I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca Ryan, author of Mindfulness for Mothers. It’s a wonderful book that can support you during pregnancy and motherhood. She shares with us what mindfulness means, why it is beneficial for expectant moms, and how we can easily incorporate it into our day.
Tell us about your book, Mindfulness for Mothers and what inspired you to write this book?
Mindfulness for Mothers is a guide to staying calm and present while caring for your child. I wrote this book for mothers and mothers-to-be so that they could learn to meditate and to be mindful, even when their children are with them, even if they don’t have much free time, and especially if they are struggling to find peace and stillness in their lives.
I was inspired to write this book because I had a yoga and meditation practice before I had my first baby and it really helped me in pregnancy. I found it much harder to keep my practice going after my baby was born. I managed to adjust my practice to suit motherhood, instead of trying to force my previous practice into my new life as a mother. I wanted to share with other mothers, how they could have an almost daily practice of short meditations and simple mindfulness exercises. Also, I am a qualified yoga and meditation teacher with more than 17 years of personal practice, so I drew on this experience to write my book.
Half of the techniques in this book you can do with your baby or children around. Most of these practices take less than 3 minutes. These practices are really useful if you are pregnant and have a toddler or other children. It sounds crazy, but involving your kids in mindfulness works. It works for you because you don’t have to wait to have time alone to meditate. It’s great for kids because they can learn simple mindfulness with you. It’s also an effective way to role model self-care for our children and show them how important it is to take time for stillness.
The other half of the practices in the book are for when you have time alone. These might really suit you if you are pregnant with your first child or have time alone for other reasons. Recently, my youngest child started school. Now that I have more time to myself, my meditation practice has expanded and adapted to suit this time of my life. I even managed to go on a three-day yoga conference last year – something that wasn’t an option for me just a few short years before.
The mindfulness practices that serve us will change, just as our lives as mothers change. Our challenge is to be open to this change.
What does it mean to be mindful?
To be mindful is to be present, awake, and alert in our daily lives. To be mindful is to meet each moment with an open heart and an attitude of wonder and curiosity. When we are spontaneously mindful, like when we watch our children play, hear music that we enjoy, garden, sing, dance, walk in nature – we feel alive and energized. When mindfulness doesn’t come naturally, like when we are sad or overwhelmed with the stress of daily life, then we can look to more formal practices, such as meditation, to help us be mindful.
How can moms and moms-to-be incorporate more mindfulness into their day?
The best way to incorporate mindfulness into your day as a mom is to so in a gentle way. 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 busy moms. 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.
How does mindfulness affect pregnancy (for mom and baby)? Why is it beneficial?
During pregnancy, anything that moms do that is good for them, is also good for their babies. This applies to mindfulness too. One of the key ways that mindfulness is beneficial during pregnancy is that it can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Being pregnant and becoming a mother, especially for the first time, is a huge life-changing event. It can be quite stressful.
Often during pregnancy, we can be very focused on the physical changes, since they are the most obvious. Meditation can be a tool to help pregnant women increase self-awareness and encourage them to take care of their whole selves – body, mind, and spirit. When practiced with self-compassion, mindfulness can be a useful self-care habit. It can also act as a buffer against today’s common pressure to be a ‘perfect’ mother.
When a mom-to-be practices mindfulness and experiences some of the benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, increased feelings of calm and relaxation, improved sleep quality, better blood pressure, these benefits flow to her baby. After pregnancy, the benefits that us moms experience from mindfulness continue to flow to our babies and children. I asked my 8-year-old son how mindfulness helps moms. He said “Mindfulness helps moms to feel calm. It helps the kids too because the moms don’t get angry with them as much.” I thought that was a pretty good answer.
Rebecca Ryan is the author of Mindfulness for Mothers, available on Amazon.
Rebecca is a Meditation Teacher, Pre and Postnatal Yoga Teacher, and Member of the Board of Advisers of The International Forum for Wellbeing in Pregnancy.