Thursday 17 September 2015

Mindful Mama

At the beginning of the year, I wrote the following article 'Mindful Mama' for Parent Trap the parenting section on the Xposé website. I didn't post it on my own blog at the time (I'm not really sure why to be honest - maybe I was too busy being mindful!). However, as it relates to an upcoming post 'Mindfulness with Children' I'm going to post it now.


I can’t believe it’s already 2015. For me 2014 went by particularly fast, I secretly think our three boys have a fast forward button for time though - after each new arrival it seems to speed up even more!

The start of a new year is always a good time for me to re-evaluate the previous year and make some changes to live the following year in a better way. One of my goals for 2015 was to start practicing mindfulness everyday. The reason: I felt I wasn’t as present for my boys as I could be. I mean, of course I was present physically, I’m usually no more than a meter away from one at any time! But I’m talking about being consciously present, in a more mindful way. I felt I was missing out on precious time with them. Everyday distractions were getting in the way. Filling the dishwasher while my eight year old was trying to tell me about his day, wiping up spills, picking up toys, laundry, my phone… They are growing up so fast. And I know that this is time I will never get back.

I have to admit I was a bit wary about mindfulness before I started. I wasn’t convinced that someone like me - a busy Mum, could properly practice it, which included putting aside 10 minutes everyday to focus on, and slow down, my breathing. To be honest, I wasn’t even completely convinced that it would really work. Despite that though, I finished the ‘book’, and decided now was the time, January 1st 2015, to put what I had learned into practice. Well, let me tell you something, I was wrong (I’m usually never wrong - Ha!). Mindfulness is absolutely perfect for someone like me, who often runs from task to task on a daily basis without really achieving anything.

The best way I can think of to describe mindfulness is like this... I’m sure, like most people, you’ve come back from a weekend away or a break from work completely recharged, with better focus. You almost know instinctively the best solution to a problem that may have been bothering you for weeks or even months - mindfulness for me is exactly like that, except it’s like taking a holiday from my head! 

Some of the main habits of mindfulness include slowing down, focusing (for example, really listening to the sounds around me), observing my thoughts but not attaching any feelings to them (a hard one!), and being aware of my breathing. It’s really something that has to be experienced, rather than described. With mindful breathing by elongating your exhale breath you begin to relax. When you inhale while counting to 4, then hold the breath for 2, and exhale to 6, you immediately begin to calm down. Eventually you want to get to a 7 second in and 11 second out breath, but that’s going to take me a little while to master!

Not only have I been practicing the breathing technique each morning, I also try to live as much of the day as I can in a more mindful way by focusing fully on things. And so far I’m already feeling the benefits.

  • Listening in a more engaged way - I’m not tuning out every so often thinking about other things like chores, but really focusing on what my children are saying.
  • Understanding their words and actions better - Fully listening to them in a more engaged way has also led to me understanding each child better and the reasons behind why they are doing certain things - messing up the pile of dirt on the floor I had just swept wasn’t being naughty, he was just trying to help!
  • Doing tasks in a much more constructive way - I was able to achieve so much more this week and really focus, instead of running from one thing to the next in my usual frenzy. 
  • Not raising my voice - I didn’t raise my voice once. I gave myself a good pat on the back for that one!
  • Being able to reset my mood - I was also able to switch back to ‘calm’ mode much more quickly.
  • Enjoying the little things - I found that instead of finding tasks with my boys a chore, like getting them ready for school for example, I was looking at the process differently. It was now precious time I got to spend with each one individually, and not another job to be done before I moved on to the next thing. I got to enjoy the few minutes I spent with each child on their own, dressing them, putting on their hats and coats, brushing their hair, and so on. 

In general this past week I’ve been calmer, happier, a lot more productive, and those parenting tips and tricks I have been trying to master came almost automatically. Honestly, things just got easier!

It also got me thinking, mindfulness would be excellent for my eight year old. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to grasp the concept though - did children practice mindfulness? So, I did what I usually do when I don’t know the answer to something, I went online to find out. 

What I discovered was, yes, children can practice mindfulness. It may be hard for them to understand at first, but there are ways of teaching mindfulness to children in simple ways, that can in turn lead to them being more attentive, calmer, and having improved focus to make better decisions in general. 

Here are some of the things I found out:
  • Breathing exercises - by asking them to place a favourite toy or teddy on their tummy (obviously make sure it’s very light!) and watch it rise up and down as they breathe, focusing on elongating the out breath, you can teach them the breathing techniques used in mindfulness.
  • Going for a walk - going for a walk together is also a great way of practicing mindfulness with children. Really listening to the sounds around you for a minute or two is an easy way to focus and calm down. And don’t let the weather stop you, there are even more things to see and hear when it’s raining! 
  • Directing them to be more mindful - Practicing mindfulness yourself makes it easier for you steer them in the right direction.

You can find more information about Mindfulness for Children here:

Like everything, mindfulness gets even better with practice. The only challenging part for me at the moment is making sure I’m awake before everyone else to focus on my breathing. This means setting my alarm clock for ‘early’, but I’m at my most productive in the mornings so I really don’t mind that. I know I’ll have days when I slip up, but I’ve made a start and isn’t that what New Years is all about really. Making a change and just doing it. Here’s to a great 2015!

'When you are on a Journey, it is certainly helpful to know where you're going - but remember: the only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That's all there ever is.' - The little book of Mindfulness, Tiddy Rowan

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