As a mindfulness teacher in an elementary school, I'm thrilled that mindfulness has become so popular. (It warmed my heart to see that my mindbodygreen piece, "7 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids Mindfulness," has been shared almost 100,000 times on Facebook!)
In case you’re wondering what mindfulness is, it’s simply the act of bringing your attention to the present moment — including your current thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations — with calm acknowledgment and acceptance.
Mindfulness education is growing in popularity in schools, and for good reason. Research has shown that it can improve focus and concentration, decrease bullying and aggression, increase optimism and happiness in classrooms, help students resolve conflicts, and increase compassion and empathy for others. I’ve certainly seen these results in my students at school, as well as my two daughters at home.
But mindfulness isn’t just for kids. I've found that many of the techniques I teach my students are equally useful for me as a parent.
Juggling the complexities of life with kids in tow can feel like a monumental task, and staying calm and peaceful in the process might seem impossible. Here are seven simple ways to use mindfulness to stay centered — and sane — as a parent:
1. Practice Square Breathing.
When things get hectic and your amygdala (the stress center of the brain) is active, your prefrontal cortex becomes blocked. Logical thought and good parenting become tough.
Oxygen is the amygdala’s signal to calm down, and there's a quick and efficient way to send oxygen to your brain: Square Breathing. To practice this, inhale as you count slowly to four. Hold the breath to a count of four, then exhale slowly as you count to four. Hold the breath to a count of four before you inhale again. Repeat for a few minutes — and you'll be amazed at how much calmer you’ll feel.
2. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Thoughts of appreciation and gratitude are registered in the brain as optimism, which calms and soothes the amygdala. Focusing on gratitude lowers the stress hormone cortisol, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for rest and recuperation), and releases pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters.
These are all great reasons to practice gratitude regularly. Keep a notebook handy and write down things you appreciate and feel thankful for throughout the day. I like to start my day with thoughts of gratitude and aim to carry those thoughts forward as the day progresses.
3. Eat mindfully.
We often eat on the go or while multitasking and don’t really taste or appreciate our food. By slowing down during meals and really noticing the aroma, texture, colors, and taste of our food, we can practice mindful eating.
Chew slowly and with pleasure. Take the time to nourish your body with healthy food as well as positive thoughts of appreciation while you eat.
This is a healthy habit to model for our children as well. When possible, turn off screens and technology and sit together to enjoy a meal. Practice listening to the sounds surrounding you as you eat, the smells wafting from your food, the sensations in your body, and the conversation with your children.
You might find that you eat less, digest better, and enjoy your food more.
4. Wash the dishes.
A study last year at Florida State University found that participants who washed dishes mindfully reduced their levels of nervousness by 27 percent and increased their feelings of inspiration by 25 percent.
Washing dishes mindfully means paying attention to the scent of the soap, feeling the warm bubbles on your hands, and noticing the texture and sensation of the dishes as you wash them.
You may also want to add a relaxing mantra or breathing technique or listen to a recorded meditation, inspirational talk, or uplifting music while you scrub. Researchers who conducted the study implied that these results may be achieved from any common chore, including vacuuming, driving, and taking a shower. Done mindfully, these tasks can become sources of stress relief.
5. Meditate anywhere.
You don't have to be in yoga clothes and perched on a round cushion in a silent room in order to meditate. In fact, you don't even have to be sitting down or have your eyes closed.
Whenever you need an attitude adjustment, take a few minutes and count the seconds as you breathe. Breathing intentionally will send oxygen to your amygdala, and focusing on counting will distract your mind from its woes.
If you like, close your eyes and put your hand on your chest, feeling your heartbeat. You may want to recite a calming mantra for a few minutes while you do this, such as "I am at peace" or "I am calm and relaxed."
6. "Squish and Relax."
This is a technique I use with my students to help them relax, but I like to use it for myself, too. You can do this one lying down, sitting, or standing up wherever you are.
Simply take a deep breath in, make two tight fists, squish up your face, and tighten all of the muscles in your body. If you're lying down, you can roll into a ball while you do this. Hold this squeezed position while you hold your breath for a few seconds, and then release. Allow everything to get completely floppy when you exhale.
Repeat this process a few times, and I predict you will quickly feel a release of tension throughout your body.
7. Create a dance party in the kitchen.
Music is a powerful mindfulness tool. It can quickly transport you to another world and elevate both your mood and your feel-good brain chemicals. When the kids (or you) are heading toward a meltdown, why not crank the music and have a dance party in the kitchen?
Jump around and get your heart pumping, which will release warm fuzzies of endorphins and serotonin throughout your body. Hug your kids while you dance for a boost of the love hormone oxytocin. For a mindful experience, pay attention to the sensations of your body as you dance.
I hope you find these mindfulness tools to be useful additions to your parenting toolbox. If we want our children to be more focused, calm, and optimistic, we can start by cultivating those qualities ourselves. Mindfulness really is for everyone.
Photo Credit: iStock