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Mindful Mama

It feels like ages since my last post. I wish I could say I was busy with life, but I think the truth is I have been overly busy in my mind and feeling a little wiped out (I mean if I'm completely honest it was all-out Guerrilla warfare on the battlefield of my mind for a hot minute or two.) I noticed myself feeling a little sluggish and then came the exacerbating story about how I have no energy or time to accomplish anything- the easiest way to feel exhausted and frustrated- tell yourself you are.

My last post was an introduction to what I called Mindful Health, and from that, I had intended to dive deeper into how to adopt a mindfulness practice. So here I am reconnecting to that intention, ready to explore mindfulness further, and the reasons why I attempt to cultivate more of it in my life, particularly, how I practice awareness as a mother. I hope to shine a light on how it has helped me and offer a few ideas and resources for anyone else looking to live or parent mindfully.

As I just mentioned sometimes my mind is quite busy, and I have shared before that I have been known to be overly hard on myself and set high, sometimes unrealistic expectations for myself. Raise your hand if you feel the same or feel that you have a cast of characters and storylines playing in your mind on a regular basis.

If you have your hand up and you identify with any of this, how do you deal with it? How do you react to stress? Are the ways that you respond to stress helpful or hurtful? Do they honestly make you feel better or are they laden with guilt and regret?

One of the main reasons that I practice mindfulness is to manage stress (and anxiety), and do so in a way that supports the larger vision that I have for my life. Healthily managing stress also tends to have positive implications for the relationships I have with others, especially with maintaining presence and patience for my energetic, wildly curious, and sometimes challenging 2 and ½ year old, Leify.

photo credit- Avelon Art and Photography

Before exploring various ways to practice mindfulness and its many benefits- just a little back story on how I came to be a mindful mama (or at least how I am trying to be.)

I started practicing Yoga ten some-odd years ago, but it wasn't until I became pregnant (and went through teacher training) that I fully understood and embraced all the benefits a yoga practice offers. Prenatal Yoga was so incredibly valuable, as well as a workshop called "Yoga for Birth."

Meditation was also just something I dabbled in, until the year before conceiving, this is when I developed a deeper and more regular meditation practice. I view both yoga and meditation as an essential part of my having a healthy pregnancy and uncomplicated natural birth (nutrition and exercise as well.) In fact, the last 22 days of pregnancy I did a guided meditation experience with Oprah and the great spiritual guru Deepak Chopra called "Manifesting Grace through Gratitude." The last day was completed at home sitting on my yoga ball during the early stages of labor. I had been experiencing contractions, and my water had broken in the wee hours of the morning. Somewhere around 7 am (in between rather intense contractions and after a hearty breakfast and tea) I informed my husband that I would be going upstairs to complete my meditation and take a bath, the look on his face was priceless but accepting. From that practice, I was able to carry my inward focus, breath work (and some buzzing noises, vibrations help open the cervix), even yoga postures through the duration of the birthing process. This was the most purely meditative state and the most authentic experience of both grace and gratitude I have ever felt.

I wish I could say that I was able to carry the graceful presence I held in birth, and my meditation and yoga practice forward with me in the early stages of motherhood, but like most, my attention shifted to the needs of my small beautiful miracle- and there was also- sleep deprivation. Nothing makes you feel agitated and confused like lack of sleep, or at least in my experience. Looking back, meditation and a gentle yoga practice would have been a saving grace, but hindsight is 20/20 right? Also, I can now say all those moments of struggle were part my personal growth and transformation. However, at the time, I had big expectations, and had a hard time letting go of my deep-seated need to plan and be in control; something I still find myself working to release.

Most of my struggle revolved around a child who for the first year of his life was a bit of a "sleep terrorist." The self-imposed part of the struggle was the pressure I put on myself to get back to work rather than be grateful for circumstances that permitted me to spend my days enjoying my sweet boy and take my time to figure out how to balance his needs with my own. Looking back, a lot the difficulty I experienced was just a story I created about my whole experience (heightened by my lack of sleep and out of whack hormones.)

I also disregarded what was going well. I spent too much time questioning my decisions and guilting myself. The truth is we had many great adventures in the early days, I was more active and eating better than I was giving myself credit for. It's important to make sure you are mindful of the positive, recognize your strengths, and that you hold space for gratitude because It can be all too easy to be negative and down on yourself.

I started to turn a corner and hit stride just after Leif's first birthday. He had also started sleeping better, and I had decided to embark on yoga teacher training (a present for the first year of motherhood, and a goal that I had for many years.) It was hands-down the best decision and perfect timing. It was profoundly transformative in so many ways, and it set me back on the course of realigning with and rediscovering myself. Although it wasn't always comfortable and certainly wasn't easy (the things that are worth it, rarely ever are), teacher training helped me to expose fears and thought patterns that have been holding me back. It got me moving both physically and emotionally back in the direction of my true purpose.

