Carving out quiet time as a busy mom is like asking your spouse to read your mind—probably more miss than hit. When we do manage to find time to pause and look through our “Third Eye,” it’s generally spent running through our daily list of things to do. The practice of mindfulness can seem at odds with the fast paced, dog-eat-dog (or kid-eat-crayon) world of motherhood. Yet, there couldn’t be a better time than pregnancy and early motherhood to start practicing.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of where you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Mindfulness is essentially living in the present. What’s more, mindfulness involves acceptance. According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good, this means that we “pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment.” Our minds essentially become a “judgement-free” zone while our experiences are free to detach from our expectations.
There are many added benefits to mindfulness. Nancy Bardacke, founding director of the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program states that mindfulness can reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Mindfulness also increases empathy, fosters compassion, and can boost your immune system. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids. Consequently, their kids were found to perform better in school and have improved social skills.
Wish this was how you could describe yourself and your family? Here are a few suggestions on how you can become more engaged in your life and practice mindfulness today:
Breathe: Being aware of your breath is the quickest way to turn off the outside world and feel centered and connected to your body. Take a brief moment today to pay attention to this basic function. First, find a relaxed, comfortable position. Close your eyes and feel the weight of your body in connection with the floor or chair that you’re sitting on. Tune into your breath and feel the air fill your lungs as you breathe in and out. Keep your breathing natural and unforced. Simply notice how your body responds and thanks you as you inhale and exhale. As you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander, which is very normal. Just make note and then gently redirect your attention back to breathing. Repeat this process as long as you’d like. Remember to thank yourself for your efforts.
Be still: Try to spend 5 minutes a day doing nothing—really! Calmly sit in silence, become aware of your thoughts and most importantly, step away from any distractions. This practice can also be paired with the breath exercise as mentioned earlier. An extension of stillness is to slow down and simplify. Are you or your children over-planned and over-scheduled? If the answer is yes, consider removing an activity or commitment to give you and your family some more time together.
Take things one at a time: Our minds are abuzz with thousands of thoughts each day, all of which compete for our attention. The Buddhists call this untrained mind of buzzing thoughts the Monkey Mind. Well, stop monkeying around! Instead of juggling several items at once, try to focus on completing each task one at a time. At the end of the day, you’ll feel more accomplished crossing fewer items off your list then you would half-finishing multiple items.
Focus on the task at hand: Take a break from focusing on your to-do list and focus solely on what you’re doing at the moment. For example, when taking a shower, notice the feel of the warm water against your skin or the shampoo running through your hair. See the steam billow around you. Smell the sweet scents of the bubbly lather. Pay attention to the details and try to experience and savor them in real time.
Name the emotion: Recent studies have shown that the recognizing and naming of emotions appears to make them less powerful. This training, as developed by Matthew Lieberman, a psychology professor at UCLA, encourages you to identify an emotion—to say, for example, “I’m angry now”—without indulging or justifying the emotion. Have a quick, silent conversation with yourself. What emotion am I feeling right now? Yep, that’s it: Exasperation. I’m feeling complete and utter exasperation**. This practice can provide you with essential space from your current emotion and allows you to listen to what that emotional data is trying to tell you. It separates “I am this,” from “I am feeling this.”
Loving kindness: Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, who is also a mother of two young children, has written extensively about mindful parenting. Naumburg reminds parents that their children can notice all of the feelings that appear. She says, “When you feel frustrated/overwhelmed, notice those thoughts, and see if you can replace them with some loving ones, either directed towards yourself, your baby or whomever you are struggling with at the moment.” She offers mothers this loving kindness meditation: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you feel loved.
We all want to parent with greater calm, balance and ease. This solution is easy, free and it’s available to all. When we practice mindfulness and approach our experiences with gentleness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Christine Carter, Ph.D. in an article for Raising Happiness, explains that mindful parenting can be as simple as this: first, notice what is happening (and what you’re feeling and thinking) and second, accept what is going on without judgment. That’s it! When we mindfully parent, we can reap the incredible rewards available to us within each present moment.