Yarn with an expert: How mob mindfulness can help your teen feel strong

Words by proud Darug/Dharawal woman, mother, and Aboriginal mental health expert Jenny Holmes. Illustrations by Studio Gilay.

Mindfulness has become a very popular concept in recent years — things like meditation, crystals and manifesting have become trendy among teens. While it’s great to see teens excited about being mindful, trendy new-age activities can sometimes make mindfulness seem exclusive, expensive, or inaccessible.

The good news is that mindfulness doesn't have to look like what everyone else is doing, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We can practise mindfulness in our own unique way that celebrates and honours our culture. 

Why should teens practise mindfulness? 

When young mob walk tall, our whole community is strengthened. By practising mindfulness, your teen can understand who they are and how they want to walk through the world. It can keep them in tune with their emotions, and keep them connected to culture and community. 

It can also help them to: 

  • reduce their stress or shame

  • feel less moody or reactive

  • increase their focus and purpose 

  • build their self-confidence and self-belief

  • strengthen their mind, body and spirit.

How your teen can practise mob mindfulness

To practise mob mindfulness we lean on our spirit which connects us to the land, and tune into what the land is telling us about ourselves. We may have different names for it, but we have been practising this for many years. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complex or elusive, and you can support your teen by helping them try these easy steps.

1. Be still and listen

Mindfulness is about tapping into what you’re thinking and feeling so you can understand what it is you need in the moment. Increasing their own awareness of how they feel makes it easier for teens to express their feelings and to share them with others.

Encourage your teen to spend some time slowing their mind and movement so they can tap into what they’re thinking and feeling. 

How?

This can be done anywhere, anytime. It can be as simple as them deciding to spend ten minutes connecting with the land and asking themselves: What is my mind, body and spirit trying to tell me?

Your teen may be struggling with being mindful, especially if they feel they should be ‘clearing their mind’ and having no thoughts. It can help to explain to them that having no thoughts when you’re meditating is actually impossible! The less you fight against your busy brain, the quieter it will be. 

Here are a few questions to get your teen thinking:

  • What am I picking up from Country? What is the river/beach/dirt/earth/forest telling me?

  • What are five words that express how I’m feeling right now? Am I angry, sad, happy, upset? 

  • How are those feelings showing up in my body? 

  • How is my mind, body and spirit connecting – and how am I then connecting to Country?

2. Express and release your feelings

Being mindful isn’t only about identifying your emotions, it’s also about releasing any emotions that no longer serve you. Teens who hold onto their negative emotions may not realise just how exhausting it can be for both their mind and spirit. 

Encourage your teen to express how they feel, so they can release those emotions and walk away from mindfulness moments feeling strong and renewed.

How?

How your teen chooses to express and release their feelings is completely up to them. Everyone is different, and mindfulness is a very personal practice. 

However it can help to remind your teen to lean on their culture for support. We are naturally very creative and expressive people, which lends itself well to releasing our emotions. Your teen might be called to dance, sing, laugh, cry, journal, draw or weave. Or they may want to shift out of their mindfulness headspace entirely and walk away, leaving those feelings behind. 

Keeping up your connection to nature is also helpful when releasing your feelings. I’m a Saltwater woman, so I love swimming at the beach, but your teen might be a river person or take their strength from the land.

How to support your teen to practise mob mindfulness

Help them discover ways to express their emotions

Sit down with your teen and ask them about the ways they like to express themselves, or new things they’d like to try. You could offer to explore new activities together, like a dance class or weaving session.

If you live off of Country, make time to visit if possible. Or, encourage your teen to learn more about their land and mob. By fostering their connection to Country and cultural and creative activities, you’re providing them with more ways to healthily express themselves whenever they need to.

Connect them with other mob

For many people, practising mindfulness is a solo act. For mob, our connection to community improves our wellbeing. Even adults can find it daunting to sit with their thoughts, so for teens who may be facing big emotions for the first time it can feel especially scary. Having mob around to protect and support them through these tough moments can help teens feel safe.

Foster their connection to the land

Connecting with Country is a core part of mob mindfulness. Teens who aren’t sure who their mob is, or what Country they’re from, can see this as a huge barrier to connecting and practising mindfulness. But, teens don’t need to be on Country to connect with nature — wherever there’s land, there’s life. 

Sound, scent, sight and touch are all really powerful tools for increasing connection to land and spirit. Listen and empathise with your teen’s concerns about feeling disconnected before gently encouraging them to try some of these connection methods:

  • Sit down somewhere that makes you feel safe and let that Country absorb you, heal you and feed you in that moment. 

  • Pull up a soundscape on Spotify, like a didgeridoo or native birds, and immerse yourself in the experience.

  • Crush gum leaves in your hands and smell them.

  • Listen to the waves at a beach and smell the salt in the air.

  • Watch a flickering fire.

  • Run your hands through dirt or stand barefoot on grass.

You can also connect your teen with services that can help them discover their history and community. Link-Up is a family tracing service that helps connect and reunite mob. For support getting in touch with Elders, youth groups or other First Nations people, reach out to your local Aboriginal Medical Service.

Encourage consistent practice

Gently encourage your teen to keep up their mindfulness practice by regularly asking about their experiences. Because mindfulness is a deeply personal thing, avoid asking for details about their thoughts or what they’ve discovered unless they offer it freely or seem keen to talk about it. Instead focus on the practice itself. Ask about their connection to the land, and share in their excitement or interest.

On the flip side, aim to be understanding if you notice your teen is really struggling to connect or are finding that mindfulness isn’t for them. Just like there are seasons in nature, there are seasons for mindfulness. This practice will come at a time that is right for your teen. The important thing is that they don’t turn their back on it forever. 

Suggest that they keep their mind open to the idea of being mindful, and check back in again after a few months or so. Let them know that they can always try again at a different time in their life. 

Acknowledge that it’s hard

Let your teen know that it’s okay for mindfulness to feel hard and frustrating. Just having the intention to sit, be still and listen means they’re halfway there! 

Your teen can learn more about practising mob mindfulness in this article on ReachOut.com.

If they need support with practising mindfulness, or help to cope with any feelings that come up during their mindfulness moments, they can give 13YARN a call on 13 92 76.

Did you find what you needed?

  • Yes — Watch this Dadirri meditation video to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples innate connection to Country.

  • I’m not sure — Read this yarn with Gamilaroi/Wailwan woman Shaan Peeters about supporting yourself and your kin.