Living in close proximity every day with our families can be tricky, exhausting, joyful, stressful, easy, impossible. When we bring an acceptance to the variety of emotions that we might experience on a daily basis and to their intensity then we have more chance of finding our way in this new home life that we find ourselves in. If we continually struggle against what is, then we layer our stress with agitation, resistance and frustration which exacerbates any difficult emotion that we are experiencing.
Here are a few things that you can do, to begin to create space so that you can more easily pause your reactivity and in that space choose perhaps a wiser, more compassionate, more humorous response. The following are mindfulness practices that begin to train the mind to come into stillness. The more often we practise these, the more we cultivate calm and responsibility, and the less we are controlled by our own habits of reactivity.
Tip 1 - The Body Scan
This might take 30 minutes or whatever time you have available. It is important to find a place where you can either lie down or sit comfortably without being disturbed. We bring our attention into the body with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement. In doing this, we are simply changing how we relate to our body. We are expanding our awareness, training our mind to be present.
Take a few minutes to simply follow your in breath and out breath, ground yourself in this moment, feel the points of contact with the floor or the chair and then imagine breathing in and out of different parts of the body. You might start with your face. Notice any tensions in the eyes, breathe into the eyes, noticing any sensation and on the out breath allow the eyes to rest and relax, if possible.
Move your attention around the body, breathing in and out to and from different areas. Notice what is there; be curious, exploring the sensations, allowing whatever is there to be there, and allowing the breath to soothe and soften. This is the first ‘mind training’ and we might find that the mind wanders during this practice. This is what minds do and if we accept this and notice, then that is an act of mindfulness. We simply bring the mind back to the body. When we feel the body, we know we are in the present moment. It can be helpful to use a guided bodyscan. You can access mine here.
Tip 2 - POP and Breathe Practice
This practice can be done in 30 seconds, 3 minutes, 30 minutes (whatever time you have available) and is a lovely practice to share with your children. It brings mindfulness into everyday life. It allows us to check in with ourselves and create a space where we can choose how we respond to ourselves and those around us:
As a result of this practice, we begin the habit of checking in to see how are feeling, rather than letting the feelings of fear and anxiety build up inside our heads. Check in with yourself as you would do with a friend: Are you worried, relaxed, calm or anxious? What do you need right now? Maybe it’s a cup of tea, a chat with a friend, to listen to music, to do some exercise. Whatever it may be, we can still do all these things to lift our spirits and get in touch with our joyful selves. You can access this meditation here.
Tip 3 - Mindful Walking
When the mind is very agitated or experiencing a lot of anger or overwhelm, this practice can prove very helpful. If you are experiencing a lot of activity in the mind, mindful walking can help to ground your awareness in the present moment.
Mindful walking can be done in the kitchen, office, out in nature, on a busy street - indeed any time that you are walking.
You simply slow down you walk, focus on your steps, bring your attention to the soles of your feet and become aware of your breathing. As you take more mindful steps you might want to breathe with the steps and say to yourself “in, out”. Focusing on the soles of your feet helps you to drop out of your head and into your body. You can walk really slowly if it’s appropriate and you don’t feel too weird! Or you can walk at normal pace and just be aware of your breath and the soles of the feet. After a while you might want to bring your awareness to your senses as you walk, noticing what you hear, see, smell, and feel. You can access my mindful walking recording here.
You can also share this with your children – encourage them to pay attention first of all to all the things that they can hear, smell, see, feel. It is also fun to give children different ways of walking – like someone who is really happy/sad/angry and then to practise walking mindfully, slowly noticing the soles of their feet and opening their senses one by one. Then change again to walking like a cowboy/stilt walker/baby etc, then back to walking mindfully. If you would like to listen to a guided walking meditation visit my soundcloud page here.
Tip 4 - Mindful Shower
You are not your emotions and with mindfulness practices you can begin to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary and every day, simply by paying attention to everyday activities. As parents it may be difficult to find time for yourself but mindfulness isn’t only about sitting in meditation or practising the body scan; the more we can bring mindfulness to our everyday/mundane chores and activities the more we can integrate it into how we live our lives.
