In my yoga and therapy practice, particularly in my work with new mothers, people often say to me that they have no time to themselves, and certainly no time to sit in meditation. I know from my own experience of early motherhood that there really was no time to call my own in those early weeks and months. Yoga definitely took a back seat!
So it might seem that new parenthood would be the very worst time to try to start a meditation practice, when the demands on our time are so vast and often so overwhelming. But the benefits of even a short meditation can be even more beneficial at this time.
In fact, the opportunities for meditation are rich and varied for a new parent. Simply practising mindfulness in any activity, being fully present in that moment, is a form of meditation. Take that overwhelming feeling of connection with a young baby that a parent experiences. Total mindfulness. When calming an overtired infant, it can be helpful to calm yourself, simply focusing on your breath, slowing it down, and watching the effect this has on your child. Pranayama in action! At the very least, a parent can cope better with what is often such an emotional strain when they take a few conscious breaths.
Being fully present when feeding, instead of being tempted to read, watch television or check social media on your phone, can be a form of meditation. Even if you only manage it for one feed now and then – simply allowing yourself some time with your baby when there are no other distractions. None of us can aspire to be mindful all of the time, but we could try to choose a particular activity in which to practise presence of mind – ideally something we do several times a day. Even a mundane task can be a chance to remind ourselves, to simply be in the moment. So we can be mindful when we’re washing up, preparing or eating a meal, or doing the housework.
Buddhist author of Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, Sarah Napthali, recommends what she calls ‘the one-minute grab’:
‘During a full day with children, you occasionally find time to yourself which typically lasts about one minute. I often use this time to practise mindfulness of the breath and am constantly amazed at the results that even one minute of focussing on the rise and fall of my breath can achieve. It’s calming and somehow leaves you feeling more positive.’
Even when our children are older, we find that the minutes we grab for our yoga or meditation practice are frequently interrupted. An active baby or toddler finds mummy bending over or lying on the floor an irresistible climbing frame and potential playmate. An older child might want to join in with our practice. Whilst it can be frustrating at times and all our peaceful feelings might fly away instantaneously, I love the point made by Tibetan Lama Choedak and commented on by Napthali in ‘Buddhism for Mothers’:
‘…practice and parenting should be as one and…we needn’t compartmentalise one from the other. If your child cries when you are halfway through your meditation, your concentration needs to flow smoothly, without resistance and mental comment, to what is required of you in that moment: comforting your baby.’
So we flow from our practice into the demands of our family life, so that they become indistinguishable. Instead of wishing things were other than they are, and that we had completed a wonderfully relaxing meditation or invigorating asana practise, we flow with the reality of the present moment. We accept our daily life and make it a part of our practice. We learn to simply be with whatever the present moment brings us.
If you have tried to maintain or begin some kind of yoga or meditation practice whilst bringing up your family, I’d love to hear about your experience – leave a comment below.