Helping kids to navigate the downs of life, the “mud” of life, is so very important. How we respond, or react, to difficulties is a critical piece to creating a life of wellbeing and emotional regulation.
Last week I went with my family to see the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. In the movie the central character, Riley, an 11-year-old girl, must adjust to major change as her family moves across the country from Minnesota to San Francisco. Pixar did a phenomenal job at demonstrating what happens to our connection to our inner thoughts, emotional regulation, memories, creativity and relationship with others when we encounter a major life change and don’t have the inner or outer support to be able to adjust with ease and grace.
I have always been inspired by the lotus flower. Such amazing beauty growing out of the stickiest mud! Whenever I encounter little or BIG bumps in life, I remind myself and my daughters that there is going to be the “mud of life” and how we learn to respond to it is the key as to whether we remain stuck in the mud or bloom into a beautiful lotus. We can use EVERY “mud moment” along the way to grow more petals within our lotus hearts. Every bump can strengthen us if we choose to allow it to be so.
Last summer while I was traveling in Paris with my two daughters, my wallet was stolen from my purse. This was certainly a MUD MOMENT! While my brain’s first thought was to react with sadness, anger and fear, I paused. I did feel all of those things and just allowed myself a few moments to do so.
We sat down and I told the girls that I needed a few minutes to think. They were clearly worried too. As I sat there, I felt my brain volley back and forth between freaking out and calming down. Finally, calming down won as I thought the thought “If I freak out now, it won’t help AND what will my girls learn from me?” So, I decided that this was a perfect moment to bloom in the mud. I began to consider the bright side. We still had our passports back in the safe at the hotel. That was a plus! We still had our health and physical safety. That was another plus. I breathed. I began to feel better. My next thought was to search my purse. At the very bottom was one forgotten credit card. We could use this until I was able to make it to the bank to see how I could get cash. Many other steps followed. But what I celebrated MOST out of the entire event was that I had taken the mud moment and had grown a lotus flower out of it. My girls saw me problem-solve the situation, use relaxation and the pause button to gather my thoughts and regulate my feelings, and then how to put some options as to how to respond on the table and go from there. MUD to LOTUS.
Every day we have countless opportunities to grow lotus flowers from the mud of our life. Kids are always watching and absorbing information from the world around them, often learning more from the environment at large than what is explicitly taught. As an adult, it is key that we learn to strengthen our inner resources, our emotional resilience, and our brain’s capacity to respond, (a function of the brain’s higher reasoning prefrontal cortex), rather than react, (a function of the brain’s fight or flight temporal lobe/limbic center). With practice we can build this capacity, hone these skills of emotional regulation and begin to respond by choice to life rather than by default emotional hijacking. Please be sure to remind your child that all feelings are okay, we are just practicing how to handle the strong feelings in a balanced way.
Try these Lotus Flower Relaxation Activities to begin to practice emotional regulation and relaxation techniques with your child. Practice them with yourself first and then share them with your child.
Lotus Flower: Mud Moments and Your Brain
Start by telling your child the story of lotus flower and mud moments and how his brain responds. Lotus flowers bloom in the mud. Explain to your child that there is lots of “mud moments” or unwanted things that we do not like that happen in life. Relaxation activities and relaxation practice helps us to build the part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, that allows us to problem-solve the mud moments rather than react. Talk about how when we are “freaking out” or are very upset, our brains can hardly come up with solutions. That is why it is so very important to learn how to calm ourselves down. Our brains learn with practice. The more we practice relaxation techniques, the more our brains will begin to relax when we run into a MUD MOMENT. Our brain will say, “I relax first when I feel the mud” instead of “I yell and scream first when I feel the mud.” But mud moments are really helpful to us because they help us to become strong. When we know how to deal with the mud moments of life as well as the pretty, blooming moments, then we can use ALL of the moments of our life to make us stronger (not just the moments that are fun or that we like).
Lotus Flower Mudra
Mudras are hand poses from the yoga tradition that help us to balance the energy in our body. They help our brain to relax and to focus. The purpose of this hand pose is to put your attention on your heart to help your heart relax and feel open, loving towards yourself and others.
Step one: put your hands together, all fingers touching
Step two: slowly begin to bloom your middle fingers outward, just like a flower opening its petals to bloom. Keep your thumbs and pinkie fingers connected as the fingers fan outward to make a flower
Step three: Now raise your fully bloomed flower up through the pond water to way above your head where your flower can sit on top of the water, fully blooming, soaking up the sun.
Step four: Bring your flower down, still holding the pose, until your hands are in front of your heart. What words of love, compassion, kindness, sharing, friendship, gentleness are blooming from your flower? Listen closely and see if you can hear them? (If you are in a group, or if your child feels comfortable, invite him to share them outloud).
Lotus Flower Breath
Now, using the lotus flower mudra, add the lotus flower breath. This breath has four stages: in breath, pause holding the breath in, out breath, pause and holding the breath out. Use your hands along with the deep breath to support the visualization that goes along with it.
Step one: With your hands at your sides, slowly begin to breathe in as you bring your hands together and bloom your hands into lotus flower mudra, thumbs and pinkies touching and other fingers fanned out like a flower as you raise your hands to to rest on the surface of the water above your head.
Step two: Hold your breath as the flower sits there in the sun.
Step three: Slowly breathe out as you allow your hands to slowly come apart and come to rest at your sides back down in the mud.
Step four: Pause and rest in the mud, growing your roots and allowing your lungs to be empty for a moment before you begin to repeat the flower blooming with an in-breath.
Lotus Flower Reminders
You can use these affirmations in the picture below to help your child remember the concepts presented here.
- Mud moments make us stronger and help us to grow our brains to respond rather than react.
- Stopping to pause when we find mud can help us to train our brains for relaxation rather than stressing out
- We can choose to bloom no matter what the circumstance
- Tuning into our heart energy is both healthy, feels good, and allows us to send blooming thoughts to ourselves and others