Anapana Courses for Children
In a time of worldwide social transition and upheaval, more and more people throughout the world are seeking concentration, purification and peace of mind through the practice of Vipassana meditation. Vipassana means "to see things as they really are" and is a logical process of mental purification through self-observation. Many come to Vipassana late in their lives, wishing they had found this technique earlier because it is so effective in learning the art of living peacefully and harmoniously. The ideal time to begin the first steps of this mental training is in childhood when children as young as eight years old can easily learn the technique of Anapana meditation.
Anapana is the first step in the practice of Vipassana meditation. Anapana means observation of natural, normal respiration, as it comes in and as it goes out. It is an easy-to-learn, objective and scientific technique which helps develop concentration of the mind. Observation of the breath is the ideal object for meditation because it is always available, and it is completely non-sectarian. Anapana is very different from techniques that are based on artificial regulation of the breath. There are no rites or rituals involved in the practice or presentation of Anapana.
The ideal time to begin the first steps of this mental training is in childhood. Besides helping children to calm and concentrate their minds, Anapana helps them to understand themselves better and gives them an insight into the workings of their own minds. They develop an inner strength that helps them to choose right and appropriate actions over wrong actions, control and become master of their own mind. Anapana provides them with a tool to deal with the fears, anxieties and pressures of childhood and adolescence. Because of its simplicity, children find the technique easy to understand and practice.
This approach is traced back to the Buddha, who rediscovered and taught this technique nearly 2,500 years ago. The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the Universal Law of Nature. Following this tradition, this technique is presented in a totally non-sectarian approach. For this reason, it has had a profound appeal to people of all backgrounds, of every religion or no religion, from every part of the world.
A technique for Today
Children today are growing up in a fractured and rapidly changing world. They need help to meet the challenges facing them and to develop their full potential. Anapana courses can help them find a way to live peacefully and productively, and to make the society in which we live more peaceful. In the words of Mr. S. N. Goenka, “They should grow up to be ideal human beings. That is our only aim.”
Objective of the Course
What is the right age to start meditating?
It’s a question that Goenkaji has often been asked, and his answer is usually the same: “Before birth! Then when the child is born, it comes out a Dhamma baby.”
Not all of us have been fortunate enough to have such an early exposure to the Dhamma, or to give our children such an early start. But more than ever, there are opportunities for children to learn the basics of meditation. And the results are often startling.
Over the past 15 years, hundreds of Anapana courses have been conducted exclusively for children around the world. These courses have yielded substantial benefits for the thousands of children who have attended them. Many of them have experienced a positive change in their outlook, behaviour and attitude. Many have found their ability to concentrate has improved and that their memory has strengthened. And above all, these children have acquired a tool that is of immense value to them for the rest of their lives. Children are, by nature, active and enthusiastic, with an eagerness to learn and explore. For this reason, it is appropriate to offer them an opportunity to explore themselves and their mind with all its hidden faculties, latent abilities and subtle complexities.
Learning Anapana plants a wholesome interest in self-introspection and meditation, which may open an entirely new dimension of life for them later on. Anapana courses for children have been conducted since 1986. These courses have been offered to children of various ages belonging to different socio-economic and cultural groups. They have been conducted in Vipassana meditation centres as well as at schools and other institutions, and are both residential and non-residential. Whether a children's Anapana course is held at a school or at a Vipassana meditation centre, it is essential that the students be given an opportunity to continue to practise Anapana for a short period each day after the course to yield the true benefits of the practice.
Children Courses - History & Spread
Mr. Vinoba Bhave, a leading disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, was instrumental in starting children courses in India. After meeting Mr. S. N. Goenka in the 1970s, Mr. Bhave was impressed with his work but he said, “I will believe this is worthwhile only if you can show that it works with hardened criminals and undisciplined school children.” Mr. Goenka gladly accepted the challenge and the course was arranged for the children which was very sucessful.
After this initial course, more than a decade passed until the launch of a formal meditation program for children. The first course took place in 1986, in a school located in the Mumbai suburb of Juhu. It was followed by many more courses, in India and around the world. Meditators enthusiastically stepped forward to serve. Although the format kept evolving; the response from participants, parents and teachers has consistently been positive.
In addition to courses in Government & semi-government schools, regular children courses are conducted for special groups like autistic children, homeless children, orphans, children with hearing and speech impairments, and children with physical and mental disabilities. The Government of Maharastra passed a GR No 'Sankirn 2011/296/11/se-3' on 5th October, 2011 for introduction of Anapana Courses to all primary and secondary schools in the state of Maharashtra.
For more details regarding the history and spread of Children courses, please click here.
How a Children Course Works
Today separate courses welcome children aged 8 to 12 and teens aged 13 to 16. Often the program starts in the morning and ends in the evening, There are also two and three-day courses.
Conducting the course is a children’s course teacher, who has undergone special training at a workshop. Along with the teacher are group leaders, each working closely with a small number of children.
Short meditation periods alternate with supervised play and activities, such as drawing and discussion. The objective is to give the participants an enjoyable experience, help them feel comfortable in a meditation environment and introduce them to the basics of Anapana.
Often the course site is a Vipassana meditation center but sometimes it is a rented facility. And sometimes, courses are held in schools as a recognized part of the curriculum.
To learn Anapana, it is necessary to take an Anapana Course under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
There are two steps to the training: In the first step the children make a conscious effort to abstain from all kinds of unwholesome actions. They undertake five moral precepts: practicing abstention from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and use of intoxicants and follow the code of conduct. The observation of these precepts allows the mind to calm down enough to proceed for the next step.
Next they learn and practice Anapana meditation - focusing attention on the breath as it comes in and goes out naturally. The entire teaching in all these courses is conducted through audio & video tapes of Mr. S. N. Goenka, principal teacher of Vipassana meditation, who reintroduced this teaching in India and many other countries. Each course is divided into small sessions of 30-40 minutes which includes both practice and understanding of the theory. Residential courses also include games and other creative activities. However more time is allocated to the practice of the technique. The course concludes with the practice of Metta-bhavna (loving kindness or goodwill towards all) in which peace and happiness gained during the course is shared with all beings.
For more short films, please click here.
Course Eligibility & Duration
Anapana courses are held regularly at permanent Vipassana centers and rented sites in different countries for children between 8 to 16 years, in association with Vipassana International Academy. Generally separate courses are organized for age groups of 8 to 12 years and of 13 to 16 years. The courses are of different duration to suit every section of the society.
1-day Non Residential Courses:
These are held around the world at schools, camps, and also at Vipassana Meditation Centres. Please follow the procedure as defined by each center. The age groups vary from place to place, hence students are requested to check details from the course schedule.
In one day courses, students learn the basics of Anapana meditation and the half hour practice sessions are combined with interactive discussion, creative activities, and quiet games in smaller groups. The sample timetable is from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm but this varies from place to place. Lunch and a snack are normally provided. The teachers are helped by other volunteers who make sure everyone has a good time.
2 or 3-day Residential Courses:
These are mostly held at Vipassana meditation centres, which are quiet and peaceful places. Boys and girls are taught in separate groups. The meditation sessions are the same as for a 1-day course, but there is more time to relax, to meditate and go deeper and to discuss your practice with the teachers.
In residential as well as non-residential courses, Children have to stay within the course premises for the entire duration of the course. They are also expected to refrain from all kinds of religious practices or other disciplines for that period. Girls and boys stay separately at all times during the course.
To participate in the course, children undertake to observe five precepts as mentioned above and observe the course related discipline. Anapana courses are also being conducted at various institutions like Schools, Orphan Homes, Homes for the Blind, Juvenile Homes, at their request and subject to certain formalities for the benefit of their children.
How to Apply
2. Select a Center: Select center/non center location convenient for you from Children Courses Schedule
3. Contact the Selected Center: Contact the selected Center and follow the procedure as defined by each Center.
All courses are run solely on the basis of voluntarily offered donations. There is no fee charged. The courses are financed by donations from the students who have completed a prior course and wish to share the benefits they themselves received by giving donations for the students who come after them.
Continuing the Practice after the Course
Continuity of practice is essential for children to get the true benefits of the technique. It is therefore recommended that the child be given an opportunity at home to continue practicing Anapana for a short period of 10-15 minutes each day, after the course. They can also be encouraged to attend refresher courses.
Impact on Course Participants
Parents report that after learning Anapana, their children cope better with problems, behave better, act less aggressive and watch less television. Children say that they use Anapana before school exams and in stressful situations. One boy had resented the time spent by his mother at meditation courses; after he learned Anapana, the resentment gave way to respect and closeness.
One schoolteacher received a surprise when she told a rambunctious 6-year-old in her class to sit in the corner and “meditate.” She was using the term loosely to mean calm down. But in fact the boy went and sat cross-legged on the floor, with eyes closed. The baffled teacher asked what he was doing. He replied, “I’m observing my respiration.” After school she checked with the boy’s parents, who told her about Anapana courses.
Fifteen years ago, a 13-year-old boy from France attended a number of children’s courses. After one course he wrote, “Meditation is a special moment that a person spends in quietness far away from noise, far from everything! Particularly this tranquility, which we find so rarely in life. Life is a river that we purify so little except during meditation. It is sometimes peaceful, sometimes agitated, sometimes clouded, sometimes dark. The mind is always overloaded with all sorts of thoughts. Meditation is an excellent way of taming the wandering mind. It is also a remedy for anger and melancholy.”
That boy is now an adult, and he and his wife are both serious Vipassana meditators. He hopes his two children will attend courses when they are a little older, as first steps along the path he has chosen for himself.
India has also experimented with courses for autistic children, homeless children, orphans, children with hearing and speech impairments, and children with physical and mental disabilities. In Pune, for example, a home for destitute children has offered Anapana courses for the last 10 years to its 400+ residents. Some children have gone on to learn Vipassana in longer courses. Daily meditation has immensely improved their self-confidence.
In Myanmar, there have been courses for children with visual or hearing impairments, children affected by leprosy, and juvenile offenders in various institutions. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, old students organized a visit to southern Myanmar to offer physical assistance as well as Anapana courses; about 1,500 children participated within a few weeks.
To read experiences of course participants, please click here.
Other countries have also experimented with courses for children who have hearing and sight disabilities, homeless children and children affected by leprosy. The results have been impressive. For more details, please click here.
Varied and detailed research has been undertaken to study the impact of Vipassana on children. To read research reports and other artciles, please click here.
Anapana in Schools under MITRA Upakram (Project)
MITRA Upakram is an initiative of the Government of Maharashtra in association with Vipassana Research Institute to facilitate wholesome mental growth of school children. MITRA, which stands for MIND IN TRAINING for RIGHT AWARENESS also means DOST in Hindi Language or FRIEND in English.
Under MITRA Upakram, schools in co-ordination with VRI arranges for its students to get initial training of 70 minutes of Anapana through audio instructions of Mr. S. N. Goenka. After initial training, the school children practice this technique daily for 10 minutes before starting of school and repeat the practice for 10 mins before leaving for home.