I conducted children's meditation courses in an Indian International school, Singapore on the 3rd and 4th of May. Children's courses require a number of people --volunteers to help conduct the course. While the main instructions for meditation come from our teacher Goenkaji, whose audio and video CDs are played, I monitor the process by interacting with the children to ensure they understand the instructions that are given to them.
The volunteers help register the students for the course, giving out name tags and pasting the name tags on the mats where they sit. The students are divided into groups each group with a volunteer who is called a "group leader" to lead the students in games and activities conducted in between meditation sessions.
The actual course begins with an introduction to Anapana sati ( awareness of incoming and outgoing breath around the nostrils). Before introducing them to the technique of Anapana meditation, Goenkaji instructs them on the correct posture to sit in and also the 5 precepts. Soon after this session, the children go for a break of half-an-hour.
The next session (which is the first session of the real practice of meditation)focuses on reasons why breath is chosen as an object of meditation. One very obvious reason is that because it is always there with us its easy to carry it around. Unlike a mantra or an idol, the breath is much simpler and uncomplicated object of meditation. Second reason is that it has a strong connection with the mind. It is difficult to watch the mind itself, however, if one observes the breath one gets a clue to whats going on in the mind. For instance, when one is upset, the breath loses its natural rhythm. Observing the breath restores its normal rhythm and calms the mind as well. The third reason is that it is the truth--it is not an imagination or visualization but a real phenomenon.
After the session I interact with the students asking them the reasons why the breath is chosen as an object of meditation. I also make sure they understand the correct posture to sit in (back and neck straight).
The second session of meditation deals with the difficulties experienced during meditation. Sitting for a long time in a cross-legged posture is sure to lead to difficulties of pain and restlessness. Apart from this, just observing the breath, the mind quickly wanders off into various thoughts, one after the other. Other difficulties in focusing is drowsiness and falling asleep.
The children are taught how to overcome these difficulties as they practice. An interesting explanation for restlessness is that we tend to accumulate negativities in our normal day to day lives, which lie dormant within us. When we focus on our respiration the mind for those brief moments suspends generation of negativities. These "pure" moments of focus cause disturbance in the negativities accumulated within and make us very restless. When we stay focused, the disturbance gradually subsides just as when one pours water over a raging fire to extinguish it.
Understanding the reasons for these difficulties helps us deal with them as they arise and helps to stay focused on respiration. This in turn, helps in developing moment to moment awareness of reality as it is.
The third session of meditation focuses on the importance of making right effort in order to get the results we are looking for. This includes changing some old habit patterns of the mind to roll in thoughts, by quickly correcting oneself and bringing it on course ( bringing the mind to focus on the respiration and not roll in thoughts). In short, right effort helps us focus on what has to be done in a given moment rather than engaging in automatic, wasteful ways of thinking and behaving.
In the final session, Goenkaji explains how one can continue the practice in daily life, ending the program with instructions on sending best wishes and thoughts to everyone in our lives--metta meditation. With this the program comes to an end.