Blog-Publications

Tonglen practice for awakening compassion

Children have an innate capacity for generating kindness towards others.

One of my favorite meditation practices is Tonglen and a well-known teacher of this practice is Pema Chödrön.  The word tonglen comes from Tibetan language and translates as giving and taking. Tong means giving or sending, and len means receiving or taking. Pema explains that in tonglen practice “we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we … begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.” In basic terms, tonglen meditation uses visualization and breath-focus to transform negative energy into positive.

I first learned about tonglen during a meditation-leader program at Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness from which I graduated in 2021. I was so intrigued with tonglen that my final paper was about comparing the practice to the heart language found in poetry. 

Historically, tonglen originated in India and was brought to Tibet around the 11th century as a way to help those who were suffering from serious diseases, and also so people might heal themselves so they could continue to help others. 

Tonglen is similar to Loving Kindness (Mettà) in that we are using the transformative power of the heart to channel healing. Although the overall intention of these practices is similar, tonglen is different in that we actually welcome suffering into our hearts. We feel the pain and sadness before allowing the heart to feel compassion and extending it outward into the world.

Compassion is not the same as empathy. A working definition of compassion says it is “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” Empathy is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” (greatergood.berkeley.edu) So, we can understand the subtle difference to be that empathy is an ability to understand another’s emotions, whereas with compassion we also desire to relieve their suffering.

Pema explains the compassion practice further: “Usually, we look away when we see someone suffering. Their pain brings up our fear or anger; it brings up our resistance and confusion. So we can also do tonglen for all the people just like ourselves—all those who wish to be compassionate but instead are afraid, who wish to be brave but instead are cowardly. Rather than beating ourselves up, we can use our personal stuckness as a stepping stone to understanding what people are up against all over the world. Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. We can use our personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.”

The following short tonglen practice can be offered for those who are ill, those who are dying or have already passed, or those people in pain of any kind. Although this is a shortened version, tonglen is traditionally an extended meditation practice.

Tonglen practice for families and groups. Young children can be invited to draw during this practice and use their creativity to channel compassion.

  1. Sitting in stillness with eyes closed. Generate open awareness as you watch the breath go in and out, inviting the desire to fully awaken to compassion. Bring your attention to the heart and welcome feelings of love – this could be a golden light, an image of the Buddha, a “feel-good” being, or just an overall feeling of warmth. You may also choose to place your hands on your heart.
  2. Visualization of a person’s suffering using the breath and sensations. Breathing in and out, welcome awareness of yours or someone else’s suffering. Name the suffering (sadness, grief, pain). See the situation as it is in as much detail as you wish. 
  3. Receiving and taking in suffering. Focus on the situation by seeing an image of the suffering. Use the in-breath to receive the image and with the out-breath, transform it into something more positive. You may try using smoke that changes into healing white light. You can also see the person as being in pain and then visualize their face turning into a smile. As you do this, recite several times: May this pain and suffering be released.
  4. Expanding compassion by extending it out to all who are in the same situation. Using the same in-and-out breath practice described above, visualize and welcome awareness of all who feel the same kind of suffering. On each out-breath offer them the mantra: May this pain and suffering be released. 
  5. Conclusion of the practice. Sit in silence for several more breaths, enjoying the feeling of release and transformation, Recite the final mantra: May all beings be well and live with ease. When ready, open your eyes slowly, bringing awareness back to the space you’re in, noticing your surroundings and all sensations that are present within you. 

(Please note that mindfulness and meditation are not a substitute for medical therapy.)

Originally published in The Taos News, January 5, 2022

Mindfulness and meditation can help focus the brain on tasks at hand.

A beneficial practice for children with attention challenges. 

Meditation practitioners and teachers know that mindfulness is all about present-moment awareness. I have been teaching mindfulness to students since 2016 to calm behaviors, the transition from one activity to another and to be more aware of the body in space and thoughts in the mind. The overarching idea is that with the awareness skill of mindfulness, students who struggle to pay attention or who are anxious in school could notice where their focus is and manage themselves more effectively. The following are but a couple of the many scientific studies showing how mindfulness helps improve focus and attention. 

