Inner peace isn’t catching up on a new original series (a Making a Murderer marathon isn’t exactly what your spouse meant by “Netflix and chill”), and it’s not killing yourself on the elliptical machine. Nope, the scientifically backed way to become more mindful, more relaxed, and more engaged is to start practicing meditation. The Beatles did it. The Dude does it. Even Jerry Seinfeld went from “a show about nothing” to thinking about nothing.
Mario Orsatti is a director at Transcendental Meditation at the David Lynch Foundation (yes, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Dune, Dennis Hopper as a gas-huffing pervert, David Lynch) and a pretty centered guy. He says that meditation is great for your overstressed lifestyle, but it may be even better for your kids.
“Twenty-three percent of teens have anxiety,” he points out. “Children as young as 6 and 7 have learning disorders. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers—and you know all of it is stress related.” Those are troubling stats, but here’s a more hopeful one: In one San Francisco high school horrifyingly nicknamed “Fight School,” there was a 75% decrease in suspensions after the kids were introduced to “Quiet Time”—a modified version of Transcendental Meditation first introduced in schools about a decade ago.
Meditation is ancient stuff, but there’s no ancient secret to getting toddlers to sit quietly in a lotus position. However, for kids 10 and older, there are plenty of benefits meditation might provide. Here’s how Orsatti suggests helping your child see the light.
If you’ve watched your kid flip between iPad apps, you know that they’re generally trending toward less attention and more distraction. “Our mind is constantly moving toward something more interesting from something less interesting,” says Orsatti. But there’s an easy way to get your toddler to sit still: You sit still. Start your own meditation practice (yes, it is for you, too—here’s proof) and give yourself a time out before you give them one.
All meditation involves sitting in a quiet spot and not thumbing through your Instagram account. But there are some different ways you can do your practice. Some are good for kids; some are better left to the adults. Zen monks, for example, used a focused attention technique where they concentrate on a single thought (like a lotus floating on a pond—or squirrels water skiing) and use that to avoid their mind from wandering. This is the black belt of meditation and probably not right for your kid, unless your kid is the Golden Child.
The most common form of meditation for kids is “open monitoring,” which flips the zen stuff around and involves observing their thoughts without reacting—more like the aforementioned Quiet Time than astral projection time. There are plenty of parent-friendly books and apps you can use to introduce this stuff to little ones, or you can enlist someone like Orsatti to provide guidance.
If you take your kid to one of Transcendental Meditation’s centers, they’ll go through a seven-step course that introduces the concept of a mantra (a wordless sound that helps them focus) to a practice similar to open monitoring. Full disclosure: it ain’t cheap, but ostensibly goes to giving others free lessons, like those students at Fight School. It also isn’t particularly time-consuming. “A 10-minute deep meditation is all junior high kids need,” says Orsatti. “In high school, 15 minutes, and adults, 20 minutes for the full effect.”
Like expensive coffee, books without pictures, or Captain Beefheart, there are certain things that are wasted on young children—Transcendental Meditation doesn’t work with kids younger than 10 because they need a developed prefrontal cortex in order to do that deep, inward reflection. That doesn’t mean you can’t get your toddler to join you during your own meditation session; just get them to sit quietly and explain what you’re doing—so next time they’ll let you get centered, goddamn it!
Orsetti knows that when you think of meditation, you think a bunch of hippies are going to brainwash you and force feed you tempeh. “This doesn’t involve changing your lifestyle or even belief,” he says. “It’s as automatic as eating an orange to get vitamin C. You don’t need to believe in the vitamin; you just get it.”
This article originally appeared on Fatherly and is reprinted with permission.