Photography: Julie Adams Words: Sarina Zoe
Imagine feeling like a calm, relaxed mother, unfazed by sleep deprivation or seemingly endless multi-tasking, where connectedness and clarity are part of your daily repertoire. As many mothers are discovering, vedic and mindfulness meditation can offer this harmony between serenity and productivity. These meditation practices differ in technique, yet each provides tools for entering a deep, relaxed wakefulness, more restorative than sleep itself. We caught up with mothers and meditation experts Jacqui Lewis and Celina Gregory to find out more about the techniques they teach and how busy mums can snatch a little meditation each day to reap the profound calm-inducing, productivity-enhancing benefits.
Vedic meditation is an ancient practice that can be traced back over 5000 years. When describing the technique, teacher Jacqui Lewis of The Broad Place compares the mind to an ocean: theres the busy, choppy surface of incessant thought, but in the depths below tranquillity can be found. She says a Sanskrit mantra acts like a scuba diving kit, taking the mind away from chatter into thoughtless awareness and a deep resting state. There is no focus on the breath and no effort to rid the mind of thought. The silent repetition of the mantra does the work, and even this repetition becomes effortless. It does not require conditioning the surroundings to make it fit for meditation; the experience is so deep it can be done anywhere a mother can sit comfortably.
You know that frayed feeling you get when youre really tired? Its like being eaten alive from the outside-in. Well, [with vedic meditation] that goes away. According to Lewis, a 20-minute practice is equivalent to a two-hour body rest. So you need less sleep, and when you do sleep its better quality, and for mums – sleep – were all grasping for it! she says. I teach a lot of mums, new mums especially who say within that 20 minutes they feel they should be doing the washing, or this or that, but what they find is theyre so much more productive and happier and calmer if they do spend the time meditating. While 20 minutes uninterrupted is not always realistic, Lewis encourages snatching precious minutes while little ones are asleep, or watching TV, or even during a breastfeed. Its incredibly effective in a short space of time.
She explains that the technique produces serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. Its like a little brain bath for those happy hormones which stem the tide of stress hormones. The more happy hormones you are producing, the less physically able you are to overproduce [stress hormones] cortisol and adrenaline. Lewis says the mothers she has taught meditate not only because they feel great in the time they are doing it, but because of who they are in the world outside of that time. Connected is the word I hear most – and clarity is a big one. They feel connected and grounded and less fragile, like they can tackle or handle anything.
For more information, go to www.thebroadplace.com.au
Mindfulness meditation is based on Buddhisms Vipassana (insight) teachings. Mindfulness comprises several techniques including focusing on the breath to become present, and the use of mantras and affirmations to create calmness and positive emotions. Celina Gregory teaches an advanced form of mindfulness which incorporates loving kindness to manifest love for oneself and others; and body scanning to tune into the body sensations that are precursors to emotion.
I think the most noticeable benefit for mothers is the self-regulation of emotion that comes with learning these practices. Gregory explains that mindfulness can produce neuroplasticity in the area of the brain associated with self-regulation. This means the brain can become rewired, creating change in emotion and behaviour. The mindfulness techniques allow you to read your body and observe your thoughts. When we feel stress, anxiety, depression, we actually have tiny sensations in our body which most people are not aware of, and we feel the need to release them and we react, for example, by yelling. Whats life changing for mothers, is that [mindfulness] teaches us our stress triggers, so we can learn to be non-reactive and calm. It teaches us to connect more deeply with our children and partners by being more present and mindful.
Each technique takes between 15-30 minutes and is ideally practised twice daily. However as a mother of three children, Gregory understands the importance of a flexible teaching program. It can be difficult for mothers to get to classes or workshops, so I developed a self-paced program online so they can log in whenever they get the time, she says. Just remember that meditation is a practice and regular practice gives your body better rest than sleep. Paradoxically, this deep rest enables a waking up to oneself. You will become an observer of yourself and when this happens it is an amazing feeling – everything seems so much clearer! Learning mindfulness techniques not only reduces stress and increases wellbeing for mothers, but can impact behaviour of children. A lot of acting out can be just attention seeking. Mindfulness practice lifts our mood and this has an effect on children. I believe happier mums equals happier children.
For more information, go to www.mindfulnessformothers.com