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Tips for Teens in Treatment: Mindful Meditation

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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Yes, Teenagers Can Meditate – With This Simple Exercise

Many people think meditation is something they can’t do. Their mind wanders. They think sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. They get bored. This is especially true for teens, many of whom have a hard time sitting still, much less quieting their mind and focusing on just one thing – like their breathing – for any length of time at all.

If you’re a teen reading this, you know what we mean.

And if you’re a teen in treatment, please read on.

This article can help.

Although meditation may seem hard at first, the truth is that it’s possible for anyone to learn mindful meditation. The exercise we introduce in this article is perfect for teens, because it leverages one thing you have plenty of: imagination. When performed correctly, this exercise is actually fun.

That’s right: we said fun and meditation in the same sentence.

Think we’re fooling?

Read on.

Enlightenment awaits.

Seated Meditation: Clearing the Mind

How to do it:

1. Discomfort: Not Required

Good news right off the top: no need to sit in the classic meditation position on a special meditation cushion. You can if you want to, but what matters most is that you are totally, one hundred percent at ease, with no pain anywhere in you body.

2. An Amazing Modern Meditation Aid: A Chair

Find a chair that allows you to sit easily upright, with your spine as straight as you can get it. Not stiff, just upright. Your knees should be at about the same height as your hips, or better yet, a little lower. You should be sitting up on your sit-bones, not leaning back on your rear end.

3. First, Relax

Roll your shoulders. Loosen up your neck. Do an easy stretch. Whatever feels right. When you’re ready put your hands on your knees or thighs, palms down.

4. Time to Breath: No Special Training Necessary

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing. Take a few big, slow breaths.

5. Meditation Breathing: Slightly Special Training Necessary

Breathe in through your nose, expanding your chest as fully as you can, and exhale through your mouth. Take four or five breaths like this: big inhalations through your nose, expanding your chest, big exhalations through your mouth.

6. The Buddha Breath: The Real Meditation Breathing

Now, change your breath. As you inhale, allow your lower abdomen to expand, and as you exhale, allow it to contract. Breathe like this until you get the hang of it. It shouldn’t take more than five or six breaths. This is called buddha belly breathing.

7. The Buddha Breath, Advanced

Once you get used to the buddha belly breath, start to count as you inhale and exhale. Inhale on a slow four-count, and exhale on a slow four-count. Do this until it’s easy. You may inhale and exhale for longer than four counts, but not less. Start with four. If that’s difficult, make it your goal.

8. The Fun Begins

Now it’s time to get to the meditation part. The goal here is to keep your mind focused fully on your breathing for ten breaths. If your mind wanders, it does not matter. All that matters is that you bring it back to the exercise. It does not matter how many times it wanders – just call it back when it does.

9. Meditation Means Imagination

When you breathe in and out on a four-count – four slow counts in, four slow counts out – imagine the number “1” as a picture in your mind. Personalize your picture. It can be a simple number on a blackboard, like in grade school, it can be a bright, colorful, flashing, neon sign, it can be a cartoon, it can be drawn with a sharpie on a piece of poster board, it can be crayon on construction paper, or it can be an elaborate painting hanging on a wall in a museum. The sky is the limit, and it’s all up to you. All that matters is that you see the number “1” in your mind, some way, somehow.

10. The Home Stretch

Repeat this process for the numbers “2” through “10”. Remember: If your mind wanders, it does not matter—all that matters is that you bring it back to the exercise. It does not matter how many times it wanders. Every time, just call it back, gently and peacefully, to the number where you left off.

11. The Self-Check

After you finish exhalation number 10, let your eyes open and let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Do a quick mental inventory: how does your mind feel? How does your body feel?

When you’re done, stand up and do an easy, whatever-feels-good type stretch.

Then give yourself a pat on the back: you’re done!

Benefits of Mindfulness

You’ve just finished a practice that has been scientifically proven as an effective strategy in the treatment the effects of stress, anxiety and depression. If it was challenging for you, don’t worry—the important thing is that you did it. Here’s a secret: almost no one can actually focus only on their breathing for ten breaths. In fact, there’s an old saying:

“One who can breathe ten times without the mind wandering has achieved enlightenment”

So, if your mind went away for a little while, don’t sweat it. Use this exercise whenever you want to clear your mind, calm your emotions, and center yourself. And remember: sometimes the key to finding your center is simple. You slow down, focus your mind, and take it one breath at a time.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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