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Live Well: New meditation classes can help kids

July 7, 2015 Updated: July 7, 2015 at 11:10 am
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photo - Jennifer Mulson staff mug Thursday, June 12, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Jennifer Mulson staff mug Thursday, June 12, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

It isn't just adults who can benefit from meditation - children can, too.

Katy Allred, 33, recently started a local meditation class for kids. Meditation is a familiar practice for her; she began the habit at 25 after developing a kidney infection that could have taken her life. It was overwhelmingly clear she needed to become more present to her body.

"It really changed my life," she said. "It brings you in touch with yourself and how you relate to others. I became more open and more compassionate with myself."

Allred taught meditation to adults in Denver, but after having a daughter 17 months ago decided to dedicate herself to teaching kids. Her classes are at Omtastic Yoga.

Julia Endicott took her 10-year-old son to Allred's class. He's already a thinker, she said, who evaluates everything.

"It will help him because he dwells on his emotions," Endicott said. "I wanted him to learn some healthy techniques to calmly think through that and to not get wrapped up. He's going into fifth grade and reaching a turning point where he's not a teen yet but there are the new hormones, school's getting harder, new emotions. I'm trying to give him some tools to deal with all those things."

Parents often tell Allred they can't imagine their kids in a meditation class. They'd squirm and lose interest or wouldn't fit in, they say. Others worry their children are learning Buddhism or another religion, and that's simply not the case.

Allred describes what she teaches as relaxation and self-regulation techniques. Parents are likely correct in believing their kids wouldn't sit still for the typical adult version of meditation - 15 to 20 minutes of sitting quietly with eyes closed. That's why Allred uses numerous creative ways to teach kids mindfulness, including short, guided visualizations - to use their vivid imaginations, art projects involve coloring and writing down what makes them worried or unhappy. She'll also have kids learn walking meditation techniques and breath work by placing a stuffed animal on their stomachs and paying attention to the animal as it moves up and down with their inhales and exhales.

"They have so many more pressures on them today," Allred said, "and learning skills to combat anxiety and to know they have some control over that is really good. To be able to recognize that their emotions and thoughts are just that, and that they're not who they are and to know they're not permanent."

Another client of Allred's committed to eight weeks of life coaching. Eileen Ayorga wanted help with her son, a 3-year-old who had so much energy he couldn't sleep at night. As a result of the sessions, both Ayorga and her son now do a guided meditation before bed. She downloads iTunes meditations geared toward kids or reads him one of the kids meditation books Allred suggested. The results have been noticeable.

"There were a few times I lost it with a bad day and I was about to start freaking out," Ayorga says, "and he said, 'Mommy, take a deep breath.' Another time at a store, he got overwhelmed, ran away from me and hid by a rack. I asked what's the matter, and he said, 'Mommy, I just need to breathe.'"

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