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Friday, January 25

Tiny Temples

[img source: allihays]
"Treat your body like a temple."  This simple phrase is repeated throughout many cultures and religions the world over.

What does it mean?  To most, it is a mantra which speaks to exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and self respect.

When we are at optimal health, when we have a handle on stress-relief, when we maintain ourselves with proper hygiene, deep breathing, and positive thinking we are respecting ourselves. 

I think most moms and dads will agree that teaching our children healthy habits and self-respect is a huge parenting goal.  As a Pagan, the body-as-temple paradigm has value in a religious sense as works and prayers need a clean and wholesome source.  Traditional covens take this idea to heart in that they will cleanse even their diets before performing magic or honoring a sabbat.  For three days, many will abstain from sugar, alcohol, and processed foods.  If you remember, the priestesses in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon would even abstain from meat before days of celebration.

In the dry, cold depths of a January winter, our bodies are taxed by dry air, illnesses running rampant in offices, day cares and schools, extremes in temperature, and a reduction in sunlight, exercise, and fresh foods.  During this all out war on our well-beings, it is of the utmost importance to treat our bodies as sacred, living things.

"You don't have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body."

This reminder (a quote often attributed to author C.S. Lewis), is similar to the body-as-temple thought in that our bodies need to be maintained.  So how can we, as parents, help our children to honor their bodies as sacred?  How can we help them care for these tiny temples?  Nutritious food, regular exercise, and child-friendly meditation are good starts.

Food & Nutrition

The best approach for nutrition is to remember that food is holistic.  You can't push a certain mineral or deny a basic food group simply because it's the current trend.  I see so many "natural" parenting sites that goad people into taking gluten or fructose or dairy foods away from children because they are bad.  Unless your child has a proven medical issue, I don't recommend pulling an entire food base like sugar or wheat proteins out of your child's diet.  If you are truly concerned about something, get your child an allergy test.  If you still feel that a certain food is questionable, provide it in moderation.  Following food trends will only confuse your child about nutrition. 

Doodle Bug picking a fresh radish from our garden, 2011.
Some children are great eaters.  They love to try new things and will gladly eat a healthy array of foods with little complaint.  Other children are born picky and need a push into healthy eating.  A great way to get your children excited about food is to let them be involved in as many steps as possible.

Help them grow it and they'll probably eat it, even if it's something as off-putting as a radish.  Doodle Bug wouldn't touch them until he grew them. 

It's January, so most of us don't have a booming garden just yet, but taking your children with to the outside walls of a supermarket can provide a similar experience.  I say the outside walls only because this is often where the fresh food is.  Let them pick out some baby bell peppers from the produce section, or a fresh loaf of multi-grain bread from the bakery.

Involving your children in cooking encourages them to think about what goes into a meal.  Your local library will have one or more shelves dedicated to children's cook books, but skim some recipes before you borrow as not all cookbooks focus on healthy foods.

In the House of Mama Stacey, one of our favorite freebie resources is a website for the children's cooking magazine, Chop Chop.  The magazine can be subscribed to for pages and pages of seasonal, healthy, kid-friendly recipes and food trivia for $15/year.  If that's not doable for you, fear not.  Chop Chop's website offers access to hundreds of recipes for free. 

Having your children help you cook may sound like a nightmare for some parents.  Splatters, spills, messy counters, step stools to trip over, and having to explain every step at least twice... but please know that your child won't remember any of that.  They will only remember that you took the time to teach them how to make soup.  These are precious moments and I wouldn't trade any of my mother-son cooking sessions for the world, even the ones that produced food I could barely bring myself to swallow (Doodle Bug likes to make his own recipes up and lets just say that they aren't always culinary successes!).


Physical activity can be as fun or as boring as you want to make it.  It can be relaxing or strenuous, depending on how you approach it.  For children, it is recommended that they get about an hour of exercise every day, BUT this doesn't have to be a regimen of sit-ups and squats... they just have to move.

[img source: Chop Chop Magazine]
Playing provides an unending outlet for this type of activity.  Fun is the key.  I would never be able to convince my son to walk a treadmill for an hour, but he wouldn't hesitate to take a long walk or bike ride with me.  He'd never say no to an hour of splashing and dunking in the swimming pool.

The New Balance Foundation has a program called 'Moving Day' and they present children with games and challenges that turn exercise into playtime.  They encourage children to take up activities like hula-hooping, crab walking, jump roping, and stilt-walking.

Yoga is another opportunity for your little ones.  If you're lucky enough to live in an area where children's yoga is offered, I'm one envious mama!  Organizations like Yoga Kids specialize in making this activity friendly and accessible for children.  For the rest of us, using videos, books, and flashcards at home is the only option. 

One excellent characteristic of yoga is that there are many levels and avenues of participation.  This makes it approachable for special needs children.  Yoga therapist Sonia Sumar recognized this 40 years ago and founded Yoga for the Special Child.  The following video highlights Sonia's work with a young autistic boy.

Children can pursue more average exercises as well, such as soccer, swimming, football, horseback riding, and lacrosse.   Weekly practice sessions and games are prolonged sources of exercise.  Filling the rest of the week with active playtime will help to keep your child's body healthy.


Most young children are not ready for the still, quiet meditation that most adults envision.  For children, sometimes sitting still is challenge enough.  When working with children, meditation is more apt to look like quiet playtime.  As a parent, it is our job to add the spiritual component to these times.

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Activities which require quiet and small repetitive actions, like stringing beads or painting shapes with water colors can be effective meditations for children.  I recommend offering a mandala and some color pencils or crayons.  The spaces are small and geometric and allow your child to fall into a quiet rhythm as they color.  Mandala coloring books can be purchased or printed off from various internet sites.

Sensory activities, such as running a child's fingers through dry rice or using a fork to make patterns in a platter of sand, work well for meditation.

On the blog "Here We Are Together", Miri in the south of England has created a Calm Down Jar.  Simply, it is a repurposed glass jar with slips of paper inside with suggestions of calming, meditative activities for children on them.

Miri's "calm-down" jar at Here We Are Together.
 Music can be a useful meditation tool.  Instrumental music and laying in a dark room work for some children, while swaying their arms to drum music may work better for others.  You may find that your child can focus by using a singing bowl.

An important thing to note about children and meditation is that 10 minutes is plenty of time for them to spend on this activity.  Please do not force a child into 30 minute meditation times as that is just too long for young children to do just about anything.

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