In this post, I am sharing my experiences designing and leading mindfulness meditation groups for youth at-promise. The summary of my experiences below is part of a personal capstone project for the Nalanda Institute’s Contemplative Psychotherapy program.
This past year, I used mindfulness-based meditative interventions for at-promise youth. I came to realize that sitting and following the breath or another object during meditation presented difficulties for the youth. I imagined these difficulties might have stemmed from a struggle with anxiety and lack of confidence. Many participants have been told they are incapable of sitting and paying attention. Internalizing these beliefs can make the practice seem challenging and frustrating. I thought giving them an experience of relaxation and personal power or confidence before meditating would help their ability to sit calmly through the meditation.
I used the following basic structure for the group: We held a brief discussion about the practices we’d be doing and what to expect. The youths were given the option to leave the room quietly if remaining still and quiet became difficult. I stated I trusted them to know when they were unable to maintain silence. This rule worked well. I rarely had to ask people to leave the group. I described the type of meditation we would do and an outline of expectations. I let them know they could lie down or sit for body sensing and then would sit up for guided mindfulness meditation. With few exceptions, the youth chose to lie down on the floor, with knees perched on a chair or legs flat on the ground.
I guided them to close their eyes, take a few deep breaths, then allow my voice to guide them through the parts of the body. I used a full body relaxation meditation that has roots in Western science’s progressive muscle and autogenic relaxation techniques in a form similar to Richard Miller’s “Body Sensing” approach. Miller’s version doesn’t tense or relax the muscles or direct the experiencer to relax like other approaches. Miller’s strategy rotates attention around areas of the body according to a motor and sensory cortex map and requests the meditator to bring that portion of the body into awareness. He adds to this body scan, movement through the subtle body energy system. Miller believes this system of very subtle energies points to our “True Nature.” As Miller stated, “Usually our listening is oriented toward objects. We rarely stop to consider the deep energies that animate these objects.” This idea of “true nature” fits very nicely with the Tibetan Buddhist notion of the limitless expanse of being and with Dr. Joe Loizzo’s human-shaped bubble imagery. Our “true nature” is far more than our identification with a physical body. It is the great interplay between the body and space and space and the body. Miller’s approach allows one to be open to whatever the experience is rather than imposing notions of relaxation.
I made some adaptations to Miller’s body scan by bringing in Dr. Joe Loizzo’s idea of the human shaped bubble as inspired by Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana practices. As the Miller scan moves the body into space, I request they dissolve the world of ordinary appearances (the universe, galaxy, solar system, Earth, continent, country, state, city and room around them. I direct meditators to dissolve or leave the ordinary body behind. I bring in Loizzo’s visualization of the body dissolving from solids (flesh and bones) to liquids, to gases and heat. I request the meditator to leave the ordinary body behind and re-emerge as Loizzo’s Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana inspired human shaped bubble. I describe the openness and flexibility of becoming a bubble. I allow them to rest in this state for a period on their own.
After several minutes of feeling the human-shaped bubble body in space, I would guide them to return the universe, galaxy, solar system, earth, location and room to its ordinary appearance. I would have them return to their ordinary body as well. I would then, guide them to come to a seated meditation position and “rest in pure awareness” for a few moments. I noticed after the body scan, dissolution and return to the ordinary body that the youths were completely relaxed and able to sit still.
I guided them to notice their breath, sometimes having them count their breaths backward. From there, I’d guide them to just meditate on the breath or through the other three foundations of mindfulness. Sometimes, we closed with a simple mantra recitation about change or loving kindness.
After the meditation, I left some time for discussion about experiences during the meditation. I found that combining some elements of Vajrayana practices (dissolution of ordinary appearances and body) with mindfulness practices were helpful. Using the body scan and imagery of the human shaped bubble allowed youth to relax and build confidence before seated meditation. The dissolution of the ordinary body and appearance structures helped the youth relate to themselves and to mindfulness meditation differently. I also noted my sensing where the group was during meditation helped me understand when guiding was an impediment or aid in their experience. If the group exhibited extraordinary calmness and alertness during the meditation, I guided them less. If they were struggling, I guided them more or provided a mantra to build concentration further.
Building the youths confidence and providing a deeper level of relaxation before mindfulness meditation proved useful in this case, helping eliminate doubt and performance anxiety around the practice. Utilizing Richard Miller’s techniques of body scanning meditation and bringing in the dissolution and re-emergence based on traditional Vajrayana meditation practices, I was able to give meditators a launching pad of confidence in their abilities to successfully approach the practice of ordinary mindfulness meditation.
The following are a few quotes from the post-meditation discussions:
- “I think everyone should meditate.”
- “For a moment, I turned into my knee.”
- “I feel calm.”
- “I am chill.”
- “I’ve never meditated before and didn’t know if I could do it. I did it.”
- “That was crazy.”
- “Miss, do you smoke weed?”
- “I was out in space.”
- “I’m not gonna lie; I was pissed off when I came in here. Now I feel calm.”
- “I stopped feeling anxious.”
- “I moved through my body.”
- “I could hear your voice, but I felt like I was asleep.”
Resources of interest and References:
Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo