Of course you’ve heard about mindfulness and that it can benefit busy moms like all of us…but how do we go about achieving it? For some expert insights, I asked Natalie Matias to answer a few questions!
First, tell me about the work that you do, both for individuals and in workplaces? (Now that you’re no longer doing makeup on The Social, where we first met!)
At the ground level, I teach people how to reconnect with their breath through mindfulness meditation. One learns how to be more focused and present in the moment and to be able to find more appreciation and enjoyment in the busy-ness of life. These tools also help people explore what balance or grounded or centered may look and feel like in their life so they can build resilience and emotional intelligence in coping with challenges in life. This training also lends to helping people find more compassion for the self and others.
I offer a space to learn these tools through one on one meditation coaching online and in person, workplace coaching sessions in workplaces such as We Work, in the community at wellness studios in the Toronto GTA and as a facilitator for Mindfulness Without Borders in the TDSB.
I also think it is important that this work should be accessible to everyone so I created Pocket Meditations, meditations inspired by fellow humans and real stories that I offer for free through Youtube and my mailing list. They are 10 minute meditations that you can keep in your back pocket when you need them. The latest episode is a Desk Meditation for when you have long days getting through a pile of work and could use a quick mind reset.
How would you describe mindfulness, and why is it so important for busy moms?
Mindfulness is moment to moment focused awareness through a gentle lens of observation of our thoughts, sensations and environment free from any judgement.
I truly believe mindfulness is essential for moms and would be beneficial to introduce as early as when you start prenatal classes.
Remembering back when I first had my son 11 years ago I was filled with so much doubt. I felt this huge pressure to fulfill an expectation of the role of an amazing mom which was never defined; this opened the door wide open for the self-critic in me to judge every move I made. Mindfulness taught me how to observe these thoughts without attaching to the story or letting them define me, equanimity. This also helped me find the compassion for myself to be more kinder and forgiving in the role as a mom.
I also think it’s important for busy moms because of how much time we could spend in our heads. From remembering to replace the dish soap to doctor’s appointments to planning Christmas travels to our own career endeavours, the mom mind is constantly on survival mode with this feeling of always trying to catch up and not doing enough. The downfall of constantly being in this survival mode is that it increases the stress our body and mind experiences. This constant stress we carry accumulates and can take a toll on our mind and body and shows up in a wide range of ways like mental and physical fatigue, lack of sleep, irritability, lack of concentration, feeling not yourself, doubt, worry and many more. Mindfulness is a tool to learn how to manage all the thoughts that run through our mind; learning how to be more equanimous, resilient and balanced in what shows up in our mind. It helps us to connect with our body and how it can be a great communicator of how we are feeling and what we are needing to find more balance and feel less stressed.
Furthermore, it is being in this state of constantly thinking, criticizing and filling expectations that as moms we may find ourselves moving in auto-pilot because our minds are constantly distracted. So often, I will be making dinner and my mind will be miles away already planning the next day, week or month. At the same time my son has called my name several times before I even notice that he was trying to get my attention. The food I am cooking lacks any love as I am trying to get through it as soon as I can so I can move onto the next thing on my agenda.You may be reading this and can relate to this auto-pilotness. When we learn how to be more mindful we can return to the place where we can bring back appreciation, joy and presence in the moment.
I know you’re a big proponent of meditation – how do you think it helps, and is there a “right way” to do it?
A meditation practice is known to positively impact connection with others, boost immunity, happiness, stress reduction, sleeping patterns, functioning of the brain, concentration and so much more.
As a mom that meditates, meditation helps me feel like I have more time. It helps me feel like I am not rushing from one thing to the next, from morning into night not knowing where the day went. In finding more presence in my day I feel less stress. In turn, I am able to respond to situations in a way that aligns with how I want to be as a mom; loving, kind and compassionate versus reacting to the moment. This to me is the most powerful shift when starting to meditate. As a mom it is natural to want to be the most loving, present mom for our children but the stress triggers in our mind and body block us from acting from that place of loving kindness and gratitude.
I believe the only “right way” is your way. Everyone has unique preferences and learning styles and once you start exploring meditation you will soon realize there are so many different types of meditations out there. Some people will resonate with guided meditations versus silent meditations. Some people appreciate more structured discipline in time and place whereas others like flexibility in where and when. Exploring what works for you and how you can fit it in your day however long or short is my best advice.
And what are the benefits for kids?
The benefits to kids mirror the benefits that we acquire as adults, but here are some benefits – seen from the perspective of what they are challenged with as they journey through the modern world.
