We’ve all heard of mindfulness but what is it and how do I use it to be a better mom to my kids?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment without judgment.
It’s not about relaxing. Though that is a convenient side-effect.
Mindfulness is about bringing your awareness to your experience in the moment that you’re in.
It’s about asking yourself, “What’s going on for me right now?” and being able to enhance your self understanding enough to answer that question.
Developing your self understanding is a process, but it begins with taking pause. Taking Pause is consciously noticing the space between your internal reaction and your external action. It’s the space where you give yourself permission to acknowledge and be with whatever is coming up for you emotionally. When you pay attention to your internal experience and give it space to be, you are more likely to respond to your kids calmly and thoughtfully.
For example, if I’m feeling anxious and my kids start to bicker, like any good parent, I might snap and totally lose it on them. But if I become familiar with and accepting of my emotional states, I am better equipped to notice and acknowledge my fears and concerns. That way I can do what I need to do to calm them. Sure, my kids bickering might drive me crazy, but I’ll be less likely to react ( ie. automatically dump my stuff on them and freak out), and more likely to intervene effectively.
The key is to practice taking pause when things are calm, so that when crisis hits, you’ll be fit and ready to take on the challenge.
The most basic, and well known practice to exercise taking pause is by consciously paying attention to you breath.
In general we don’t think about our breathing. It is an automatic, unconscious function governed by the part of our brain that controls other basic, automatic functions like our heart rate, hunger, and sleep. But unlike other automatic functions, we are able to control our breathing with conscious thought. For this reason, it’s been suggested that the breath functions as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. That means that we can use our breath as a way of connecting with AND regulating our unconscious responses to life’s triggers.
By giving yourself a moment or two each day to stop what you’re doing and engage in this practice, you can develop the ability to heighten your awareness to moments when your unconscious mind is shaping your perception of the present reality as it becomes reflected in your body, mood and behaviour. That means that you become more in-tune with your unconscious triggers, learn to calm them and respond calmly and conscientiously when you would otherwise be drawn to react. In other words, instead of reacting, you are more likely to respond to your kids behaviour and other life stressors.
So here’s the practice. It only takes a minute or two, so try to incorporate it into your day.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position. You may choose to close your eyes or keep them open, if you are feeling tired it may be useful to let just a little bit of light in to keep you alert.
Begin by gently moving your attention onto the process of breathing. Simply observe each breath as it happens, whether you focus on the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, or on the sensation of the breath at the nostrils. Really feel what it is like to breath, without feeling the need to alter your breath, just observing it as it happens.
As you engage in this exercise you may find that your mind wanders, caught by thoughts or by noises in the room, or bodily sensations. When you notice that this happens, know that this is okay, and simply notice the distraction but gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Ending the exercise
Take a few moments to yourself, just to really feel connected with the present moment. Expand your awareness from the breath into the room around you, and as you feel comfortable to do so, open your eyes and bring the exercise to a close.
Take a few moments to think about what your experience was in this exercise, and how you feel in the present moment.
Designating specific times in your schedule, like whenever you stop at a red light or drink a cup of water, or setting an alarm on your phone, will help you make sure you give yourself opportunities throughout the day to connect with yourself.
When you practice being mindful, you’re brain mindfulness is like exercising the parts of your brain that make it possible to understand what’s going on for you, feel what your kids are feelings and intentionally choose your response (instead of just reacting all the time!)
Give the exercise a go, and let me know in the comment below how it feels to take pause.