“Meditation is being able to feel what it feels like to be ourselves.”
If I had to name a single goal I have for the kids in Friendly Yoga classes, it’s that they learn how to settle into their minds and bodies enough to really feel themselves, mentally and physically, from the inside out.
Second goal: that they learn to accept what they find.
Extra credit: that they confidently love many, many parts of themselves, if not the whole package.
With those goals in mind, I begin my tween/teen classes with a checking-in meditation technique that I learned from Dan Siegel‘s excellent book, Mindsight. It’s called S.I.F.T.
S stands for sensations, noticing what is physically felt in the body.
I stands for images, one window onto the conscious and sub-conscious workings of our mind.
F stands for feelings, the emotions that are present in our current experience.
T stands for thoughts, the ongoing inner monologue or “chatter” that is simply the mind doing its job.
During the S.I.F.T. exercise, students are guided to notice these four aspects of their current experience. (I’ve included a sample script below.)
Some kids settle right in, and seem to immediately enjoy the S.I.F.T. exercise, and some describe it as “weird” and feel a little uncomfortable and awkward at first. However, as time goes on, and especially as the group grows more comfortable with me and with one another, most kids develop more skill and comfort taking stock in this loosely structured way.
I have led kids through the S.I.F.T. exercise with and without journaling, and there are pros and cons to both.
S.I.F.T. without journaling is faster and more streamlined, and can be done anywhere, anytime. I’ll sometimes do this if the group energy is revving extra high and we just need to settle down.
However, I’ve found that stopping between each mini-meditation to note what has been observed helps keep the kids anchored and focused, and also allows them to pause from the work of going inside and noticing, which is not always comfortable or easy. Putting their observations into words or pictures adds an important moment of descriptive reflection.
Here is an approximation of the script I currently use with tweens, ages 9-12. Feel free to use it in your classes!
If we are journaling, I have the kids find a blank page and write the letters S, I, F, and T down the side of it.
- Find a comfortable position for yourself. You can sit, lie on your belly or back or side; whatever position feels safe and easy for you. [If I am in a room with pillows, couches, comfy spots, I let kids spread out and find their own spot, but usually we do this on our yoga mats.] You don’t have to close your eyes, but if you’re keeping them open, please find an object you can rest your eyes on so that everyone has privacy
- Doing S.I.F.T. is a way of sorting through how it feels to be you, right now. It’s all about noticing. There’s nothing you need to change right now, unless you want to, like if you notice that your body is uncomfortable. You can definitely move and readjust. There are no right answers and no wrong answers during S.I.F.T.
- Let’s start with the S of S.I.F.T.: S is for sensations.
- [I usually use one or two of the following sensation-noticing techniques, depending on how much time is available and how antsy the kids are to get moving:]
- Let’s pay attention to the way the air in the room feels on your body. Feel your face or your hands or another part of your body where the skin is touching the air. Do you feel the air moving? Is it cool or warm or neither?
- Let’s do a quick body scan. Imagine that your attention is a flashlight. As I mention parts of your body, shine your attention onto and into that body part, lighting it up like a flashlight would in a dark room. Focus all your attention on your left big toe. Does this make your toe feel big? Is this the first time all day that you’ve even noticed your left big toe? Spread your attention to your right big toe, and then to all your toes. Bring your attention up over your feet, the top of your feet and the soles. Shine your attention up over your ankles and then your lower legs, your calves and your shins, etc.
- Picture a honey bear, a plastic bottle shaped like a bear, with a nozzle on the top. Imagine that you are like that honey bear. Feel the shape of your container, the places where your body makes contact with the outside world. Now feel the “honey” that fills that shape. Feel the density of your body, the space it takes up in the world. Shift back to feeling the container. And come back to the honey, the whole shape of your body.
- Notice all the parts of your body that are touching the floor. Feel the gentle pressure as gravity pulls you down and the floor holds you up.
- Go to your journal, and write down one thing that you noticed next to the letter S.
- I is for images.
- If you feel okay closing your eyes for this one, please do. When your eyes are closed, you might notice that you can still “see” light and other artifacts through your eyelids. These aren’t the images we’re trying to notice. Most people can “picture” things in their minds, almost like it’s a movie or a slide show or a play. Some of the images you see are about things that happened to you or things you’re planning to do or things you’re having big feelings about. Sometimes the images make sense, and spool out like a story, one image connected to the next, and sometimes what you see is random, like when you have a weird dream, and you find yourself saying, “Now why did I think of that?” Some people have an easy time “visualizing” images in their mind, and other people don’t see much at all. No problem. Just try. I’ll be quiet for the next 30 seconds, while you notice the images that appear in your mind.
- The first time I do this with a new group, we “warm up” by actively generating images. For instance, I’ll have them picture their best friend, a blue sky with puffy clouds, and a cupcake, and switch in between the different images. This convinces most kids that they can notice this process in their own minds.
- Go to your journal, and write down one thing that you noticed next to the letter I.
- F is for feelings.
- For this part of the exercise, feelings means emotions, like feeling sad or happy or anxious or excited or bored or annoyed or angry or silly. Sometimes you know exactly what you’re feeling, and there’s one feeling that’s especially big and obvious. Sometimes you’re feeling several different emotions at the same time. Sometimes it can be hard to identify any emotions at all, and that’s normal and okay. I’ll be quiet for about 30 seconds so you can notice what kinds of feelings are awake inside of you right now.
- Go to your journal, and write down one thing that you noticed next to the letter F.
- T is for thoughts
- Your heart’s job is to pump blood. Your stomach’s job is to start digesting food. Your mind’s job is to think, to scan your environment and your reactions to it, and to make sure you’re safe and okay. Your mind is a thinking machine. Some of it is directed by you, some of it just happens. I’ll be quiet for about 30 seconds so you can notice what your mind is working on right now.
- Go to your journal and write down one thing that you noticed next to the letter T.
After we finish S.I.F.T., we reconvene in our yoga circle, and kids who want to share what they noticed do so (briefly!), and then we begin our physical yoga practice.
Two final notes:
- I like to make a comment at the beginning of this exercise that it’s perfectly normal not to see or notice anything, especially at first. No big deal.
- Very occasionally, something “big” will come up for a student while doing S.I.F.T.; a memory or uncomfortable image. This is rare – I’ve only had it happen twice. One time student just wanted to sit out the rest of the exercise, and the other time there were tears. In these cases, I acknowledge the big feelings, have the student sit right near me with the option of skipping the rest of the exercise, and make sure to let their parent know that something upsetting has happened during class.