Positive Parenting: Mindfulness for Parents during COVID-19, Angela Johnson

mindful parenting, holistic wellness, U.P. holistic wellness publication

With COVID-19 here and affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, it is not surprising that many families are reporting heightened levels of stress. The pandemic is placing additional pressure on parents in many different way—from working from home, job insecurity, or complete job loss, to homeschooling, heightened behavior issues, and a lack of social connection. Although no two families are experiencing these challenging times in exactly the same way, we are all in some sense struggling through this together.

However, the struggle need not be for naught because as Einstein once said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Mindfulness is one of these great opportunities, as it is a powerful tool scientifically proven to reduce stress—the very thing we need! By turning our attention inward, we can still the waves of restlessness and worry in our active lives. Mindfulness teaches us how to do this.

As a parenting educator and meditation teacher, I feel especially called to share mindfulness with families now more than ever. I focus on both formal (meditation) and informal (everyday activities) mindfulness practices to help people learn to be more peaceful and fully present to their lives. I will share a few of these practices with you here.

Parents, this is a little reminder that you have to take care of yourself first and foremost. Peace begins within. Then it spreads.

Let’s begin with a couple of definitions . . .

“Mindfulness is paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity.” —Dr. Amy Saltzman

“[Mindfulness is] the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

Here are some exercises for you to begin your practice today:

Sitting Meditation

Meditation is both a state of deep present-moment awareness, and a practice intended to bring about that state (Ananda Sangha Worldwide). There are many different meditation approaches and techniques ,but ultimately, the universal intent of all is to learn to experience life more from your center, and less from external input. The benefits from this practice are overwhelming, from stress reduction to lower blood pressure and better sleep. I recommend using a guided app or taking a class to get started. Make sure you practice in a quiet space. Sit up with a straight spine, as relaxed awareness rather than sleep is the goal. Close your eyes, gently lift your eyeballs and focus, and breathe. For the best results, a daily practice is recommended, even if for only a few minutes each day.

Mindful Breathing

The mind and breath are interconnected so that when the breath slows, the mind automatically follows. Therefore, taking the time to bring awareness to your breath can have an immediate calming effect. Try it and see for yourself.

You might also place a reminder somewhere in your home or at work that says “breathe,” or get in the habit of taking a few deep, intentional breaths at the start of your day, or when you get in the car, or before responding to your child’s behavior . . . the options are endless. Our breath is always with us, so it is just a matter of intending to notice it, follow it, and then feel the relaxation that results.

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is an ideal practice for bridging the gap between outward activity and inward peace. It is best to walk outside in fresh air. Any amount of time is good. As you walk, focus on the natural flow of your breathing. Smile. Listen. Look. Feel your feet as they touch the earth. Walk tall, and with strength. Notice and enjoy the fresh air on your face and the natural beauty of the day that surrounds you. Be present with your body, mind, and soul on this walk, in this moment.

Mindful Nature Play

This one is especially enjoyable to practice as a family. Go outside in nature and play. Follow your child’s lead (inner child or actual child). Get down on his or her level. Be present to him or her, to this moment, and to the natural beauty surrounding you. Be free and have fun. Climb a tree. Build a fort. Roll down a hill. Follow a bug. Feel your connection to all that is and you will find peace.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating will not only bring you pleasantly into the present moment, but will also enhance your gratitude and enjoyment of food. Begin by taking one minute at mealtime to take slow bites and savor. Notice the smell, the texture, the taste. Think of where your food came from. Feel your connection to the earth in each bite. Be silent and grateful for this moment

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

Angela Johnson, Great Start Collaborative (GSC) Director for Marquette and Alger Counties, works at Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency (MARESA). The Great Start Collaborative (https://www.maresa.org/early-on/marquette-alger-great-start-collaborative/) works in communities throughout the state to ensure Michigan is making progress toward four priority early childhood outcomes.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Inner Nutrition: Mindfulness

by Lee Goodwin

There is a movement afoot these days.  It is not a political movement, but it has implications for the lives of countless people every day.  It is a movement deeply rooted in religious traditions, but it is not the property of any church or synagogue, mosque or temple. It is a movement that is accessible to every person and holds the promise of great healing.  The movement is known in shorthand as “mindfulness.”  At its core, mindfulness is rooted in contemplative practices that can be found in all of the world’s major spiritual traditions.  However, it finds its clearest expression in the twenty-five hundred year old Buddhist tradition of meditative practice.  In the past thirty years, there has been a tremendous acceleration of interest in the application of mindfulness practices, especially as a complement to mainstream medicine and mental health practice.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a prime example of this movement.  It began at the University of Massachusetts with the work of Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living).  Kabat Zinn felt that there could be no better place to introduce those long tested meditative practices than in a hospital.  He created the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Course in order to work with patients for whom it seemed medicine had reached the limits of its capacity to help.  Kabat Zinn also understood the importance of doing research.  The practice and effect of mindfulness practice would need to be replicable and verifiable in order to gain acceptance in the mainstream of medicine.  It has.  Since 1979, at UMass alone, over 17,000 patients have completed the MBSR course and MBSR is being taught in over 240 medical centers around the world.

Each MBSR class immerses students in a variety of meditative and attentional capacities.  Sitting meditation, walking meditation, yoga and simply attending to pleasant and unpleasant events during the day, all are aimed at helping participants become more open and aware to more of their lives. The aim being that being more awake leads to greater freedom to choose how to live each moment of this precious life.

As an indication of the scope of this mindfulness movement, the University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Richard Davidson was recently awarded a major National Institutes for Health (NIH) grant to study the effects of meditation practice on the brain.  The Mind and Life Institute has for decades now carried on significant discussions between scientists and contemplatives at the behest of the Dalai Lama.  Major studies of the effects of mindfulness practice are going on every day.  A quick Google search of mindfulness and the NIH will reveal the wide range of clinical trials and other studies that are being conducted across the country.

Still, for all the promise that this research and mainline acceptance holds, there is a dimension of this work that eludes the precision and technical skills of the scientific mind.  It has been said that in most Asian languages the word for mind and the word for heart are the same.  So, to understand mindfulness fully one must also see it as heartfulness.  There is a deep mystery that is being uncovered in this movement and it holds tremendous potential for healing.  There is a also a delightful joke in all of it  – and the joke is that after all the searching and study, the capacity for health and wholeness was there lying close all along just waiting to be found.

Lee Goodwin is a Lutheran pastor currently serving as the director of The Sabbath Project, a program providing support for professional leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who serve parishes in the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.