My mum meditated when we were children. She would lock herself into her room and we were allowed under no circumstances to interrupt her. As an adult, I admire her so much for taking this time to ground herself in a very stressful home environment. Becoming a mum myself I have realised how much more time and space I have when I take time out to meditate. How much calmer I am and how much happier I feel. I am pleased to be interviewing Rebecca Ryan, Author of “Mindfulness for Mothers” and Meditation Teacher to find out how valuable this practice really is.
Why is Mindfulness so important for mothers and are there any studies that support this?
Mindfulness is important for mothers because it is a simple way to access and cultivate the capacity for space, calm, and stillness in our lives. What mother doesn’t want or need more of that?! Because mindfulness and meditation can be practiced with our children around, and can be modified to fit into whatever our days hold, they are great practices for mums.
There are lots of studies on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I like Sara Lazar’s work. She looks at the ways that meditation practices can change our brain structure and therefore change how we experience our lives.
Specifically, in the motherhood space there aren’t that many studies about mindfulness. One that I found that I think is good is: Effects of an antenatal mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting programme on the postpartum experiences of mothers: a qualitative interview study
I wrote a piece about it, Mindfulness as a shelter for new mothers, for the International Forum for Wellbeing in Pregnancy. I’m on their Board of Advisors.
What would you recommend for a mother who wants to start integrating mindfulness and meditation into her day?
The best way to start integrating mindfulness into your day as a mum is gently. Start with small, simple steps that are achievable with your current lifestyle. Such as doing a daily habit mindfully. Maybe take a few moments to drink a cup of coffee or tea with awareness of your 5 senses – touch, smell, hearing, sight and of course taste! Maybe eat mindfully – without your phone!
Another way is to look at the ebb and flow of your day to see if there are any natural pauses or breaks. Sometimes it can feel as if we never stop as mums. But we all have at least small lulls between activities. Try to do a small practice in one of these lulls. For example, stop and take three slow breaths before you leave the house, or start your car, or reach for your phone. You enhance this natural pause in your day when you notice it and linger for just a few more breaths than usual.
After you’ve tried some of these mini meditations, you may have found a space in your day when you can try a slightly longer meditation. There are lots of things to try that take 5 minutes or less. There is no minimum daily ‘dosage’ of meditation that you have to do to get the benefits. By building your meditation habit around your life, you have a much better chance of it becoming a daily ritual. From these simple steps you can grow your mindfulness and meditation practice and it can be yours to enjoy, in one form or another, for the rest of your life.
So many mums scroll through their phones whilst their babies sleep in their arms – there is a better way to use this time can you share that?
I think the thing about scrolling is sometimes it feels purposeful and enjoyable and other times it feels like a negative time sucker. When it makes you feel worse than before you scrolled it might be time to look for an alternative. Babies sleep in our arms for a relative short phase of their lives – it feels like forever at the time, I know. My two are both at school and my oldest is a teenager who is taller than me! So I know I speak from nostalgia when I say ‘it goes too quickly.’
One mindfulness activity that can be lovely when a baby sleeps in your arms is to take your awareness through your five main senses, one at a time. What do you smell, feel (touch), see, hear and maybe taste, in the moments that your baby sleeps? Coming to your senses can be a powerful way to direct your attention to the present and it can increase your sense of connection with your baby.
Also, feel free to scroll – I won’t mummy shame you. I love the internet.
Can you share with us what your 30-minute restorative body awareness routine looks like?
Body awareness is a great way to get out of your head and take a break from all the busy thoughts. Taking your focus to your body and taking the time to notice sensations in your body has been shown to have restorative effects. This is because when we focus on our bodies, in a gentle, non-judgemental way, we activate the ‘rest and digest’ mode of our nervous systems and get all the benefits that come from that. Our heart rate slows a little, our blood pressure settles to a healthy range, we can digest our food, move our bowels, and fall asleep more easily. Sounds good, right?
The way to do a body awareness scan practice is to set aside a time and place where you won’t be disturbed – that is the hard part! Next, you find a comfortable position to sit or lie and set the intention that you will stay with the sensations of your body and also your breath for a set period of time. It can be good to use a guided recording, often called Yoga Nidra, to help you scan your body.
If you are doing it yourself, you take your awareness around your body in a set order. Maybe from head to toe, or right side to left side. You allow sensations to arise as you move your awareness to each part of your body in turn. Don’t forget your face – we hold a lot of tension in our faces We also hold tension in our hands, feet, and shoulders. Trying your best not to judge or criticise your body, rather treating it with kindness and compassion.
Finally, you have lots of meditations on app Insight Timer can you share which is your favourite and why?
My favourite of my guided meditations on the Insight Timer app is ‘Be Here Now’. It is simple, short, and breath based.
Be Here Now is a three minute breath and mantra practice. This means that it has instructions to notice your breathing and then you add a mantra to this awareness of your breathing. A mantra is a silently repeated phrase that helps to focus your meditation or set an intention. In this practice, the mantra is a call to be present – no matter the circumstances. It’s an invitation to be with what ‘is’ and to avoid the temptation to judge or try to change every experience in our lives. The mantra is Be Here Now. It also happens to be the title of a book by Ram Dass, that is famous in yoga circles. I like the mantra for it’s simplicity and I use it frequently. When matched with the breath I find it stilling and also freeing.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to share that meditation and mindfulness are personal practices. They aim to assist us in our lives, whatever might be happening for us. If the meditation that you try doesn’t suit you – try something else! Please don’t force or strain to meditate in a way that anyone else suggests if it doesn’t feel right to you.
Also, meditation can help with many of life’s difficulties. However, it is not a cure for anything and it is not a substitute for medical care. If you are having a difficult time, consider what you might need in addition to meditation and seek that too. Go gently with yourself mama. Xo xo
For more inspiration see below: