Before my pregnancy, I had a consistent meditation practice of at least 45 minutes a day. Taking this time each morning helped me stay more present, centered, and calm throughout my day. Despite my best intentions to have the most “mindful” pregnancy possible, I was lucky to get in a short meditation once a week. Stay awake for 10 straight minutes while sitting (okay, let’s be honest, lying) in complete silence? Forget it, especially during my first two trimesters! In my first weeks and months of motherhood, I completely abandoned all I had learned over the past few years about the necessity of consciously experiencing my life just when I needed it most. I was on auto-pilot between breastfeeding 8 times a day, (trying to) maintain a tidy house, spend time with my husband, and resuming my full-time job outside the home. I had almost resigned myself to life as a sleep-deprived zombie when I realized I needed to start with something simple.
It wasn’t going to be possible to return to my daily 45 minute meditations at that point, but could I find 1 minute a day? Or even better, could I begin seeing the experience of having an infant as a way to practice mindfulness rather than a hindrance to it? By challenging myself with these questions I found several new practices that helped return me to the present.
1. WHILE FEEDING – OR JUST HOLDING YOUR CHILD
I realized that all those “time-consuming” minutes of the day I was spending feeding and comforting my new daughter were the perfect opportunity for mindfulness and connection. It’s not that I never appreciated these minutes, but as any new parent can confirm, there were ALOT of them. And I spent more of than I’d like to admit absentmindedly feeding her while peering over her to the screen of my smartphone. Instead, I swore off the screen and re-purposed these times for mindfulness. When she was awake I began looking deeply into her eyes. Whether she was awake or asleep I could focus on my breath and feel her breaths matching to mine. I use these times to notice the love I feel for my daughter, to focus that feeling outward, as I imagine it surrounding and filling her with love. In addition to bringing me back to the present moment, I now look forward to each of these times to strengthen our bond.
2. YES, IN THE BATHROOM
Before you laugh, hear me out on this one! Where is one place in your house that you are always usually alone? That time on the toilet can also be used to take some deep breaths and to ask yourself “Am I really here right now?” This goes for all the other bathroom activities – brushing your teeth, washing your face, whatever else you may do in there (don’t worry, you don’t have to share). I like this one because these are activities that WILL HAPPEN throughout every day, so they are guaranteed markers at which you can press the pause button.
3. IMMEDIATELY AFTER THEY FALL ASLEEP
While I was on maternity leave, I had the delusion that I would still have time to read books, meditate, and shower during all these naps I kept reading that my daughter would be taking. I’ll pause here while you finish laughing. During those rare naps, by the time I had finished brushing my teeth, unloading the dishwasher, and attending to all the other things that weren’t getting done, she was awake again. I quickly realized I had to prioritize my activities, since the only minutes guaranteed to me were those right after she fell asleep. So take those first 5 minutes of your child’s nap just to sit and focus on your breath before you do anything else. Or take 5 minutes to do a short meditation just after you’ve put them to bed for the night. Those few minutes for yourself will make the rest of your evening so much better!
4. WHEN YOU CHANGE A DIAPER, CHANGE A DIAPER
Thich Nhat Hanh has a very memorable quote about the importance of being present while washing the dishes, rather than thinking about the cup of tea that would come afterward. One day it hit me – if I’m just “getting through” my list of chores, what’s left at the end of a day filled with nothing but chores? When I’m just wanting to get things done, what I’m really saying is I just want those hours of my life to be done – hey wait, I didn’t mean to say that! Children give us plenty of opportunities to practice being present while giving service. So the next time you’re wiping down a high chair, scrubbing a floor, or any other task you find unpleasant work on simply doing that task – you never know what you may find in that moment! If the task involves your child, such as changing a diaper or giving them a bath, go all in. Look into their eyes, sing a song, let go and splash in the bath with them. These are never things to check off a to-do list, these are moments with your children you will never get back, so enjoy them!
5. HUG IT OUT
Think of the last time you gave someone a hug. How long did it last? Hugs have become habits. So often we give them automatically as we are rushing out the door, without stopping to feel the person we are supposed to be connecting with. To smell their scent. To feel their warmth. To make sure we savor that physical contact. To make sure the other person feels loved. According to tantra the proper way to hug is to make sure your heart chakras are aligned, which is actually the opposite of how we often hug. Make sure your head is over the other person’s left shoulder in order to have a truly heartful hug. Try it out! Hold that embrace just a few seconds longer next time. Your heart will thank you.
I’d love to hear about your experiences using these tips! Do you have any tips of your own for practicing mindfulness in the midst of parenting?
“Back off, mom! Buddha and I are having a contemplative moment.”
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