Fast Forward to now. I recently found myself in a lull of sorts again. I have had low energy and high anxiety, a lot of chatter in my mind and broken sleep (or just plain not sleeping.) I can think of a lot of contributing factors or reasons why I was feeling this way, but I see now that I had stepped back again from a regular yoga and meditation practice which I know to be of importance and great value. So reintegrating these practices daily has been my main focus. I have been waking up early to sit on my mat in stillness with breath and then purposefully move my body before I launch into the day. And you know what? My energy is slowly improving, and my sense of joy is easier to come by. Starting the day this way has helped to set a tone for the day that is more grounded and intentional. The best part is that when I encounter a challenge, I am more quick to pause, breathe into what I am feeling, to stay present, and then respond, rather than reacting or overreacting.

For instance, today when Leif and I were negotiating his nap (which he fails to recognize that he needs or he becomes a more troll-ish version of himself), I observed myself getting impatient and frustrated. Mostly because I wasn't getting what I wanted. But I sat and relaxed into my feelings. I took deep breaths. I invited the love that I feel for him into our embrace as we rocked and thought how grateful I am to have a happy, healthy child who just wants to snuggle his Mama. I felt much better.

This experience was mindfulness in motion. While yoga and meditation are mindfulness practices, mindfulness is really a state of being, an awareness of your thoughts and behaviors in the present.

I was mindful in the face of experiencing the nap challenge because I was intentional about remaining calm and present to his needs, while still respecting how I was feeling. Responding to Leif with empathy and compassion is so important to me, I certainly don't want to lash out at him and have a temper tantrum when I am not getting my way (especially when I had just explained to him that we can't always get what we want.) I make conscious efforts to support Leif with developing positive strategies for managing his own emotions, we talk about how we feel, and we take deep breaths together when he needs support with those big emotions in his small body. I want him to know that negative emotions are not to be run from, they have value, but it is a matter of learning to cope positively and healthily. I also fully subscribe to the notion of energy fields and how developing minds are impacted by stress in their environment, especially that of their parents. This book is an excellent resource for learning more about social intelligence and the impact of a parent-child relationship.

Just to sum up my story which is always being revised and rewritten. My mind might not be clear, and it never will be but with regular mindfulness practice, I do find clarity. I have become more aware of the thought patterns, the self-limiting beliefs, and the emotions that trigger my behaviors for better or worse. I find it especially important to remain aware of when I am feeding internal dialogues that come from a place of fear. For the most part (though not always), I am able to pause before responding when I encounter stress and make a more mindful choice that aligns with my goals (otherwise I would just drink copious amounts of red wine and eat chocolate cake daily.) Through meditation and yoga, I have learned how to be with myself in frustration, anger or sadness and not find the easiest way to numb or shield myself from feeling these things. And although I know that my child is here to walk his own path and all I can do is walk beside him without trying to control his choices, I will still make an effort to model healthy behaviors and a growth mindset, in hopes that it makes a positive impression.

While mindfulness is a state of being it requires ongoing practice to be mindful day to day, and there are a lot of ways you can develop a mindfulness practice. Here are a few ways to practice:

  • Yoga- Many people think of the physical aspect of yoga, but the benefits go far beyond becoming more flexible or achieving better balance. I suggest trying different styles to find the right fit for you.

  • Meditation- Whether you sit quietly and focus on your breath for 5 minutes or you have a more extended practice, there are so many benefits. There are also many great apps and guided meditations- Deepak Chopra, Insight Timer, Headspace, Sounds True, Jon Kabat Zinn , Gabby Bernstein

  • Journaling- This is a way to release thoughts and expose thoughts, feelings, or fears that may be holding you back or triggering behaviors. It supports the awareness that is required to change.

  • Forest Bathing- this is a nature-based guided meditation, immersing you in nature to connect and draw in the powerful energy of trees and the earth. Look for a Forest Bathing Experience near you, I did one in the fall, and it was incredible!

  • Floating- a deeply relaxing and meditative experience in which you float in thousands of pounds of Epsom salt in a dark, quiet environment, I think I am obsessed with this one! Anyone local to the seacoast check out Flote, they also have many other healing practices.

  • The Salt Cave- while the salt cave is primarily used for its many health benefits, I also find it to be a highly meditative experience, I mean all you do is lay still and breath for 50 minutes and you sleep like a dream.

  • Walking Meditation- This is practice in which you walk slowly and mindfully, experiencing each step with presence.

So there is my two cents on mindfulness practices with some resources I find helpful, if I would add one more it would be this book.

Now I would love to hear from you.

What are some of the ways you practice Mindfulness?

How does mindfulness show up in your day to day life?

What are the ways in which you incorporate mindfulness into parenting?

Leave a comment or reach out to me with any questions or thoughts you have.