Mindfulness and meditation might sound all very well in theory, but who, you might ask, has time to sit around making Om noises, when their baby is screaming, their toddler is scribbling on the walls and their dog is – oh god, where’s the dog?
Amber Hatch, author of Mindfulness for Parents, explains how we can incorporate simple mindful practices into our everyday lives and how just a moment of mindfulness can help change the course of your day.
Mindfulness is a quality of mind – simply of being aware of one’s present moment experience.
Everyone has mindful moments, even if they’ve never heard of the word, it’s not a mystical new thing. For example, when we’re drinking a cup of tea and notice the temperature and taste, we are experiencing it.
That might sound like common sense, but much of the time we’re distracted, so we just slurp it down and don’t really notice what we’re doing.
Daily formal meditation practice – think eyes closed, quiet space – is a brilliant way to increase our levels of mindfulness throughout the day, but few parents can find the time.
The good news is that we can practice mindfulness at any time we choose, by bringing our awareness back to our breath and the task at hand.
We just have to remember to do it. When we’re mindful, we are better able to coolly assess what’s going on around us and choose to respond appropriately. It allows us to stay patient when the kids are whining, keep calm in a crisis and hold onto a sense of perspective.
Here are six tips for introducing more mindfulness into your life:
Bring your attention to your breath
This is one of the simplest ways to be mindful. Our breath is always there, right from the moment of birth to the moment of death, meaning we can access mindfulness whenever we need to, for instance, when the pasta is boiling over and the baby is crying. When we notice our breath, it means that our attention is anchored in the present moment, rather than going over the past or planning for the future, and our minds are therefore, calmer.
Earmark particular activities for mindfulness practice
It’s difficult to be mindful all the time, but you can ringfence a particular activity and use it as a meditation practice. For example, when you’re reading the bedtime story, try to be stay with the story, rather than think about all the things you need to do when you go downstairs, and if your mind wanders keep bringing it back.
Find a ‘bell of mindfulness’
This is something that reminds you to be mindful whenever you hear it. I used to use my children’s angry outbursts as a bell, which were the times I most needed mindfulness!
If you’re in the supermarket with three screaming children, but can find a bit of mental space, you can gain a bit of clarity and avoid having a knee-jerk reaction and losing it.
It’s also about accepting your situation – you can’t change how things are in the present, but you can accept them and then move forward in a more positive way.
Try to set aside time for mindfulness
Formal meditation practice is invaluable, even if it’s just five minutes or so with no (or few) distractions. You could use the time when your baby is napping, or perhaps when someone else is giving the children a bath. Doing this every day helps to ‘top up’ your levels of mindfulness, and it’s a bit like exercising a muscle, in that the more you practice, the easier it is to recall the moment when you need to.
Playing mindfully with your children
This can be among the most precious moments of parenthood. Make sure you are present while you do it, and create some lasting memories for both you and your children.
Don’t feel guilty
if you’re struggling with mindfulness. It’s really important not to add mindfulness to a “to do” list and then feel bad about not doing it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t concentrate and keep on forgetting to focus on your breath, because every time you remember it or notice that your mind has wandered, that in itself is the moment of mindfulness. Even a single mindful moment may change the course of the day.
Mindfulness for Parents is published by Watkins in paperback at £9.99. Available now from Amazon and all good bookshops.