Guest post by Rebecca Ryan, Author of Mindfulness for Mothers
I’m often asked about my mindfulness practice and I can sum it up in three R’s; Ritual, Routine and Random. I’ve been a meditator for 16 years and 10 years as a yoga and meditation teacher. But in the world of meditation I am a beginner. A dedicated and passionate beginner for sure, but a beginner none the less. I’m also a chatty, sharing kinda beginner so I am happy to give you an insight into my practice.
Meditation, the formal practice of mindfulness, is a skill that can be learnt and can be cultivated and transformed so that it extends into your day to day life, almost seamlessly. For me this happened in much the same way that my practice of physical yoga (asana) improved my posture as I stood and sat, even when I was not on my yoga mat. Likewise, the more I practised meditation, the more I was able to be present in my life when I was not meditating. In this way, everyday mindfulness is to meditation what good posture is to yoga asana. You might naturally have good posture or be effortlessly mindful without yoga or meditation but if that’s not the case for you, don’t worry, there is a way to learn these things and then apply them to your life.
Ritual, Routine + Random
Once you know the techniques of focus, concentration, single-point-awareness, returning to your anchor when distracted and so on, you can apply these to your life in many ways. Personally, I feel that I need both the formal and informal practice of mindfulness. If you don’t, then please don’t take my approach as a counter argument to yours. I have heard of people who practise mindfulness but do not have a meditation practice and I’m sure this can work for them, it’s just not my personal experience. Of the many ways to meditate and be mindful, for me, a combination of Ritual, Routine and Random are the best.
When I say Ritual I mean that I ‘make the everyday sacred.’ This has been a cornerstone of my practice and my teaching to other mothers. So much of our day is spent in that autopilot mode of doing what we need to do while having our attention somewhere else. Noticing when we are most likely to be operating in this mode and being aware of where our attention goes can tell us a great deal about what’s going on in our inner world. Is there someone you talk with and when they speak you find yourself quickly off in an unrelated stream of thought? Do you zone out when you eat and look down to find your food is finished and you have no memory of taste, texture, chewing? Don’t beat yourself up if you recognise yourself in these examples. Mindfulness encourages us to notice what is happening in the present moment without judging, criticising or analysing. This is quite tricky. No wonder I am still a beginner after 16 years!
To make the everyday sacred I take my awareness to my senses when I am performing daily tasks that I could easily do on autopilot. I have many examples of this switching from autopilot to noticing my senses in the moment. The one I will share with you today is my morning coffee. I love having a morning coffee. I do this every day, usually after I drop my kids at school. I make this time and this activity sacred for myself by intentionally being with my senses and also slowing down, just a little. That’s usually enough to help me be in the moment. I sit, take three deep breaths and then do a simple sense awareness of the moment. I tend to scan through my 5 senses one at a time. I start with sound/listening because that is my sense preference and end with taste because I drink the coffee – not just stare at it! I won’t go into the detail here because I have written the ‘how to’ of these types of techniques a lot already. The take away is that a daily task can be transformed into a sacred ritual in your life by intention (deciding that this is special, focused time for yourself) and attention (the art of using your senses to be in the moment.) Try it for yourself. It’s a fairly risk-free technique. Maybe showering, eating, playing an instrument, running, or knitting might be your sacred ritual.
My second R is Routine. I have a daily seated meditation practice. This has been part of my routine for so many years. As much as I have gained from this practice, I still struggle to sit some days. What I have learnt over time is that I always feel better afterwards and the time I spend meditating is never wasted, even when I’m super scatty and distracted. Meditation doesn’t ‘make more time’ in my day but it has created for me a sense of perspective and spaciousness. This then gives me the capacity to handle whatever comes my way more effectively than I would have without my meditation practice. I can’t prove this of course as there is no ‘non-meditator’ me in an alternative universe! However, I do know what I’m like without my practice or when I’ve been inconsistent in my focus. Also, numerous studies on meditation have shown there can be positive changes to grey matter, even in short term meditators. Here’s a link to one of my favourite studies from Massachusetts General Hospital.
One other mindfulness routine I have is that I bookend my days with a breathing practice. In the morning my practice is usually deep, belly breathing with a mantra. In the evening, I like to do a breathing practice that creates space and encourages sleep.
Breathing practices are really simple ways to connect into yourself. When we do a breathing exercise or simply breathe deliberately, we take an otherwise automatic body function and make it conscious. We tap into our subconscious and bring it under our influence. In this way, we bridge that conscious-subconscious divide and become more aware of our whole being. This has a similar effect on us as taking the autopilot action and doing it mindfully. We are awake, alert and alive in the present moment.
Finally, in my Rs I have Random! This is probably the most fun and surprising part of my mindfulness practice. I enjoy my seated meditation practice but it has an element of discipline and duty about it. If I’m not careful it can become like flossing! (Which, along with making my bed, I also do daily because I am a believer in routine.)
Anyway, the Random in my mindfulness practice is that I remain open to opportunities for spontaneous mindfulness and curious as to what this might feel like on any given day. I do this in my day by looking up when I walk. I stop, focus and maybe move closer when I see something that takes my eye. Often this will be something in nature; flowers, insects, clouds. I sometimes turn the opposite way to the crowd, to get a different view or perspective. I use transitions like going through a door way, sitting or standing, starting a new activity as reminders to focus on the present.
We know that the brain likes novelty and new things. It is also really good at spotting what is different in a familiar scene. You can encourage this focus on the new by changing small aspects of your day to day. If you usually cross your legs when you sit, uncross them. Walk home a different way. Use your non-dominant hand to pour a drink, open a door. Focus on one sense at a time to increase the intensity of an experience. An example might be to close your eyes when you taste a first bite of food or touch something that you normally wouldn’t. The possibilities are endless.
A final note
Of course noticing what is happening in your world is not always a pleasant experience. I know this from my life. At times when things are painful and uncomfortable being aware and alert to this can be almost unbearable. Even in these moments you still get to choose what you focus on. When you hear sad news you may also notice that the person who told you the news cares for you deeply and wants to help you. This doesn’t take away from your pain but it can provide some balance. Also, I think that there are times when we tend to numb our pain with distractions that may be harmful to us in the long term. If this sounds familiar to you, take the time to talk to someone you trust about what it is that you are numbing so that you can get support and help. Mindfulness may be of use to you, but it is not a magic trick that takes away your problems, so please ask those who care about you to help you.
On a lighter note, let me know in the comments below what your mindfulness practice is!
Rebecca Ryan is the author of ‘Mindfulness for Mothers’ and a mother of two. She is also the founder and principal yoga and meditation teacher at Surrender Yoga and Meditation, providing prenatal, postnatal and mums & bubs yoga since 2007. Rebecca enjoys sharing her passion for meditation with other mothers, whether long-term meditators or newbies, and encourages her students to allow mindfulness to seep into their daily lives. She lives in Melbourne with her family.
More from Rebecca on our Life After Baby Podcast
Self Care + Meditation – Episode #3
We rave about Rebecca Ryan (aka Beck) and her work all the time on social media and this isn’t the first time we’ve had her share some of her Life After Baby experiences (find Beck’s previous interview here). BUT, she is SO inspiring and full of wisdom that we had to have her as our guest on the podcast so you could learn from her first hand. Since writing her first book Mindfulness for Mothers, we’ve been spreading the word far & wide about the beautiful practices Beck offers her tribe.