Library Journal

I would love to see Visiting Feelings in every school library and counselor’s office!

Rubenstein, Lauren. Visiting Feelings. illus. by Shelly Hehenberger. 32p. Magination. 2013. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781433813399. LC 2013001222.

K-Gr 3–Through a poetic text, children are encouraged to identify and explore their emotions. “Do you have a feeling/that’s visiting today?/Can you open your door/and invite it to play?/Can you ask what it wants,/and then check it out?” Readers are asked to embrace their feelings, to treat them like friends. Feelings are described through the use of similes and metaphors: “Is it sharp like stepping/on stones with bare feet?/Or smooth like ice cream–your favorite treat?” They are also personified: “Is it warm or cold?/Sour or sweet?/Does it shiver with fear/when the two of you meet?” The full-page, digitally created illustrations feature hand-painted textures and overlays. They have a dreamy quality as the feelings swirl around the youngsters in soft pastel colors. The end pages offer additional information for parents. The high-quality, appealing art will hold the attention of younger children, but discussion will be necessary for understanding this lyrical flow of moods. Paired with Wendy Cooper’s A Is Amazing: Poems About Feelings (Frances Lincoln, 2013), the book has a lot of potential for teaching students how to describe their reactions to different situations. –Sandra Welzenbach, Villarreal Elementary School, San Antonio, TX


Where we feel our feelings: new research

Researchers have long known that emotions are connected to a range of physiological changes, from nervous job candidates’ sweaty palms to the racing pulse that results from hearing a strange noise at night. But new research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals’ culture or language.

Check out this article from Discover Magazine: