This post was written by Holly Ashby, who works with the meditation company Beeja Meditation, who teach classes on meditation in London.
New mums are always told that they need to make time for themselves. In the whirlwind of sleep deprivation, mixed up hormones and a big new responsibility, self-care is vital to ensure that mothers don’t collapse in an exhausted heap. And it’s true that looking after yourself is the only way to make sure you can look after (in this case, a very small) someone else.
Meditation is a self-care technique that’s often recommended to people looking to help themselves feel better, and its benefits of boosted energy and reduced stress are particularly relevant to new mums. But when you don’t even feel like you have the time to wash your hair, how do you fit a whole new habit into your day?
This post will explain how to find time for some stress-busting meditation, and why it can be great for mums in the months after giving birth.
Why meditation can help new parents.
Sleep is obviously a big issue for new parents, in that they find it difficult to get any at all. But with meditation, you can counteract some of that “walking zombie” feeling, because it provides an extremely deep form of rest which – after twenty minutes or so – leaves you feeling refreshed. It also improves the quality of your sleep, so when you do manage to catch a few hours you aren’t disturbed by worries waking you throughout the night.
Meditation also reduces stress, which is pretty important when your life has been transformed by a new arrival. The chemical melatonin (which is suppressed by stress) is essential to sleeping well, and Researchers at Rutgers University found that levels of melatonin increased by an average of 98% in meditators. Furthermore, we experience less anxiety when we meditate, which can really help when you have a baby to look after and all sorts of fears running about your head.
It was discovered in a Harvard study that only eight weeks of regular meditation physically reduces the size of the amygdala – known as the “stress centre”- in our brain. This is why meditation can make it easier to relax – something many people looking after tiny children will appreciate. It may even help you break out of the “baby blues”, so you feel more on an even keel.
Working Meditation Into Your Day
- Don’t get too hung-up on details
While meditation is a brilliant habit to introduce into your life, one issue with it is that people have lots of preconceived notions about emptying their minds and becoming a super-Zen wizard of calm. The result is feeling like they’ve “failed” should their attempts not live up to this vision. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes lots of practice to clear your mind, and meditation should be a place of calm and quiet, not something beat yourself up over for not doing it properly.
As with taking up exercise, there’s no wrong way to start meditating, and it can contribute to good emotional health no matter how “good’ you are at it – the important thing is taking the first step.
- Start slowly
When you feel like you simply don’t have the energy or time to try something new, you can start with quick, meditation-like practices and build the habit from there. The thing about exerting our willpower to change our habits is that it’s very, very hard to make anything stick. Starting slowly could be the key to making a change that lasts.
Maybe, once you’re in bed and about to switch off the light, you could spend 10 minutes colouring in a adult colouring book, to focus and clear your mind. Or maybe, sitting down at a bench while on a walk with the baby, you could do some breathing exercises. Even just stopping for a moment to appreciate the wind in your hair and greenness of the trees is akin to the “present moment awareness” known as mindfulness that people look to achieve through meditation. Not having to summon up too much motivation and willpower makes the whole process of introducing a new habit into your routine far less exhausting.
- Get a reminder app
When you want to meditate every day, you have to think about habit forming. You know how you feel weird if you leave the bathroom without washing your hands? Getting used to a new habit is about embedding something so deeply into your routine that it seems odd not to do it. And like your parents telling you to wash your hands when you were a kid, at first there may be some resistance.
With a reminder app, even the fog of tiredness and big to-do list means you won’t forget to try meditating. You may only manage five minutes, but it’s keeping up the habit that’s important at first. Then, as your mood improves and your energy levels get a little boost, you’ll find it easier to motivate yourself.
It’s all about committing time to you, and giving yourself the permission to do something that’s entirely about making you happier and healthier. This is perhaps the most valuable thing meditation can give you when your identity has switched from “woman” to “mother” – a strong sense of self that makes you the best (and best mum) you can be.