1. Awareness of the lower Dantian
In Western tradition, the mind is usually associated with the brain or the head, which is in the top-most part of our body. However, some believe that if too much awareness is placed in our heads, balance will be lost. Buddhist and Taoist meditation practices often have their students focusing on the lower Dantian, which is about an inch below the navel. This correlates to the centre of gravity of the human body, and in traditional Chinese medicine and many Chinese martial arts, the Dantian is also seen as the energy centres of the body.
In this activity, have your students sit up straight either on their chairs or cross-legged on the floor. With their eyes closed, guide them to focus on their Dantian. Have them slowly breathe in and then out, noticing how their belly above their Dantian rises and falls. Ask them to imagine that they are a tree and feel how their Dantian roots them to the ground and is a source of immovable strength. Nothing can topple them. This activity can help students centre their thoughts and emotions and lead them to heightened awareness.
2. Awareness of the upper Dantian
The upper Dantian is on the forehead just above and between the eyes and is sometimes known as the third eye. Either sitting up straight on chairs or cross-legged on the floor, have students close their eyes and become aware of their upper Dantian. Placing their awareness on that area on their forehead, encourage students to try and clear their mind of thoughts so that when a thought pops into their head, they gently push it out and not dwell on it. Instead, have them focus on their breathing as you count, “In, two, three, four, out, two, three, four,…”
3. Awareness of the middle Dantian – Holding a space
The middle Dantian is at the level of the heart. Have students sit in pairs facing each other. It would be ideal if they can sit cross-legged in a meditation position with their hands at shoulder-width apart, as if holding a space between them. Then have the students close their eyes and feel the expansion and flow of their middle Dantian, i.e. their heart, into the space they are holding for their partner. Have them imagine that this flow creates a warm resting space for their partner. What does their partner’s energy feel like?
4. Holding a ball
Have students sit in a circle facing the centre. Have them hold their arms out in a circular shape in front of their chest with their fingers loosely touching, as if holding a big ball. Now have students close their eyes and visualize energy flowing in an anti-clockwise direction round in the circle their arms have created. Have them imagine that the energy is like a gush of water in a huge hose, powerful and unstoppable. Have them focused on the power of the energy flowing through their arms.
5. Shrinking and Expanding bodies
Have students close their eyes and feel the boundaries of their body. With their eyes still closed and bodies still, tell them to imagine that their bodies are gradually getting smaller and smaller: smaller than a desk, smaller than a book, smaller than a tennis ball, smaller than a speck of dust… Then tell them that their bodies are now gradually getting bigger and bigger, expanding further and further: bigger than a golf ball, bigger than a cat, bigger than the chair, bigger than the whiteboard, bigger than the classroom, bigger than the tree, bigger than the school building, bigger than the planet earth… This exercise should take about 5 minutes and is great for calming and building awareness of the mind and the body.
6. Music and Mindfulness
Play an instrumental piece of music. Have students close their eyes and listen. What instruments can they hear? What feelings come up within them? What picture can they see in their minds’ eye?
7. Visualise a place
Have students pick a place that they know well. It might be their bedroom, a swimming pool they go to every week, the school library, a yearly holiday destination, etc. Now have students close their eyes and visualize themselves walking around this place slowly. If possible, calmly and slowly talk them through it: e.g. What can you see in front of you? Is there furniture around? What are they made of? What colour are the walls? Reach out and feel them. What texture do they have? Now look down. What is the ground covered with? Is it carpet? Concrete? Soil? What does it feel like to walk on it? What noises can you hear? What’s making those noises? How does it make you feel? What smells are there around? Are they pleasant? Where are the smells coming from? You can easily turn this into a speaking activity by having students describe their experience to a partner after opening their eyes.