When I was in labor with my first son and things were starting to get very, very intense, one contraction on top of another, I said out loud, “I wish the breaks were longer.” My doula looked at me and said, “Well, you’re having a break right now, so enjoy it.” My other doula (yes, I had two!) was filling the birth pool, and I spent a minute listening to the water hit the bottom of the pool, a soothing, beautiful sound. Trying to relax for those short period between contractions, trying not to think about the next one coming, helped me immensely during that labor.
Little did I know that labor would be a perfect preparation for motherhood, where you are almost always “on,” and where the breaks are scarce, and the breaks are short. I’ve been thinking about my post from last week (Sleep, Oh Dear Sweet Sleep). Several of you have told me that it’s almost impossible to take the time to rest. You are working mothers, mothers of more than one child, single mothers, mothers of high need infants. Napping with your baby is just not possible. Taking a “day off” just won’t happen.
Do you have ten free minutes? How about five? Can you take a moment to yourself on the train ride to work? Can you sit in some amount of quiet while your baby naps in your arms and your toddler watches his twenty minutes of TV? Can you lie still in your bed in the minutes before you go to sleep?
When my older son was three years old, I started having regular anxiety attacks. I’d had them on and off since I was a child, but they were starting to get pretty out of control for a number of reasons. I realized that I needed to do something to quiet my mind, but I wasn’t sure what. I’d always meditated at yoga class, but I wasn’t sure it was something I could do on my own, and I didn’t think I had enough time in my day to do it regularly. Then my good friend told me that meditating for just ten minutes a day can do you a world of good.
So I tried. I bought a book on mindfulness and meditation (Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat Zinn, a fabulous book), absorbed it, and began to try it myself. In between the hustle and bustle of being a full-time mom to my active three-year old, I found 10 minutes each day to lie down (often it’s suggested to sit upright on the floor or a chair, but this tired mama preferred lying down), clear my mind, and meditate. Slowly, over the course of a few weeks, my anxiety began to fade, and when it came back, it was less intense. Through meditation, I found a tool to stop the anxious thoughts from escalating. And sometimes, I would even drift off during the meditation, and would wake up feeling refreshed, like waking up from a nap. I continue to meditate most days. Just 10 minutes, that’s it.
Try it yourself. It takes practice. But there’s no way to do it wrong. It’s simple. You deserve the break. Here are some tips:
1. Find a time when you probably won’t be interrupted for 10 or so minutes. Get comfortable. Some prefer sitting, some prefer lying down. Keep a clock nearby or set a timer.
2. Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths. Does your breath feel free? Does it feel tight? Does it feel shallow? Just observe it. It’s OK if you’re stressed. It’s OK if you don’t want to be doing this. Maybe you’re surprised about how relaxed and easy your breath goes in and out.
3. Now just rest. Inevitably, your thoughts are going to come. Sometimes they will really want to make themselves known. Your fears about the future, your disappointment about the past. Maybe what you’re going to make for dinner. Maybe your to-do list for tomorrow. Look at each thought. Then gently let it go. Sometimes when I have a lot of interfering thoughts, I say the word “hush” in my head and imagine the thoughts being whooshed away.
4. Slowly, you’ll start to feel more relaxed. Sometimes it will only be a bit. That’s OK. That little bit is huge.
5. Now open your eyes. You’re done. What a gift you have given to yourself.