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April 9, 2015

Mindful Mama: How to Find Balance as a Parent & Yogi.

Mindful Mama Pic 1

Shortly after my son was born, I found my responsibilities as a mother at odds with my desire to continue and deepen my practice of yoga and meditation.

I had specific ideas of what it meant to be a “good” parent and a “good” yogi, but it took a while to realize that the standards I was setting for myself were overly demanding and unrealistic, resulting in feelings of inadequacy.

To end my suffering, I had to to let go of my attachment to those arbitrary self-imposed standards and place my awareness in the here and now.

By actively seeking out self-acceptance and letting go of my expectations, however, I was eventually able to discover the potential for a beautiful balance between my lifestyle and new role of parenthood. From this new point of view, I was able to shift my focus from the conflict to integrating mindfulness into raising my young child.

I found endless opportunities for connection in our daily lives including how we communicate, how we express feelings and how we care for our bodies. The following list contains the specific and practical ways I bring parenting, yoga and mindfulness together in my household. Hopefully these ideas and examples can inspire and encourage other parents who struggle as I did to seek out this balance.

Narration

When my son was young, I created a habit of talking to him about everything we were doing together. This is effective both for language development and practicing awareness of even the most mundane tasks. I would describe to my son the steps to his diaper change or bath like I was teaching someone.

When I held him in one arm and loaded the dishwasher, pulled clothes out of the dryer or fed the cat, I gave detailed explanations, which at first were uncomfortable but eventually became completely natural.

As my son has become older, I have used this technique to reflect back to him feelings or observations, such as: “You seem frustrated in this moment. Tell me what is happening …” or “There are lots of different colors in the sky right now. Which one do you like?” In addition to the benefits for my son, this way of thinking helps to keep me in the moment with him.

Mantra

In addition to exposing my son to traditional lullabies, I would often play music that incorporated mantra into our life. Sometimes this was traditional devotional kirtan by Krishna Das or Snatam Kaur, but other helpful words were discovered in pop music or folk rock.

I simply looked for soothing music that encouraged peace, hope, love and healing so we could share the positive experience of listening together. A favorite of ours is the Night Mantra by Renee & Jeremy (It’s a Big World). At times of distress, these short sayings can help you or your little one maintain control of emotions.

Food

I take great care in preparing a variety of healthy foods in creative ways for my child. I am thoughtful of the food we eat, but I accept that sometimes we eat packaged or processed food for convenience. In addition to offering veggies with every meal, I hide them in his smoothies and muffins, mostly for my peace of mind.

My point is, taking time to think about the way we fuel our bodies affects our overall well-being. By trying in earnest to feed myself and my son in this way, I help to further solidify the connection between the mind and body. When our physical bodies are balanced, we can focus more energy toward intellectual or spiritual goals.

Yoga

Since my son developed the appropriate gross motor skills, I have exposed him to yogic asana in various ways. We have borrowed picture books, DVDs and CDs from the library to explore the topic in a structured manner, often pretending to be various creatures ranging from snakes to butterflies. More impromptu asana happens when my son will free play while I work on a posture or two. He might want to climb through a down dog tunnel, peek around the edge of my triangle, or occasionally position himself upon my table top. He also accidentally demonstrates poses from time to time, which I point out and name for him.

Breathing

My son is a toddler now and needs as much help as he can get to express his emotions both good and bad. Teaching him breath awareness can help him—and mom—calm down during times of great frustration and build self-regulation skills. I will say: “Seems like you are really upset and might need help calming down. Let’s breathe deeply together.” Then, very audibly, I breathe in and out deeply through my nose for three to five breaths, and he will typically follow along.

Even when he doesn’t participate, the breathing helps keep me calm so I can be the best support during these challenges. Another exercise he enjoys is watching our tummies expand and contract while breathing or putting our hands on our bodies to feel our breathing.

Self-care

Our culture—centered on productivity, competitiveness and success—doesn’t encourage making individual health and well-being a priority. Setting an example for my son about how to take time out for such tasks is of great importance, and by doing so, I benefit myself as well.

One simple example is resting when I need to. I frequently go to bed when my son does and nap with him as well. In addition to modeling for my son, I provide him with the words he needs to advocate for self-care such as “I need more time to decide” or “Right now I need to be alone to calm down.”

Being Present

It’s hard to be honest about this aspect of motherhood, but sometimes it is a tremendous struggle to simply be present with my son. With so many competing responsibilities, perceived or real, I often find myself thinking about what I’m going to do when he takes a nap or once he is in bed instead of just enjoying our time together.

When I find myself getting anxious about the never-ending to-do list, I remind myself to breathe and just enjoy the moment, tune into what my son is saying or doing and really participate. He ends up less fussy, and I end up less stressed. This is also quite useful during the unpredictable toddler tantrum phase in which I need to simply remain calm while he cannot control his emotions.

When I’m rocking my son before bed, feeling exhausted from our day and find myself worried about household chores, something I need to do at the office tomorrow or guilt over how I really need to exercise more…I stop myself.

I think about every aspect of my son’s being, and I have gratitude for this moment I get to spend with him. I visualize his perfect smile and adorable dimple.

I feel his weight in my arms and his warmth against my body. I smell his hair and listen to his every breath, accepting that there is a finite number of times I will get to do so.

In this way, I bring myself back to the present moment and easily find contentment and acceptance.

 

Relephant:

Shift Happens: Mindful Parenting.

 

Author: Jackie King

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s Own

 

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