What if I told you that there was a technique that would help you reduce anxiety and stress, and improve your parenting skills and your compassion for both yourself and others with as little as 10 minutes of practice a day?
This technique is called “mindfulness” and, although it is anything but new, scientific research is now showing the overwhelmingly positive benefits that many have experienced for centuries.
It’s no coincidence that the growing interest in mindfulness has corresponded with a culture that is ever more hectic and over-scheduled. Our brains, bodies, and souls are craving a time out to stop, take a step back, and breathe.
But what exactly is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher explains that mindfulness is merely the practice of paying attention, on purpose and in the present moment. Mindfulness is an intentional pause devoted to your current moment of attention.
A regular mindfulness practice may be especially critical for parenting because of the positive effects on the frontal lobe of the brain; researchers have found that it increases the volume of the frontal lobes in some adult and teen brains. Since the frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning tasks such as planning, organizing, prioritizing, and adapting to changes, it is part of the brain that is central to everyday parenting.
Truthfully, I initially struggled and often resisted the concept of a mindfulness practice. I told myself, “I don’t have the time to sit still and do nothing!” convincing myself that I didn’t have the patience to pause and check in with myself. I also carried judgments about what I’d need to succeed. When I finally gave it a try I learned that a regular mindfulness practice doesn’t mean I had to buy a meditation cushion, designate a Zen-like space, or block off long periods of time to silently try to empty my mind. Nor did I need to add another task to my “to do” list. Instead, taking that break to check in with myself became much more accessible and easy to include in my life. Now I use it when I have a few moments, like when I’m walking or even eating a meal.
A short practice with the easy acronym, STOP, may assist you, as it did for me, in beginning a daily mindfulness practice. Here are the steps:
- Stop: Take a moment to pause what you are doing.
- Take a few deep breaths: Inhale in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth a number of times.
- Observe: Become aware of your range of senses, including your thoughts and feelings.
- Take notice of your body. Where is your body in space moment to moment? What other things do you sense around you, like colors, smells, tension in your body? What feelings and emotions might be coming up for you?
- Accept that this is your experience in this moment. Notice any judgment or expectation in this moment or any wishing things were different.
- Proceed: Resume what you were previously doing and notice if your time-out brought you any new insight that might help you support yourself, whether it be a cup of tea, a call to a friend, or a walk around the block.
This is mindfulness—intentionally paying attention to all of the sensory input we experience in each moment.
While science is now confirming the neurological, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of a mindfulness practice, it is not a quick fix. To achieve the maximum benefits it requires regular practice in daily life. Consider taking a “mindful moment” during already routine aspects of your life — for example, when showering, eating, walking, waiting at a red light, or even waiting for the microwave to beep. Try to see how many sensations you can pause to notice and accept.
Perhaps the very best place to start is by mindfully noticing and accepting that adopting a new lifestyle practice may be a challenge! Give it a try and see how mindfulness can create subtle but important changes in your parenting, and your life.
Ellie Pelc, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialized training in early childhood development, child trauma, behavior therapy, and psychological assessment and testing for learning issues, attention and memory challenges, and emotional functioning. She can be reached at 415-359-2454 or [email protected].