When you step into the shower, open your senses. So rather than jumping in and out or simply going through the motions, planning your day or going over the day that you have had, take an extra 5 minutes to really savour the experience. Start by bringing awareness to the sound of the water falling on your body or into the shower basin. Look at the way the water falls and gathers, splashes and disappears. Feel the sensation and temperature of the water falling on different parts of the body. Take time to really smell the shower gel or soap. Breathe with all these sensations and allow the mindful shower to restore and refresh. We can apply the same quality of attention to any activity that we are engaged in throughout the day.
Tip 5 - Mindful Eating
So often we eat without awareness. Often only thinking about our next mouthful. We might overeat because of this habit of wanting more and feeling that we don’t have enough or as a way of distracting ourselves from pain or unhappiness. Quite often when we eat, we eat our thoughts and not our food. Mindful eating is a way of slowing down and appreciating each mouthful. It is a way of really savouring our food. Eating mindfully means bringing all our senses to the experience of eating. Begin by looking deeply at the food, exploring the shape, colour and patterns. We might then smell the food, experiencing the different fragrances. With one mouthful at a time, we can take our time to finally taste the food. We sense the textures and flavours: chewing slowly and perhaps setting down our knife and fork between mouthfuls. People often report that they eat less and that they actually taste their food for the first time. This practice can be done with a whole meal, a few mouthfuls or even with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Use it as it fits with your lifestyle. It can be shared with your children in a light-hearted way. Finding ways of describing different tastes or textures of food. We can use flavoured chocolate and ask our children to guess the flavour, encouraging them to close their eyes and really focus on is happening inside their mouths as they explore these sensations.
Tip 6 - 3 Good Things Practice
Research has shown that our negative thoughts and events are like Velcro to our brains and positive ones like Teflon. To make our positive thoughts and events more implicit, we have to turn them into positive experiences. We can do this by focusing on them more, taking a moment just to realise that that was a great conversation, smile, meal, view, etc. Instead of just letting these moments of positivity pass by with little attention or appreciation, the 3 Good Things Practice gives the individual the space to acknowledge and build up these daily experiences.
At the end of each day we can reflect on 3 things that made us happy, that we can be grateful for. We write them down and for each one we say why we are grateful and how it made us feel. It is helpful to have a little book that can then become your gratitude journal.
Even when we are experiencing very difficult times, there are still moments in the day that we can be grateful for. For children, this practice is wonderful. We might use a gratitude jar where we add to it, every time we notice something that makes us smile or makes us feel safe and happy. Children can write these on post-it and pop them in the jar. Parents might add to the jar when they notice something funny or kind that their child does and then at the end of the week explore the content of the jar together.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention with gentleness, curiosity and acceptance. It helps us live more fully in the present moment. This means paying deliberate attention to what is happening in our bodies, and to what we are doing, feeling and thinking, without judging or trying to change our experience. Mindfulness incorporates mindful breathing, bodyscan practices, mindful eating and mindful movement.
By exploring these practices we begin to observe our thoughts as they arise moment by moment without judgement. Allowing thoughts to come and go we can come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings are transient. We are more than our thoughts. Through the practice of mindfulness we come to realise that we have a choice about whether to act on our thoughts or not.
Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself. When unhappiness or stress take hold in our lives we can observe our thoughts with friendly curiosity and allow them to pass. In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.
Over time, mindfulness brings about long-term changes in mood and levels of happiness and well-being. Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to- day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily. Other studies have shown that regular mediators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital, memory improves, creativity increases and reaction times become faster.
Mindfulness is the capacity to be fully with ourselves from one moment to the next and to be available for life as it unfolds in this particular moment. Mindfulness is not about trying to get somewhere; rather it is about recognising what is already here and giving ourselves the space to be where we are and as we are.
Despite the proven benefits, however, many people are still a little wary when they hear the word meditation. Before embarking on a Mindfulness course it is important to dispel some of the myths: