Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mandalas: Coloring as a Form of Meditation for Children and Adults

Image by the Morales-Franco Family

Even before I conceived my son, I was concerned about how I would teach my children the skills that would support them in stress-management. I am convinced that there should be courses that begin in pre-school and continue throughout high school that teach children about how to best manage emotions and stress. In fact, it would be ideal to teach parents so they can be more supportive with their children and kinder with themselves.

When I started looking to create a bed time routine with my then two year-old, I wanted him to be exposed to the tranquility of meditation. But how do you teach meditation to a two year-old? Well, I remembered that art is a form of meditation for many. It was for me during a difficult part of my life. In general, activities where people feel completely present and at ease can become a form of meditation. I have friends who relax when they clean their house while others enjoy running as a way to center themselves, for example. So, taking all of this into consideration I want to share an ancient way of meditating that incorporates art and can be a great tool in practicing being in the present moment: Mandala Meditation.
A mandala is a circle containing repetitive designs or patterns symbolizing wholeness, which help create a sense of tranquility. Anyone can create their own Mandala focusing on a particular theme and use words, images or colors to represent it. There are books of mandalas that can help in meditation while observing the finished image. When I was at my previous workplace, I had access to mandala coloring books and colored them in my office as a way of centering and relaxing myself.
There are mandala coloring books for children and adults. I decided to look for mandala coloring books for my son and found a couple. We would listen to soothing music or sounds of nature and color mandalas together. Drawing and sharing quiet time was soothing not just for my son but for me also. It allowed us to have a peaceful practice that brought us together. We stopped after a few months because he is very energetic and went through a phase of not wanting to color, but I have recently reincorporated the practice for the whole family. My husband, son and I color and breathe together.

I will be writing more about our experience with this practice and what differences I notice in the family dynamic. Currently I am preparing a mandala meditation for my weekly Saturday Meditations and I feel really excited about it. I will also share the attendees experience with this centering practice. Just like with almost any other form of meditation, it is important to remember that everyone can do this. If it sounds appealing; a pen, a blank piece of paper and a few deep breaths is all is needed.
- Tania Franco

Friday, February 22, 2013

Toning Meditation

Image by Tania Franco

I first started trying to meditate with a lit candle. Being so new at this, the practice made me feel even more anxious than calm. I was suddenly aware of the numerous thoughts racing through my mind and felt overwhelmed by them.
The good thing is that I was able to recognize the benefits I could get from sticking to this (I can be very hard-headed sometimes) and I wasn’t going to let anxiety stop me. I decided I would overcome the initial awkwardness. And I did… after a year. That may be a bit too long, I thought. I must add that I was practicing yoga and diaphragmatic breathing regularly, yet it had not dawned on me then that these too were forms of meditation and that I had gained a sense of peace when I was engaged in them, similar to the one that can be reached by meditating. This “aha!” would come to me later.
I was then introduced to toning.

Toning is a form of sound meditation. It can be made internally through humming, imagining a sound or by actually producing it with the vocal cords and breath. There are particular mantras, vowel sounds or many sounds that can be chanted rhythmically. The first time I toned I felt soothed, centered, entertained and fascinated. This was a million times better for me than staring at a flickering candle. Of course, that was my experience. This is why it’s is so important to be exposed to a variety of practices so you can choose what better suits your needs.
I would tone in group a few times but would practice at home daily, sensing I had stumbled onto something more meaningful than what I could understand.

Toning was instrumental in my private work as a psychotherapist. I taught a weekly toning meditation. I would coach clients, who had been passive in their relationships, to find their voice, place boundaries and speak up for themselves through this practice. It was instrumental in teaching others healthier ways to express and release anger, sadness and fear. With my clients with chronic pain it helped reduce the intensity of their pain significantly.
When I was in labor toning was one of the most effective tools I used to reduce pain.  As the pain would build I would make the sound ‘ohm’ and the intensity reduced greatly. It didn’t subside completely but made a huge difference in feeling empowered within my discomfort. If the pain was a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1-10 it would reduce to a 3 or 4 which made it much more tolerable and less stressful.

This practice has been essential in my personal and professional life.  It’s a great option for mind-body-spirit wellness. I will continue to share the numerous techniques that can be used in consciously creating greater happiness in daily life. Wellness is in the regular practice of these self-management tools.
I recently returned to teaching meditation on a weekly basis and chose to present the group with different forms of meditation so they can identify which techniques are better suited for them. It is essential to one’s wellness practice to become familiar with the variety of options that are available to be able to choose tools that will enhance our sense of inner-peace more effectively.

-Tania Franco