According to Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Miami, the neuroplasticity of our brain is at the heart of why mindfulness helps with focus. “Attention is your superpower. Attention regulates how you perceive your life, think your thoughts, feel your feelings, enjoy your memories, and daydream about the future.” Dr. Jha and her team taught people with high-stress jobs how to place attention where it matters most using mindfulness. “What we gain from mindfulness [is] the capacity to keep our attention where we need it, in the form we need it… Mindfulness training does indeed have a dose-response effect, which means the more you practice, the more you benefit.”

Another article entitled Your Child’s Brain on Mindful Meditation published in ADDitude, an online magazine for ADHD, explained the results of a Harvard study in which “some areas of the brain, including areas related to emotion regulation, grew during an eight-week mindfulness program. And studies involving both imaging and patterns of activation in the brain have shown alterations correlating with greater emotional control, wellbeing, and happiness.”

Since I have been guiding and practicing meditation with adults and children, most self-report that they feel more in tune with what is going on around them, in their body and in their mind. As they learn to sit in silence and notice what is going on inside and around them, they realize how it benefits their life. 

Please note that meditation is not mental health or emotional therapy. Meditation is, however, an effective supplemental practice that can help generate peace of mind and self-control. The key to a successful practice is time and repetition. To reap the greatest benefit, meditation should be a daily activity of at least 10 minutes and according to Dr. Jha’s study, the optimal amount of time is at least 12 minutes per day. 

The following short practice is inspired by Dr. Amishi Jha’s STOP practice in which we Stop what we are doing for a moment, Take a breath, Observe what’s happening in and around us, and then Proceed with greater focus and intention.

Focus Practice Using Mindfulness

When you notice you are losing focus, whether in class or in a meeting, try this practice and invite your child(ren) to try it with you. By practicing this regularly, children will be able to do it on their own at school.

Let’s say you are in a meeting or classroom and you notice your mind wandering or your body getting jittery. The first thing is to acknowledge that you have lost attention to what is going on. You can’t remember the last thing the speaker or the teacher said, or what you were doing, maybe. The first step in mindfulness is simply noticing that attention has been lost. 

When we notice this, we bring our attention to a mindfulness anchor – commonly the breath. We take one to three deep breaths, intentionally noting the air coming in and going out of the body at the nose, the chest, or the belly. Counting these breaths is also a worthwhile practice to bring attention to the moment.

After inviting a few calming breaths, we bring our attention to the body. Where are the feet right now? Where are my hands? Where am I sitting right now? Bring awareness to any feelings in the body. Then, notice the head balanced on top of the shoulders and, if comfortable, take a few seconds to close the eyes and quickly scan the body for any sensations.

Finally, with the enhanced present-moment awareness this short practice has generated, we make the choice to come back to what is going on right now and what we “should” be doing: listening to a speaker or teacher or working on a project or assignment. We can bring renewed focus and clarity to what we are doing and feel more productive and aware. 

This practice can be done anytime we want or anytime we notice ourselves drifting off task. In time, mindfulness of what is going on right now and what needs to be happening will hone the brain’s focus and attention systems.

Originally published in The Taos News, December 8, 2022

The Impermanence of Life:

Mindfulness and the change of seasons

I received an email newsletter from Ten Percent Happier, a meditation app that offers many types of meditation and teachings. The article shared was entitled, “The Joy and Dread of Autumn” by Jay Michaelson and the topic connected to my heart. It speaks to the impermanence of life and how nature dies with the change of seasons. Michaelson writes, “At this time each autumn, as leaves begin to fall in earnest … I actually feel a desire to somehow paste them back onto the trees.” Reading this I thought to myself, “yeah, that’s how I feel.” 

Surely, fall is a beautiful season and recently my family was in New Hampshire where the sugar maple leaves change to deep colors of red and maroon. Along with the more common yellow and orange, fall’s palette is really spectacular. Even on the ground, the leaves create a gorgeous contrast between the still-green grass and beige sidewalks. It’s as if the forests are on fire with color and the sparks are on the ground. 

“Even if the autumn leaves are riotously beautiful, the bare branches of February are bleak and dour,” writes the author, who says he suffers from seasonal affective disorder. The mind knows that death is near so with the colored leaves soon turning brown, the trees will be bare for the next 6 or 7 months. I realize that I’m a green-season person even though I have an autumn birthday and am grateful to live in a region where there is sunshine all year. So in this conundrum, mindfulness helps me practice with emotions, thoughts and sensations conjured up by the change of seasons. I notice the grasping and aversion felt in my body as churning in the stomach and heaviness of heart. I understand that these feelings are uncomfortable, even depressing. I allow myself to explore the sadness when fall is giving way to winter and remind myself in a moment of wisdom that this is a predictable journey of life and death which is temporary and will in a few months transition again to the seasons of rebirth. I try to make friends with my emotions using self-compassion, reminding myself that the flowers and green leaves WILL return. Apple crisp and pumpkin pie are delicious. Wood burning in the fireplace is cozy and all is well in this moment. It’s the cycle of life.

The following family meditation is done outdoors on a hike or where ever we can find an area to be among trees. We keep eyes open and can choose to either sit or lie down for this practice.

Autumn Family Meditation

Begin by feeling the areas of the body in contact with the ground. Sitting, the feet and legs are touching the earth while lying down, the whole back body will be heavy and grounded.

The leader directs everyone to take several deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth to settle the nervous system and center the body in the meditation space.

The leader then asks everyone how they feel about the change of seasons. Some like it just fine while others may be feeling a little grasping for summer or aversion of fall. It’s a personal thing either way and no need to answer out loud. This is a moment of introspective contemplation. 

Next we do a body scan, moving our attention progressively from one end of the body to the other while noticing any areas that are tense or tight. Those are where the emotions of the change of seasons are physically being felt. 

Looking around, what do we see in the trees and plants around us. What colors are the leaves, branches, plants, vines, etc? Are there signs of life or is everything pretty much asleep?

Using the sense of touch or body sensations, what’s the temperature of the air? Cool, warm, etc. Is there a scent to the change of seasons? Dirt, decaying leaves, evergreens…

What nature sounds are we aware of? Birds, squirrels, a breeze in the trees blowing leaves to the ground? There may be fewer animal sounds when the season is changing to winter.

Once the atmosphere of the practice has been established, we continue to notice the in and out breath and remain in silence, allowing the body and mind to interact with the breath and the environment around us, noticing what our awareness wishes to tune into.

When enough time has passed, we take a few deep breaths together and look around us, mindfully seeing details of nature’s beauty that is a constant in the cycle of life. 

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, individuals and classrooms. For more information please visit the website at MindfulFrontiers.net.

https://www.taosnews.com/opinion/columns/the-impermanent-cycle-of-life/article_50a53031-a9c6-5a2d-9d9a-8656aa735797.html

Awaken curiosity and creativity

Encouraging mindfulness during creative endeavors.

Welcoming mindfulness into artistic projects is a fun way to incorporate curiosity and creativity into our daily life. Many of us have seen the extreme concentration of children when they are fully engaged in an artistic project: drawing, coloring, finger painting, or writing a story. Their whole body is engaged. I remember my daughter would stick her tongue out when focused on a project and when I saw that I knew she was in her creative zone.

I am a life-long creative and always have an artistic project in the works. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, and writing fill my heart with a joyful calm. The mind is focused, the heart is connected and I know this is a special time. Recently, I began guiding monthly Meditative Creations classes. We use the power of mindfulness to enhance focus and curiosity. Whether it is coloring a mandala, free-drawing, knitting, or journaling, mindfulness awakens what is happening inside and out. Using mindfulness, we pay close attention and use the five senses as a way to invite curiosity.

In an article entitled Mindfulness and Creativity published in the Canadian Teacher Magazine, Peggy Bochun quotes Harvard neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Siegel. “Mindfulness helps fine-tune brain connections and creates integration by developing new neural pathways.” When we incorporate mindfulness into creative activities, the brain can focus intently on what is being created and we are able to integrate “the whole of the body, both hemispheres of the brain, and memory” which develops new ways of engaging with the project. 

For example, when we are drawing, mindfulness helps bring full attention to the hand-eye activity. The mind is in the background as we focus intently on what the hands are doing. We notice the colors, the texture, the feeling of the instruments in the hand, and the sound of drawing on paper. When knitting or crocheting, we bring full attention to the movement of the needles or hook and the sensation of the yarn in the fingers and hands. The sense of smell can be used to notice the odor of colored markers or pencils as we draw or paint designs. The eyes are engaged as we pay attention to the colors of our creation as well as the rhythmic pattern of the activity. Periodically, we may stop, breathe, and notice our whole body in space playing a role in channeling creativity. 

The following is a group activity and each person has their own project to work on. The practice requires a leader who guides everyone through the five senses as well as inviting moments of silence.

Meditative Creations Practice

We begin by describing to each other what we are creating. Just a simple sharing of the project. “I’m drawing a picture. I’m coloring a mandala. I’m knitting a scarf, etc.”

We begin by noticing our body and our breath. Taking a few slow, deep breaths in the nose and out the mouth, we allow the body and the nervous system to calm down. This helps us to be ready to focus on our project.

The leader will then invite everyone to bring mindfulness through the five senses by asking the following phrases and encouraging participants to reply silently to themselves. This practice requires silence and individual attention. (If helpful, background acoustic music can be played).

What do you see? The eyes are needed to direct what you’re doing.

What do you feel with your fingers? The sense of touch is a central part of your project. Do you feel the pencil, marker, hook, needle, etc? Is the instrument hard, smooth, sharp, or dull?

What do you hear? Is the pencil or marker making a sound as it draws or colors on the paper? Do the needles make a clicking sound? What sound does your project make?

What do you smell? Is there a smell to the project or materials you’re using? Or is there a scent in the environment where we are all creating?

What do you taste? Sometimes smell and taste are closely related and if there is a smell to the project or environment, it may bring up a taste or remind us of a past activity.

When done, we put down our projects, close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, notice our body in space and then open the eyes and look closely at what we’ve created. The leader may choose to ask participants what they notice about their project or whether there are thoughts and realizations that have come up as a result of doing this meditative creation practice.

Published in the Taos News, October 13, 2022

Meditating Through Transitions:

Using equanimity and mindfulness during times of change.

Published September 15, 2022 in The Taos News

It is said that the one thing constant in life is change. Transitions are sometimes difficult and we grow in many ways as we experience times of change. Everything changes, from the seasons, our health, our thoughts, and our bodies, to our perspectives on life. The way we understood and thought of life as a child is not what we understand as adults. We continue to learn and evolve as humans based on what is going on right now and how we relate to each situation. 

Equanimity is a way to work with change that helps us accept transitions with grace and patience. Equanimity is defined as, “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” How do we bring mental calmness and composure to difficult situations? Life can be really challenging and many times it seems we will never make it through. Equanimity helps us bring ease and acceptance into stressful and unpleasant experiences so that we are at peace no matter what changes come into our life. 

In an article in Lion’s Roar entitled Finding a Better Balance, author Christiane Wolf writes about how equanimity can protect us from emotional overreaction and allow us to rest in a more balanced perspective. She explains a few things we can do to bring equanimity into how we relate to life.

  • Be willing and able to accept things as they are in each moment— whether they’re challenging, boring, exciting, disappointing, or even exactly what we want.
  • Equanimity should not be confused with indifference. Equanimity isn’t gritting your teeth or white-knuckling it. Rather, it’s caring deeply with acceptance and nonreactivity.
  • Equanimity and mindfulness are closely interwoven and mutually reinforcing. Through mindfulness, we can observe the flow of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the body without having a knee-jerk reaction. 
  • Living life in a conscious way will make us more equanimous over time but we don’t have to leave that up to the worldly winds. We can practice it deliberately. Ultimately, our equanimity isn’t only good for us, but also for everyone we encounter.

The following practice is a group contemplation on change. We sit together in a circle and one person shares the reading while everyone else listens attentively. Then, we all answer the final questions and discuss together how we can bring equanimity to changes in our daily life.

