Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzzword these days, but there's a reason it's so popular. Mindfulness has been associated with stress reduction, boosts in working memory, and greater relationship satisfaction. Companies like Google offer employees mindfulness training and find that it increases productivity. Teachers across the country are using meditation as a coping technique and an alternative to traditional disciplinary practices. Is it any wonder then that mindfulness can be especially beneficial to new moms? In fact, there are certain mindfulness techniques that all new moms should know.
I've suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life. As a younger woman, I tried a few mindfulness exercises that my therapist suggested, but they didn't really take. It came back to my attention when my beloved Anderson Cooper participated in a retreat with guru Jon Kabat-Zinn for a 2015 60 Minutes story. Soon after, I found myself a new mom in a new state, unemployed for the first time in 13 years. It took a particularly bad bout of post-holiday blues to get me to seek help. My counselor suggested a mindfulness group, but I knew bringing an infant to such a group probably wasn't conducive to other people's practice. The leader graciously agreed to work with me one-on-one, with my baby present, so I could actually learn. It was amazing to reach a state of utter tranquility and to watch my baby calm in response.
I know mindfulness has positively impacted my life and made me a better mom, although I'll be the first to admit I'm not always successful. I'm a writer by trade, so a lot of my composition is done in my head before the pen hits the proverbial paper. So while mental composition can be helpful in my work, my mind usually ends up racing and my obsessive thoughts can quickly get out of control. At those times, I'm reminded of the advice of my teacher. She told me that if I can achieve even one minute of mindfulness, I've made a difference in my well-being. (And trust me when I say, those minutes add up.) So, I continue to practice mindfulness whenever I can, knowing that what's good for my mental health is good for my little one, too.
Focus On The Breath
This is something that can be done quickly and on the fly. Feeling overwhelmed? Stop what you're doing. Close your eyes. Take five deep breaths from the belly. Follow them in through the nose and out through the mouth. Better? Well, I'm not surprised.
Correct breathing is associated with lower blood pressure and improved concentration and focus, which you'll need when you're taking care of a newborn.
Notice Your Surroundings
When your thoughts are racing, observing your surroundings can slow them down. It gives your brain a job, and provides it with something else to do besides obsess.
Try locating five things in the room that are round, or three things you never noticed before. Peaceful observation will help reconnect you with your environment (and the adorable baby you're probably sharing it with).
Root Yourself In Your Seat
Moms often find sitting to be a luxury to which they are not privy. However, new mothers have to sit to breastfeed, pump, or give a bottle. Take advantage of that time to center yourself.
Put your feet flat on the ground. Feel the solidness of your weight in your sit bones. Pair this with mindful breathing or another technique, and you'll feel grounded in no time.
Tune In To Sounds
Mindful listening is perhaps my favorite technique. When I'm trying to breathe mindfully, I find I'm still easily distracted. So, as a result, I prefer to tune in to the sounds around me.
For example, I try to pinpoint three separate and distinct sounds. Can you identify the whirring of the dishwasher? The ticking of the clock? The cooing of your baby? This should help anchor you to the present.
Be In The Moment
Present moment awareness is a key component to mindfulness. As a new mom, it's easy to get carried away thinking about schedules, chores, and milestones. Mindfulness helps you stay in the moment and, when you have a baby, that's really where you want to be. It's better for the safety of your child but also helps you truly enjoy motherhood.
Try it while you're driving, playing with baby, or showering (just kidding, I know you don't get to shower). My favorite time to do this is when I'm bathing my daughter. My cell phone is far away, and I think about the softness of my baby's skin under my hands. If I'm really worked up, I get in there with her.
Do A Body Scan
A body scan is best done lying down, and helps bring awareness to your body. Start with your toes and work your way up, checking in with each part of your body by thinking about one specific spot on your body.
Does it seem like too much to do during the day while meeting the every need of your rugrat? Try this strategy before you get out of bed and right before you go to sleep.
Every day, see if you can think of five to ten things for which you are grateful. I always start out reminding myself how lucky I am that I get to be a mom. If you're finding it difficult, try spreading it out throughout your day.
Every time you transition your baby from one activity to another (from feeding to sleeping or playing), find one thing you're thankful for. Consistent gratitude meditations can become habitual, giving you a sunnier outlook on the world. And as someone in the new mom trenches, who couldn't use a little more of that?
You can do this as part of your body scan. Give each of your muscles a good squeeze, then release from head to toe.
We often hold tension in our jaws, so unclench your teeth. Take a second to release your brow, too. Take out those massage balls you used during labor and massage your feet and hands. Then, as a result, feel that mommy stress melt away.
Take A Mindful Walk
A mindful walk is the perfect activity to do with your little one! Strap your kiddo in her stroller and head outside. You're going to be walking a lot slower than usual, so take some time to pay attention to the way each step feels. Notice how the handle feels in your hands. Appreciate what nature has to offer, and tell your baby about all the things you see. You'll be boosting your baby's language at the same time you're grounding yourself in the world.
Another central tenet of mindfulness is being kind to yourself. Treat every aspect of your practice non-judgmentally, and extend that benevolence to yourself as a parent (as my mom says, there are lots of sticks with which to beat yourself as a new mother, but you don't have to pick all of them up). If you get distracted in your practice, simply notice it and bring yourself back to the breath and the moment at hand.
I have always liked the technique of thought-stopping, but I wasn't sure it would jive with mindfulness. What I learned was that I could still stop negative thoughts but in a gentler way. When I got mad at myself for getting off track or had an upsetting thought, I told myself, "Isn't that interesting?
Another idea is to simply watch your thoughts pass by without judgment. However, my thoughts tend to resemble an I Love Lucy conveyor belt as opposed to sheep daintily jumping over a fence. I like to look at my thoughts as a 3-D box that I can observe from all sides, like a fascinating artifact.
Mindfulness isn't something you master in a day. In fact, you never really master it at all. However, with time and patience, it will become part of your everyday life. Welcome to mindful motherhood. You're going to love it here.