Mindfulness & Meditation Exercises
The Quickest, Easiest Mindful Parenting Tool
From chaos to calm: breath deeply…
Every parent has had one of those completely overwhelming totally stressed out, awful moments where things feel out of control. Before crumbling or totally losing it, try this:
- Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
- Take a long, slow, deep breath in.
- Fill the lower belly first, and then gradually fill up to the top of the throat.
- And then slowly let the breath out in reverse.
How does that work? We have two parts to our nervous system: a “fight, freeze, flight” sympathetic nervous system and the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. The nerves for that “rest and digest” system are in our belly. When you take a deep breath, you touch into those nerves. And when you take three deep breaths, you really begin to soothe your whole system.
Tuck this little mindful parenting tool into your toolkit. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it (yeah, right!). But it will be there for you when things begin to break down and you need immediate repair.
If this little exercise was helpful, you can find dozens more in the Sitting Together Curriculum Set.
For Your Kiddo
Teddy Bear Meditation
Have your children lie down on their backs on the floor and put their favorite teddy bear or stuffed animal on their belly. They can let their arms rest by their sides, legs flat on the floor, and close their eyes. Then find a place to sit and guide them in the following meditation.
Let’s begin with a long, deep breath, starting way down in the belly and filling up your lungs. Then exhale slowly, letting your whole body relax into the floor. Let’s do that again: long breath in . . . and long breath out. Relaxing all through the body.
Let your breathing go back to its normal rhythm. Now mindfully bring your awareness to your belly: can you feel your teddy bear or stuffed animal on your tummy? Let’s rock our stuffed animal to sleep by very slowly and gently breathing in the belly. Breathing in, feel your belly getting bigger and rocking your stuffed animal up. Breathing out, feel your belly going back down and your stuffed animal being rocked down. Breathing in, rocking up. Breathing out, rocking down. Slow and gentle. You don’t have to make your breath any bigger than it normally is, just breathe how you usually breathe. This is a very quiet and small rocking motion.
Here are a few things to notice while we are breathing with our teddy bear. As you pay attention to your breathing, is it changing? Perhaps it’s becoming slower or deeper, or lighter and shallower. How about the small pauses between the in-breath and the out-breath? What are those like? Are they getting longer, the more you rock your stuffed animal to sleep? How is your body feeling as you connect with your breathing? How about your mind? Your heart? Let’s continue to meditate with our stuffed animal for a little longer and then I will ring the bell to end.
Credit: this brilliant meditation was created by educator Susan Kaiser Greenland. More on her work at www.susankaisergreenland.com.
If you and your child enjoyed this exercise, you can find many more in the Sitting Together Curriculum Set.
Hugging mindfully brings a feeling of safety, peace, and happiness to both people. Kneel down so that you are about the same height as your child. Stand before each other and look into each other’s eyes. Begin by bowing to each other slowly, with your palms joined together before the heart. Then, take each other into your arms, hugging slowly and gently. We will take three long, slow breaths together.
- Begin by breathing in a long, deep breath, and as you exhale slowly, become aware that you yourself are alive.
- Taking the second breath, become aware that the other person is alive.
- Taking the third breath, cultivate happiness and gratitude for being able to hold the other person in your arms.
Now, gently let go of each other and look into each other’s eyes again. To close the meditation, bow to each other and, as you come back up, offer a warm smile.
Credit: This beautiful practice comes by way of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Try This at Home
During a baby shower, I (Sumi) asked my friends, who were all longtime meditators, to tell me about their parents’ best moments as parents. As each person spoke, however, they talked not so much about their parents but their grandparents. Several said, “What I loved about my grandfather was that he accepted me entirely for who I was and did not try to change me, parent me, make me different. He just loved and adored me.” It was very striking to me.
As such, I take time to look deeply into my children’s eyes and show them with my own eyes that I absolutely love and accept them for who they are. This often takes place when I’m tucking them into bed for the night. I tell them with how I look at them that despite the many hours of the day spent chiding them to “sit up,” “say ‘thank you,’” “pick up your clothes,” and “don’t spit water at the mirror”. . . despite all the hours spent correcting their behavior, at heart, my love for them is unconditional. I think of it as gazing at the other with “the Buddha’s eyes.”
Advanced (just kidding) Mindful Parenting
There’s a commercial in which a mother blissfully sails through each room of her home, encountering one scene after the other that would normally cause her to be irritated: a teenage son banging away on drums, a young daughter emptying drawers and making a mess. But why is the mother so blissful? Because she is listening to her favorite selection of music through her headphones. The message of the ad is that the way to be content with your family is to tune them out—literally.
But if we look carefully at the origins of a lot of family fights, it’s most often because people are not paying attention. They’re lost in their video game or lost in thought while making dinner. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing: the little sister took her big brother’s Lego structure and began taking it apart. Or the wife keeps asking her husband to do something but he isn’t listening. Then, someone explodes: “Give it back!” “Do it now!” “Listen to me!”
If we want to create peaceful homes, then it’s essential for parents to stay tuned in to the atmosphere of the home. As you are cleaning or making a meal, rather than being lost in thought, let your awareness spread out into the far distances of your home. Let your ears be open to the sounds in the environment. Get a sense of the mood of the home, other beings present, and your own place in the home. With greater awareness, we may pick up on the beginnings of bad weather (especially between siblings) before it brews into a storm. The added benefit is that we may truly enjoy and appreciate being at home with our loved ones.
If you felt this advice was just rockin’, well, there’s lots more of it in the Sitting Together Curriculum Set.