Chaya Greenspan on Sensory Integration and Self-Regulation with Active Meditation
We use some combination of our five outward senses (hearing, smell, sight, taste, and touch) to process external stimuli so we can respond to them as needed. If we smell smoke, we look for a fire, while if we hear a car coming, we look for it to keep out of its way. In addition to those outward senses, we also have two inner senses (vestibular and proprioception) that help flesh out our model of your body in relation to the objects in your environment, controlling our spatial orientation, balance, and overall inner awareness.
Essentially senses give us information that often trigger default reactions in our body dictating how we feel and act about that information. Those default reactions originated in a survival instinct that sometimes can be lifesaving but often not conducive with solutions or relationships. When these senses are integrated harmoniously with other parts of our brain, we are more likely to be available for higher order thinking, such as problem solving and dialoguing, effectively responding appropriately to the situation.
We do this by maintaining our own awareness and staying in control of our emotions. When they aren’t, we can become fixated on irrelevant details, respond inappropriately to what’s happening, or have some of our senses become so overloaded that we lose control over our behavior and emotions completely.
This is often the case when it comes to children with ADHD, sensory modulation disorder, and other executive functioning disorders says Chaya Greenspan, an occupational therapist who has spent more than 20 years helping children with neurological disorders and other conditions gain more control over their lives. Chaya Greenspan firmly believes that active meditation can improve self-regulation.
How Active Meditation Can Improve Self-Regulation
Traditional meditation, in which one is seated and still, has been shown to confer tremendous benefits in the areas of self-regulation and emotional control. Generally, these are called static meditations when the posture remains the same. Chaya Greenspan states that in one study out of China, participants showed greatly improved attention and stress responses after just five days of meditation. In another study, meditation was shown to be particularly helpful for people who aren’t naturally “mindful”, giving them a boost of control over their senses and emotions.
However, static or seated meditation can be particularly challenging for kids with ADHD and other conditions, who may have trouble maintaining their focus or calm long enough to get through a passive meditation session.
That’s where active meditation comes into play. Rather than sitting still and attempting to clear one’s mind, participants instead engage in various activities in a similarly mindful manner and many times with a similar focus on breathwork. This is referred to as dynamic meditation as it generally includes some form of movement.
The key to sensory integration through active meditation is beginning with an acute awareness of and attunement to each of your senses. Begin each activity by noting what each sense is picking up on. What do you smell right now, what do you hear, what do you feel on your skin, what movement do you feel?
Drumming and Rhythm
Chaya Greenspan says that one of the most effective active meditation techniques is creating and sustaining a beat. She loves to use an empty cardboard box and start drumming like you would on any percussion drum. You don’t need to make music, just hold a beat for as long as you can and then change the beat. You can use your whole hand, your fingers, the tips of your fingers to hit hard or hit softly, hit fast or slowly. You can learn rhythms from videos.
Mandala Coloring Meditation
The most popular, though one of the most ancient, active meditation techniques is mandala coloring meditation, which is increasingly being used by adults as well as kids. The complex geometric shapes are not only fun to color, but are perfect meditation tools, as they’re believed to promote healing and calm. One of her favorite activities mimicking the monks using objects or parquetry sets to create symmetrical or circular designs. You can find many free downloadable mandala and coloring pages.
Labyrinth walking is another technique with spiritual roots that is being successfully incorporated into modern meditation practices. These so-called labyrinths are circular, twisting paths or diagrams on the ground that walkers can follow around for minutes or even hours, allowing them to safely lose themselves in the rejuvenating activity of walking. You can locate a labyrinth near you by your zip code.
There are numerous other active meditation techniques, one in particular was developed over the past century by the Indian mystic Osho who encourages catharsis through chaotic dancing, aggressive breathing, and then silence, allowing a person to become in tune and then release pent up emotions. Others apply meditation techniques to mundane tasks to focus the mind or relieve the mind. Many recent books have explored the interplay of mediation with sports, either increasing one’s success due to the resulting focus or achieving mindfulness by using the sport as the mode of focus.
Ultimately though, Chaya Greenspan believes the format of choice, whether a static posture or a dynamic activity, is less important than the underlying method, which is being attuned and mindful of whatever works best for you and your child.