Recently, I took a course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. On the first day, our teacher, Claudio Barrientos of the Mindful Center in Knoxville, asked us,
“Why are you here?”
Calmly, he repeated, “Why are you really here?”
Again, he quietly asked, “Why are you really, really here?”
I took the course because of my 20-month-old son. I’ve worked since he was 6-weeks-old. Our family has moved twice and I have switched jobs several times. I’ve always been a busy, anxious individual and have worried about passing this trait on to my son.
My answers to Barrientos’ questions: “I want to be a better mom. In order to be a better mom, I guess I need to be a better person. In order to be a better person, I guess I need to stop being anxious.”
I had no doubt this course was for me as much as the next mom. Like many other moms who are overwhelmed by daycares and schools, dance and sports practices, multiple jobs and multiple children, I doubted I had the time to get anything out of the eight weeks of class.
These Motherhood and Mindfulness tips are brought to you by Knoxville Montessori School.
By the fourth week, I discovered this class wasn’t going to make me better. It certainly wasn’t going to change my busy schedule. But it did help me find a version of myself that could rise above negative, anxious thoughts. I also learned my son will inevitably have anxiety throughout his life, but if he saw me practice mindfulness and even practiced it with me, he could gain tools to handle it too.
Here are some thoughts that I took from the course:
- Comparison is the thief of joy. I can take time away from Pinterest and Facebook, and I can stop comparing myself to other moms or my single friends.
- The mind cannot hold two thoughts at the same time, no matter how good I think I am at multi-tasking.
- Resisting experiences causes stress. Resistance is whenever I’m worrying about the future, whenever I’m wishing to be anywhere else, and whenever I’m detesting a chore I’m doing, such as laundry and dishes.
- Resistance is like revving the engine of a parked car. All it does is create internal damage.
- Mindfulness can be as simple as just being still for 10 breaths. Some days that is all I can do.
- Mindfulness is the act of accepting an experience or stress as it is, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Mindfulness allows you to respond, rather than react to a stress.
I learned there are ways to formally practice mindfulness meditation, even as a busy mom:
- Some days, I can practice 30 minutes of sitting or body scan meditations, whether it is before my child wakes up or right after his bedtime.
- Other days of the week, I can practice yoga at home or in a class.
- I can practice short, guided meditations on-the-go or right before I fall asleep. Here are a few guided meditations from the Mindful Center, such as the “Warrior Meditation.”
The first few weeks of the course, I rejected formal practice, because of my busy schedule. But I learned that formal meditations actually assist me in my informal practices with my son.
During formal practices, I become more aware of my physical and physiological responses to stress. I learned that stress affects my muscle tension, my nervous system, and even my gut.
I’ve been able to recognize my psychological responses to stress. When I have too many unchecked thoughts, my judgment is impaired, my relaxation time is disrupted, and my speech is jumbled.
If I’m not mindful while I am with my son, beautiful moments sometimes slip by without me even noticing them.
In his book, Happiness, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, sunk in a deep emotion, or caught in thoughts about the past or the future, we can return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.”
Meditation allows me to transfer my focus to my breathing and control incoming thoughts. It’s like shaking a messy etch-a sketch. Meditation allows me to start over with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is what I want to pass along to my son and could be a gateway for his understanding of peace.
There are several ways I can informally practice mindful meditation with my son:
- I can breathe 3-10x before I respond to his bad temper or act of defiance.
- I can avoid distractions while I spend time with him, setting aside blocks of time to turn off the radio, cell phone, email and social media.
- I can listen deeply while my son talks.
- I can take walks with him without a destination or time limit.
- I can eat slowly while we are eating together.
So, what formal practices can I actually teach my child?
Barrientos shared Seven Mindfulness Practices that can be taught to children. They can also be found here.
- The Bell Listening Exercises – this exercise helps children connect to the present and their perceptions of the world around them.
- Breathing Buddies – this is a great breathing exercise that can be practiced with your child’s favorite stuffed animal. During the activity your child is encouraged to turn thoughts into bubbles.
- The Squish and Relax Meditation – this activity helps your child “loosen up” and learn the art of being present.
- Smell and Tell – this is a fun sensory activity; also, scents have a powerful effect on anxiety.
- The Art of Touch – this is another activity that helps children isolate a particular sense.
- The Heartbeat Exercise – this activity will help your child recognize their physical state of being.
- Heart-to-Heart – ask your child what they can do to turn bad feelings into good feelings. Are they upset or do they need to calm down? What exercise is best for each moment?
Annie Brown is a mother of her 1-year-old son. She grew up in Blount County, and attended Maryville College for a degree in Writing and Communications. Now, she resides in South Knoxville near Downtown and Ijams Nature Center. Recently, she began working as the administrative assistant at Knoxville Montessori School, between Sequoyah Hills and Bearden. She enjoys writing, cooking, being outdoors and raising her son.