Equanimity Contemplation and Meditation

Change surrounds us. It lies within us, too. The trees in the yard have changed. They’ve grown taller. Their leaves die and scatter on the ground in the fall. We don’t resemble our baby pictures much anymore, either. Like trees, we’ve grown up. As babies, we couldn’t walk. But we learned to run, ride bikes, go out alone to movies and parties. 

Some changes we don’t notice while they’re going on. The snow melts; the birds fly south; our hair grows a little every day. Other changes startle us. A best friend moves away. Perhaps a favorite grandparent dies. These changes we wish hadn’t happened, and we have to remember that change is as natural as breathing. We can’t keep it from happening, but we can trust that change never means to harm us. It’s a sign we’re growing up and becoming more resilient. 

What changes have you noticed today? 
Choose one change and explain how you can bring equanimity to it. 
(How can you be mindful of what happened and accept it without getting wound up in despair or over-reactivity?)
This contemplation was inspired by the book, Today’s Gift by the Hazelden Foundation. Article photo courtesy Melissa Askew for Unsplash.

Meditating with Mother Nature:

Showing gratitude for our relationship with the natural world.

Published August 11, 2022 in the Taos News.

Meditating in nature is a satisfying activity. Many enjoy sitting under a tree or by a stream, lying on our back in a meadow, or just sitting on a bench in the backyard. Communing with nature can be a rewarding experience, especially if we are showing gratitude and paying close attention to what is around us. In the book, Awake in the Wild, author Mark Coleman writes, “Nature has the power to transform and awaken us. For centuries, monks, mystics, and other individuals have lived, meditated, and sought refuge in the forests, deserts, and mountains.” 

Recently, I spent 4 days in a hermitage at Lama Foundation. This is something I’ve enjoyed since 2008. When I was teaching, a personal retreat helped me nurture inner strength before going back to the classroom. As a retired educator, I enjoy silent retreats as a way to feed a relationship with nature and all life forms. This fall, I’m looking forward to a 7-day group retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center. I highly recommend retreats to parents and individuals; it’s a great way to draw inspiration from stillness, tranquility, and inner wisdom while close to nature.

Mark Coleman is a meditation teacher who incorporates Buddhist philosophy. I practiced with him in 2020 when an in-person retreat at Vallecitos was canceled due to Covid. It was transformed into an online at-home meditation retreat that was really lovely. Mark explained how meditating in nature has a long history. The Buddha spent much time in the forests of northern India and this is where it is said he reached enlightenment under a grove of Bodhi trees. Buddha then spent nearly 50 years teaching and meditating in nature and encouraged his students to meditate at the foot of trees. 

Thich Nhat Hanh was also a firm believer of meditating with nature. “When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of interbeing, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth;” from Love Letters to the Earth. The idea of “interbeing” is very important to Thay and his followers. Interbeing is the belief that we are one with nature, its beings, and all that is part of our planet. We breathe together, hold space together and depend on each other for survival. 

The following practice is intended for families to practice together in a natural setting. Find a quiet place outdoors – the backyard, a city park, next to a stream, or in a forest and enjoy this practice together. It is appropriate for all ages.

Meditating with Mother Nature

Once you’ve found your spot in nature, gather everyone around and find a place to sit. If you have brought chairs, cushions, or blankets, they can make sitting on the ground more comfortable. Barefooted would also be nice.

– As you take your seat, notice what is going on in the body or mind. We can always be aware of something, whether it is thoughts or sensations. This is Mindful Awareness.

– Close your eyes and bring attention to the body. Sense your posture and what parts of the body are in contact with the earth. Sit with as much ease as possible so that relaxation can be present.

– Breathe normally and feel the full movement of your breathing as it moves through the body. As you breathe, feel the air coming in and going out, and imagine that you are breathing with all life forms around you. The plants breathe, animals breathe, insects breathe, etc…Do this for a few minutes together, allowing everyone to enjoy their own breathing sensations as well as the appreciation that there’s a community breathing together.

