Mindfulness is for your yoga mat, right?
It’s that thing you do when you focus on your breath, try to stop that incessant chatter in your mind, and bring your thoughts back to the moment. And it’s mostly ever achieved for a grand total of two minutes – tops.
That’s what I used to believe too. I used to think that mindfulness, meditation and that ‘zen’ vibe I’ve been trying to achieve for almost a decade were separate from my day-to-day life as a Mama of three.
And it’s certainly got nothing to do with getting my kids ready for school in the morning.
But that’s where I was very, very wrong.
Mindfulness is, according to gurus much wiser than me, the awareness of your thoughts and the release of all attachments to them. In other words, it’s acknowledging that the voice in your head that just goes on and on is just a voice, and not the real you. As my teacher and mentor Belinda Davidson describes it, “mindfulness is the practice of observing ourselves, and our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the way we interact with ourselves and others in the world”.
Once I started really tuning into those thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, I realised that I was very, very hard on myself.
I probably don’t need to tell you what my inner Mean Mama was telling me. I’m sure it’s similar to yours. Statements such as “I can’t believe I have to do this again” and “Why am I always the one to clean up around here!” and “I can’t do this today!” were on high rotation. The feelings were about the same: anger, frustration, exhaustion, even a little resentment. Yes, they’re all there somewhere.
As for bodily sensations, when you start to tune into those beautiful little warning signs, you’ll be amazed at what you find. Nerves that are totally on edge: tense shoulders, clenched jaw and tight chest.
No wonder the slightest little thing was setting me off!
When you start to get mindful, though, you begin to take note of that Mean Mama in your head. You begin to notice the tension in your shoulders, or the anxiety in your chest. You breathe, you acknowledge it for what it is and you take its power away.
Most arguments, meltdowns and tantrums (from the Mamas, anyway) come from your overactive, stressed mind. They come because you haven’t had a break from that relentless mind for days, weeks or even years. You’ve been in your head for so long, you’re actually no longer in your body. The key to reclaiming yourself, starting to be kind to yourself again, and in turn, building more peaceful and happy relationships with your family, is to begin to tune into your thoughts.
- Practice makes perfect.
Like with any new skill, whether it be cooking or computers, we have to get a few lessons to get us going. Mindfulness is no different, and the very best way to begin to learn how to be aware of your thoughts is to meditate. I know, it sounds scary, overwhelming and a little bit ‘woo woo’. But seriously, all meditation is is the practice of focusing on one thought, as much as possible. So, if you want to stop losing your temper at your little ones over the smallest thing, you have to start finding a way to calm your endless mind-chatter. Start with a simple relaxation meditation or breathing exercise for five minutes a day, and begin to experiment with the idea of watching your thoughts and bringing them back to your breath.
- Get in your body.
As I mentioned earlier, the moments we tend to lose our cool with our kids are often when we are all ‘in our heads’. Little things set us off because we’ve been having an internal argument with ourselves, or beating ourselves up about something all day. I have found one of the best ways to get back into your body and into the present moment is to ground your feet into the floor. Literally, spread your toes in your shoes, push each one down into the ground, and feel your energy move from your head down into the floor beneath you. Breathe as you do it, focusing on the sensation. It’s the quickest way to come back into the moment, and defuse that tension building up in your body.
- Become a witness to your thoughts.
So you’ve done all of the above, but you still find yourself getting worked up over the delaying bedtime antics of your kids. You can feel yourself tensing up and the inner Mean Mama is already starting to yell about never getting any time to yourself. This is the time to use all your mindfulness skills to stop the meltdown in its tracks. Tune into your inner voice and the feelings in your body. Listen to it, and feel it, and realise that THESE feelings are causing you to feel this way, not the actual situation. It is what you are telling yourself that is making it difficult. Observe the thoughts and they will lose their power.
Being a Mama is non-stop. Throw in your unrelenting thoughts and judgment of yourself and no wonder your children’s sibling rivalry tips you over the edge. But there is a solution that doesn’t rely on changing your children’s behavior (because really, we can’t wait for that!) .
By becoming aware of how you’re speaking to yourself and the sensations in your body, you begin to take control of your actions again. You start being kinder to yourself and come back into the moment again. And that is the perfect way to be present as a Mama.