Tuning In to our Live-in Zen Masters

It’s interesting to look at your children as live-in Zen masters who can put their finger on places where you’re resistant, or thinking narrowly, in ways no one else can. You can either lose your mind and your authenticity in the process of reacting to all that stuff, or you can use it as the perfect opportunity to grow and nourish your children by attending to what is deepest and best in them and in yourself.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

I got a question from a previous student and new dad about motivation and maintaining practice. He and his partner have a beautiful son, now about 4 months old, out of the 4th trimester and waking up to the world around him. With a baby/young child, creating meditation time can be tricky. Babies require and deserve a lot of attention and then there are other things like work, household chores, leisure activities. Where does mindfulness practice fit?

Let's look at the possibilities.

Formal Practice

Formal practice includes body scan, walking meditation, gentle hatha yoga and sitting meditation.  

Sitting Meditation~The heart of the formal practices is sitting meditation, which allows us to just be with our breath while watching our thoughts, becoming aware of our habits of mind. Some people find it works to have a set time every day to sit, maybe getting up 30 minutes earlier or staying up 30 minutes later, building it into the schedule just like showering, brushing our teeth or exercise 

Research indicates that there is a dose-related response with meditation. Can't do 30-45 minutes? Then try doing "divided-doses," perhaps 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes before returning home. Use what works for you. 

Body scan~The scan could be done in the morning before getting out of bed or at night before sleep (I know, I know, "What if I fall asleep?" Practice acceptance, non-judging, letting be). Another suggestion is when you're holding baby during a nap. Lie on the floor with baby on your chest or sit in a chair and become aware of your body as you scan as much as you can before baby awakens, knowing that this time to just be with baby is important to you both. 

Yoga~Incorporating baby into mindful yoga practice can benefit both or you. Baby gets an early introduction to yoga and you get to experience yoga in a new way, through your child's eyes and body. Here are some poses to start with (Dads can do the same)  Yoga with Baby  

 Beautiful but acceptance is realizing this isn't reality.

Beautiful but acceptance is realizing this isn't reality.

Walking Meditation-How many times do we as parents find ourselves walking the floor with baby in arms?  All it takes is a switch in attitude and intention for this to become our practice in that moment. 

Informal Practice

Informal practices are those times when we bring presence to our daily activities like making tea, eating a meal, answering the phone, putting the key in the front door lock. Whatever it is, we bring mindfulness to the present moment. One that works for me is waiting, whether it's waiting for an appointment or for water to boil. I bring my focus to the breath and become aware of thoughts and feelings, what's happening in my body, turning what might be frustrating or anxious time into practice time. Whether it's slowing down when walking and really feeling the body walking or eating a meal mindfully, there are opportunities to be mindful all day long. After all, mindfulness is about living our life moment-to-moment, not just the time we spend on the cushion.

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Being With Baby Practice

Our babies need our presence. 

Without it they can't exist and through us they learn connection, attachment, sense of self, self-compassion, compassion, speech, love, everything it takes to be human. There are times as a parent when we juggle a couple of activities while holding or wearing a baby, and that's OK, being close still brings order to baby's world. But there are other times when you can just be, taking in their baby smell, the feel of their skin, the weight and warmth of their body against yours, the way they fit perfectly into the curve of your neck or gazing deeply into each others eyes. Give yourself permission to mindfully take in the full sensory experience.

Breastfeeding 

Breastfeeding can be a wonderful time to practice mindfulness. The closeness with baby is about nourishing their being as much as their body.  It's the optimal environment for growth and development. While the goal of mindfulness isn't relaxation it's a welcome side effect. Relaxation or decreased stress allows for the optimal functioning of the hormones of breastfeeding. If we're in fight or flight mode adrenaline can interfere with oxytocin. Oxytocin is the calm and connection hormone, sometimes called the love hormone. It's also the hormone that allows milk to flow freely. Increased amounts of oxytocin may be a factor in preventing post-partum depression.

Fight or flight arises in the amygdala, sometimes called the lizard brain.

"(With regular mindfulness practice)...The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger" Tom Ireland

So make some of your feedings sacred mindfulness time between you and baby. Silence the phone, put down the book, turn off the TV and just be. Take in the wonder that is your child.

For those who don't breastfeed, feeding from a bottle can be done while holding baby close, even skin-to-skin in a way that mimics breastfeeding to provide maximum contact with baby. 

Attitude

Continuing to cultivate and strengthen the attitudes that are the foundations of mindfulness can be helpful as we go through these times of practice slow-down or transition.

  • Non-judging~be gentle with yourself
  • Patience~letting things unfold in their own time
  • Beginner's mind~each moment a new moment, children are great role-models for this
  • Trust~take responsibility for yourself and your well-being
  • Non-striving~have no goal, no place to go, nothing to do
  • Acceptance~things are what they are, recognizing what is
  • Letting be~resistance is futile, watch the other attitudes work
  • Gratitude and Generosity~don't take this moment, any moment for granted.
"Mindfulness-Paying attention to present moment experience with open curiosity and a willingness to be with what is." Diana Winston

Even when that what is, is no meditation.

Other tips can be found here:  Ten tricks to meditating with a baby or toddler.

More about the fantastic molecule Oxytocin here in Nature.

This is Your Brain on Mindfulness