– Now, bring your awareness to the natural environment around you. What do you hear? What do you feel? Are there sensations in relation to the areas that are in touch with the earth? Tickling of grass, Crumbling of earth, Solidity of rocks …?

– Open your eyes and look around you. What do you see? Trees swaying in the wind. A bird on a branch, an ant on the ground; pay attention carefully and with a curious heart. 

– Allow everyone time to silently engage with their surroundings so that there is an awareness of the relationship we have with all kinds of life forms – the plants, the insects, the trees, the birds, and even the hidden animals. Feel into the fact that we are all part of this living, breathing ecosystem. Even if the family can only sense this for a short time, it is worthwhile, and with practice, the time can to extended. ( Worthy goal is to sit in nature for at least 30 minutes.)

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes, and coaching for children, families, individuals, and classrooms. For more information please visit the website at MindfulFrontiers.net. 

Labyrinth Walking and Meditation:

Combining movement and awareness into a deeply inspiring practice.

Labyrinths are perhaps one of the oldest, and certainly one of the most mysterious symbols known to mankind.  This unique symbol is a geometric shape that does not occur naturally and yet feels very much at home in the landscape. According to Rev. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas, where I received training in labyrinth facilitation, “a labyrinth is a spiritual tool that has many applications in various settings. It reduces stress, quiets the mind, and opens the heart. It is a walking meditation, a path of prayer, and a blueprint where psyche meets Spirit.” Labyrinths have been part of indigenous cultures for thousands of years and Native American cultures have depictions on their artwork, pottery and petroglyphs. The Man in the Maze symbol is actually a labyrinth, not a maze. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth has one circuitous path in and out where there are no secret passages, no trickery and no goal. Each person walks the labyrinth at their own pace and in their own time with no expectations. 

Labyrinth walking is a moving meditation that can be healing, inspirational or simply calming. Walking meditation, which Thich Nhat Hanh describes as “a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth,” is a meditation practice wherein “we breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home”. Labyrinth walking uses mindfulness to engage the body and mind in present-moment awareness as we journey.

Casa Oasis 7-circuit left-handed classical labyrinth in Arroyo Hondo, NM, USA.
Labyrinth Walking for Families
• A labyrinth can be walked with feet or fingers. The following practice can be used for either of these journeys.  Finger labyrinths can be found on the web in a wide range of designs and complexity. My experience with children is that they love the labyrinth so have fun with your family labyrinth meditation.

• Pick a labyrinth (printed or in-person) that works for the age range of your family. Each person will follow their own journey through the labyrinth. Begin by explaining what a labyrinth is (the article above is a good place to start).

• Explain that everyone will be following the labyrinth path at their own pace. Children like to see who will get to the center first so be sure everyone understands that this is not a race. 

• If you are journeying a labyrinth in person, encourage children to walk or skip instead of run so that they may be more aware of where they place their feet. 

• The same thing goes for finger walking. Explain that the point of walking a labyrinth is to go slow and to be mindful. A fun option is to use a finger of the non-dominant hand when finger-walking.

• Before embarking on the labyrinth walk, take a few deep breaths together to release any pent-up energy and emotions. (Children can wiggle their jitters away). A short meditation is also helpful to set the tone.

• The entire labyrinth journey is done as quietly as possible. No talking, laughing, or loud noises so that each person can have their own journey in peace and without distraction. Background music may help with creating a relaxing ambiance.

• As you journey, notice the path, and when walking with feet, pay close attention to the plants, the rocks, or whatever is in or around the labyrinth. Stop at the curves and look up at the sky or the landscape and breath in nature and the environment.

• Whether you are walking with fingers or feet when the center is reached, it’s nice to stop for a couple of moments, take a few slow breaths and reflect on anything that has come to mind and look back over the path taken so far. When everyone has completed their walk, I recommend holding hands and taking some deep breaths together. If comfortable, participants can share their labyrinth journey with each other. If time allows, the family can do some coloring or journal writing.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, classrooms and individuals. For more information please visit our Linktree page.

Article originally published in The Taos News, July 14, 2022, as the Families Meditate Together monthly column.

For more information, follow these links about labyrinths, Veriditas and labyrinth journeys hosted by Mindful Frontiers LLC.

Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Learning:

Working with emotions, the mind, and the body.

Many parents and educators have heard of SEL or Social-Emotional Learning. In many schools, SEL has been incorporated into classrooms through activities that help students understand themselves and others. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” There are five “core competencies” that CASEL has identified to be important in nurturing social-emotional health: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 

Group mindfulness and SEL circle practice are below.

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Mindfulness helps us recognize and accept present-moment thoughts and emotions and can also help people handle stresses in life. Through mindfulness, we become more empathetic and compassionate. 

SEL and Mindfulness work well together to nurture healthy relationships. The areas in which mindfulness contributes directly to SEL are self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. By cultivating an awareness of what is going on in the body and mind right now in the present moment and accepting this with gentleness and kindness, we understand and manage our emotions, thereby nurturing positive relationships and decision-making. The following family practice brings together self-awareness as well as acknowledging what others are experiencing.

A Circle of Mindful Awareness

Begin by sitting in a circle with our back to each other towards the center and the front of our body facing outward. The circle should be as small as is comfortable so that each person is either in physical contact with neighbors or at least close enough to sense their presence.

– Designate a leader who will guide the group, reading step-by-step directions.

– First, we bring our attention to the breath, counting three or four deep breaths to relax and settle the nervous system and mind. While we breathe collectively we are aware that others in the circle are breathing and we may be able to hear and feel that as well.

– With the energy and atmosphere settled, we imagine the breath as a river of energy flowing through the body, stopping now and again at different areas such as the head, neck, shoulders, abdomen, arms, legs, etc. (Leader can guide this body scan).

– Next, we will invite any emotions that are present for us, allowing the mind to join the experience. What is an emotion that is present for you right now?  Give this feeling a name by labeling it: sadness, excitement, happiness, tiredness, etc.

– Let’s now notice where in our body we feel the emotion we just recognized. This may be an area of tightness or warmth, coolness or tingling. With a quick body scan, where is the emotion the strongest in the body? 

– Now we will take turns saying our name, the emotion, and where we feel it in our body. For example, “I’m Neveah and I feel happiness in my heart”. Moving around the circle, each person acknowledges those who spoke before them, repeating their name, their emotion, and where they feel them.

– Lastly, the person shares their own name, emotion, and body area. We continue this circle activity until everyone has had a chance to repeat their neighbors’ information as far back as possible to the first person, ending with their own.
To finish, the first person who started the activity will try to recite all of the other names, emotions, and body parts. 

– I recommend the leader be sensitive to the age and awareness level of each family or group member. Some young children may find it challenging to remember everyone’s emotions and body parts. There should be kindness and acceptance as the person tries their best to remember before sharing their own information. The activity is not about who can remember the most; rather, it is an opportunity to build self and social awareness through mindfulness.

Published June 9, 2022 in The Taos News

Mindfulness Practice for Sleep: Encouraging restfulness for the whole family.

“Of all the things we do on a regular basis, sleeping is one of the most extraordinary and least appreciated.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of MBSR)

Sleep is extremely important for our mental and physical health and yet so many people have trouble falling or staying asleep. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep; it’s a state that we have to let go into. Everyone is different and each of us needs a different amount of sleep to be at our best. “Contrary to popular opinion, older people don’t need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person”. (WebMD). 

Sleep plays a very important role in the development of young minds. Sleep directly affects our feelings of happiness, alertness and attention as well as cognitive performance, mood and memory. “Sleep also has important effects on growth, especially in early infancy.” (Sleep Foundation)

Mindfulness can help us enjoy deep and restorative sleep and the practice that encourages this is a “body scan”. In a body scan, we are guided to place our attention on the body, slowly and sequentially by noticing one area at a time. For children, this may be done with the aid of a visual, such as a butterfly that lands on the body and when it does that part of the body is allowed to relax. For adults, it may be just noticing each part of the body in turn, being curious of the sensations there and then breathing into the area. 

