Many of us have the intention to parent mindfully, but our lives are busy and we get swept along with the tide of action and doing. Meditation helps remind a parent to slow down, to notice the world around her, as well as to notice what is going on in her own mind, heart, and body. Perhaps meditation’s finest gift though is the ability to learn about yourself—what agitates you, inspires you, soothes you? You can then take these lessons into your daily life, helping to enrich your relationships in the process. My intent with this article is to give parents some simple ways to introduce a meditation practice into their daily lives.
Perhaps the simplest way to integrate mindfulness into your life is to try a mindful pause. Throughout the day, take brief moments to breathe deeply, feeling your body and centering your mind. Some people even put these moments as reminders in their phone. It is simply a way to gather yourself, finding space throughout the day to recenter. One of my students noticed that she had a time for a mindful pause after she had buckled her child into his carseat. After she closed the back door, this student would take the time to breathe deeply with her eyes closed. Knowing that her child was safe, she could use that moment (which is normally lost in the frenzy to get somewhere else) to nurture her body and mind. Best of all, this moment is built into our days at regular intervals, thus encouraging us to pause and breathe regularly throughout the day.
Progressive body relaxation is a great meditation to do before bed. When you are lying down, simply scan your body slowly, stopping in at each part of your body, beginning at your toes and moving up to your head. Notice areas of tension and relaxation as you do so. Move slowly, pausing in areas that need more attention. You can also practice tensing your body for a few seconds and then relaxing, noticing how you hold your body and clench muscles, perhaps without even realizing it.
This meditation, also known at Metta, comes from the Buddhist tradition. The practice is simple, but powerful, for many people. You begin by sitting comfortably, breathing easily. You then repeat, either silently or out loud, the following phrases:
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
You then say the same phrases while thinking of someone whom you love. Then, you say them another time while thinking about someone you feel neutral about. Next, you say them again while thinking about someone you are having difficulty or conflict with. Finally, you end by including all living beings in your wish for happiness, wellness, safety, peace, and ease.
I find it powerful that we are asked to start by paying attention to ourselves, and then asked to move progressively outward. As parents, we often think of others’ needs before our own, but filling up our own tank is so very important! This can also be a wonderful meditation for the moments when we are having a hard time liking our beloved children, for it grounds us in the understanding that as frustrating as parenting can be, we still want the very best for our children.
I am a big fan of Dr. Kristin Neff, the researcher who developed the concept of mindful self-compassion. This incredibly useful concept includes three key components. First, we need to find ways to encourage self-kindness in ourselves. We all have moments where we do not measure up to our own expectations, but we must find ways to be gentle with ourselves and to nurture ourselves rather than to criticize ourselves. Second, we can find solace in our common humanity. All human beings suffer, that is part of our human condition. Instead, of fighting against or trying to ignore our challenges, we can find comfort knowing that we are connected to others during hard times. Third, we benefit from mindfulness, from noticing our thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Neff has a particularly powerful exercise called a self-compassion break, which is an interesting meditation to undertake during a challenging time. She asks that we think of a challenging situation, to the point where you can actually feel some discomfort in your mind and body. You then say to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
Then, put your hands on your heart and say to yourself:
May I be kind to myself.
There are many options for meditation apps that you can download to your phone, making it convenient and simple to practice meditation at home, work, or really anywhere! The other appealing thing is that you can find choices that fit your preferences for how long you want to meditate or whether you want to listen to a male or female voice. I recently tried headspace.com and found it quite helpful. This app is free for the first ten sessions, each of which is ten minutes long. After this, you must pay to continue using the service. The app is very user friendly and the meditations are calming and educational. It may prove helpful to sample several apps to find one that fits your own style.
Some of you may want to dedicate more time and energy to your meditation practice. You know yourself best, but it may be a wonderful option to look up a multi-week class in beginning mediation or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Committing to an ongoing class may help you to delve more deeply into these concepts. You may also consider a yoga class that is more restful and more centered on savasana, the lovely rest at the end of class. Sometimes, moving your body first can help you then be more centered during the quiet rest, making it a more mindful experience.
As you can see, there are many ways to find greater mindfulness in your daily life. I hope that one or more of these options may be of help to you in finding some time to slow down, nurture yourself, and find some peace of mind in your challenging and fulfilling journey as a parent!