Practicing Mommy Mindfulness

On a very busy day with kids everywhere at a downtown park the other day my “mommy GPS brain”, now apparently strengthened with improved wiring for sight, sound, and movement felt overloaded. I was trying to keep up with Nico, the escape artist, who likes to run off in any direction as fast as he can, and only laughs and runs away faster and farther when I call his name. The ever more sociable Zoe happily goes off and plays with whoever she can find at the park. Finally, I was also trying to keep an eye on our parked stroller and bags off in another direction.

The playground experience reminded me how tracking our children constantly is just one more skill women naturally aquire for our constantly multitasking brains! And perhaps the best way to prevent ourselves from experiencing multitasking meltdowns is to take time to practice mindfulness and turn perceived chaos into calm. I like the definition of mindfulness by John Kabat-Zinn, a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.”

I have tried to put the art of “keeping my consciousness alive to the present reality” (Thich Nhat Hanh) into practice not only in day to day tasks but also while training or competing. Here are some examples…

1. Mindfulness while exercising. For me, working on being mindful of what I’m doing comes most easily while training. With workouts planned and a coach to help set the training goals, the purpose behind each training session is already in place. Then I work on having something to focus on for each part of my workout with no more than one or two things at a time.  For example in the pool depending on the part of the workout I may be focusing on my stroke technique, my stroke turnover, or just going all out and not worrying about technique at all. Running intervals are still some of my toughest training sessions to get through. I might focus on staying relaxed, breathing deep, or turning my legs over fast, and just take it one interval distance at a time! While the high intensity and high quality workouts often take very specific and high mental focus to get through, I also try to be mindful of completely enjoying the easier workouts when I can just go with the flow. For example, on long easy runs or rides, I enjoying just go the pace my body wants to go without paying too much attention to gadget information like heart rate, pace, cadence, or watts.

2. Mindfulness with day-to-day work or tasks. About a year ago, I took a two-day workshop on meditation with a team I work with. We worked on breathing, sitting, staying in the moment, and just observing our thoughts and physical sensations without judgement for three hours each session. It was tough and very difficult not to let my mind wander to thinking about what I was going to do later or other distracting thoughts. Just like training your muscles for endurance or strength over weeks and months of physcial training, taking time to be mindful for even one hour, let alone 5 minutes, during a day takes practice! Some simple examples are eating a meal slowly and savoring every bite, being completely present in a conversation and really listening to what someone is saying to you, or just washing the dishes with complete awareness of washing the dishes.

3. Mindfulness with your children. In the age of constant communication it is hard not to become a “crackberry mom”, you know the moms who are constantly on their phone or blackberry while at the park, in the mall etc. I see them everywhere and the only reason I haven’t be prone to it is that my phone is so old school that I don’t even have a keyboard and hate texting….for now! I think as mothers these days we need to be displicined enough to realize that every e-mail, phone call, or text message does not need to be answered immediately. We don’t have to be available to the outside world 24-7. Often when I’m with my kids, especially in the house, I can get distracted by wanting to get a million things done. But I strive to be organized enough that when I have time to just hang out with my kids I can be fully present to read a story, get down on the ground and just play, or just go to a park and be fully engaged in having fun with them!

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