I like using a recorded yoga Nidra or an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) body scan. Mindful Frontiers has some on our Youtube channel as well as on our Insight Timer page. The following practice is one that can be done as a family at the end of the day or when a parent is helping a child fall asleep. When done together, a member of the family such as an adult or older sibling may read the script. Then, I suggest recording and reusing it so that everyone can relax together. If all members of the family fall asleep, that’s even better! 

Body Scan Meditation for Restful Sleep

  1. Begin the meditation by noticing the sensations at the top of your head. Simply note what you feel. There may be itchiness, warmth or tension.
  2. Focus your attention on your skull as it makes contact with the bed or the pillow. Allow curiosity in the sensations present and breathe into them.
  3. Scan your face area, forehead, eyes and nose. Notice tingling, temperature, tightness; let it all be there. 
  4. Now bring your attention to your upper body. Breathe gently, directing the breath and focus first to your shoulders.
  5. Notice your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. Notice how they feel.
  6. Allow your awareness to move down your arms and all the way to your hands and fingers. Allow all of this area to soften and relax.
  7. Let your attention now go to your back. Imagine a zigzag movement across your back as you breathe into this area and notice what’s there.
  8. Notice your upper back, your mid-back and the sensations in your lower back. Allow any pain or tightness to ease with the breath.
  9. Now, notice your pelvic area and the places where your body has contact with the bed. Feel whatever sensations are present and welcome relaxation. 
  10. Bring this kind and curious attention to your legs, knees and calves. Notice whatever sensations are present: vibration, tingling, temperature, heaviness. 
  11. Lastly, bring your attention to your ankles, feet and toes. Breathe deeply and let relaxation reach these body extremities.

Now that you’ve scanned your body once, you can start again. This time, you might start at your feet and go back up through your body until you get to the top of your head. Feel free to scan your body up and down as many times as is helpful for you to fully relax.

(Adapted from mindful.org)

Published in The Taos News, May 12, 2022

Families Meditate Together

Mindfulness in Daily Family Life: Anything Can Be Done Mindfully

“We have the ability to work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place.”  — Thich Nhat Hanh from Moments of Mindfulness, 2013

Mindfulness can be brought into our daily activities so that anything we do becomes meditation. Doing the dishes, cleaning the house, driving the car, drinking coffee or tea, and walking with a pet can all be done mindfully. 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, wrote extensively about mindfulness in daily life. “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car, or take our morning shower.” Thay (as he is referred to by his followers), taught that anything we do can be meditation. 

When we engage in an activity mindfully we slow down and REALLY pay attention with applied concentration and open curiosity. I have noticed that when mindfulness is brought to an activity it becomes really enjoyable and imaginative. When the activity is partaken by a group, everyone has a different experience and it is meaningful to all.

When I teach mindfulness to children and families, we engage all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. What do we see right now? What do we smell, touch, taste, and hear right now as we are doing this together?

Another thing we can do is recite a gatha or phrase while we engage in an activity and it brings the mind and body together with a calm and clear mind.  Here are a couple of gathas to consider: “Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with Right Speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart. Before starting the car I know where I am going. The car and I are one. If the car goes fast, I go fast.” (From Plum Village website)

This month let’s really pay attention to activities we engage in together. The following practice can be used during any activity to bring mindfulness into the shared experience.


Mindfulness in Daily Life family practice

Choose an activity to experience mindfully: Washing the Dishes, Walking the Dog, Driving to School. You choose the activity. The practice is the same.

  • Begin by consciously identifying what you are doing right now together. 
  • The practice welcomes all the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The leader in the practice asks the questions one at a time, allowing for individual experience.
  • What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you taste? For example, if we are washing the dishes, we identify the dish we are washing and notice its texture, color, and design. What sounds do we hear as the cloth rubs the surface or the dishes touch one another? How does the water temperature feel on our hands? What does the soap smell like and is there a sense of taste? (Sometimes smell and taste are related in the body)
  • Each sense is invited and a quiet moment is allowed for everyone to have their experience. We invite patience and awareness and don’t hurry to the next sense.

Walking is also a great activity to do mindfully. Consider this if you walk a pet regularly. While walking, invite all the senses just as was suggested above.

Published April 21, 2022 in The Taos News