Firstly, with larger class sizes in the school system and being in the height of the technology I think it can really benefit kids in learning the skill of focus. Our children are being raised in a world where distraction is socially accepted making it more difficult for our children to focus. I find this restlessness shows up most often when children are bored. They are unable to sit in boredom and challenged to find something they can occupy their time with and focus on. They are used to being constantly stimulated and when they are not it is uncomfortable for them. Meditation will help children distinguish what is distracting them in the mind and direct themselves back into experiencing the moment through their senses. For instance based on that last example, a child is distracted by the fact they have decided they are bored, this thought can reloop in the head over and over again stopping them from experiencing anything else and may result in frustration and anger. Through practicing meditation, they can learn to notice that thought without judgement and become more open to the present moment. With the skill of awareness, they can learn to shift from the distraction to noticing what’s in front of them such as a plant needing watering or their mom cooking and may appreciate help.
Another huge benefit for kids is building an awareness of the mind and body connection. Sitting in meditation gives the opportunity to stop and investigate how one may be feeling. If you think of how most people start their day and how we expect our children to, it’s by waking up and simply getting the morning routine going. Learning how to pause in between moments strengthens the ability to acknowledge how we are feeling and what we are experiencing so we can better respond versus react. The example that comes to mind right away is one that I believe most parents have encountered it is when a child suddenly has a giant meltdown and after trying to understand what caused this mood swing realize that what has caused the change of mood was simply the child was hungry. As a parent we can be frustrated by this situation in the assumption that our child has learned to cue in to the signs of the body that it is hungry. But unless we teach our children to take a moment to pause and notice how they are feeling it is hard for them to make these connections. Furthermore, an understanding of the mind body connection contributes to building more emotional intelligence as they practice the idea of pausing to notice and investigate what and how they are feeling in the moment so they can better cope with their emotions.
Another benefit that is important to highlight for children is that meditation can help deal with stress. I think the hardest thing to observe as a parent and facilitator teaching mindfulness in schools is seeing the hard reality that at an early age children carry a lot of stress. From exams to feeling the pressure of peers and parents to managing their emotions; it can all be so overwhelming. And from the mama bear perspective I want to take it all away and tell them you have so much time as an adult to stress so don’t stress so much as a kid. But this is part of the growing experience and learning how to meditate can only better provide children with the tools to manage stress. Mindfulness Without Borders has a powerful technique called Take 5. It is a practice of simply taking 5 breaths whenever you can. Children love this practice because it is easy and allows them the space to pause when they are feeling overwhelmed. Scientifically what happens when we connect to our breath it allows our body to shift into the more calming nervous system, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which allows one to experience a more calming state in the body which also helps calm the mind.
Any resources/apps/etc. you recommend for those who want to get started on their own?
I find most adults will start with an app; Calm, Insight, and Headspace are popular and offer a wide range of meditations. If you need more motivation through a group setting Meditation Studios are popping up everywhere and most yoga/wellness studios will offer a class or two in their regular schedule.
I’m sure you’ve heard from many women like me who find the “clearing your mind” part hard. I can say the rosary in my head or write my grocery list, but letting go of thinking completely is difficult! What’s your advice for that?
“Clearing the mind” is one of the most common misconceptions of meditation. When you are noticing you can’t stop thinking, in meditation this means you are actually succeeding. A huge part of meditation is accepting you can’t stop thoughts from arriving, but you can notice what shows up and invite yourself back to our breath. It is a huge leap to be able to notice our thoughts and when we do we can recognize a separation from them instead of identifying and attaching to the stories we create in our mind. Coming back to the breath and the present moment offers perspective and can shift our state of mind instead of being caught in the looping of thoughts that reflect the past or future. In life, we can’t control unexpected challenges big or small, from deep loss to being stuck in traffic, meditation allows us to build resilience in what may show up and find the space to discover a place of still feeling balanced and grounded. There is a popular quote by John Kabat-Zin: “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf.” Any clearing of the mind is not happening by not having thoughts at all but rather finding clarity in the quality of thoughts that are being observed.
What are some other ways moms can be mindful throughout their busy days?
Take 5 is a practice for both adults and kids that helps our body and mind to stay in a more calming state.
Take time to cuddle more. Hugging triggers the release of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone and can help lower stress.
Connect to all five senses; touch, sight, sound, smell and taste to bring you back in the moment. Often times when doing daily routine activities our mind can settle in the monkey mind or the wandering mind and also the self critic. For instance, when showering in the moment instead of dropping into worrying about the day feel the water touching your skin. When you are making dinner listening to your favorite album to enjoy the moment versus rehashing your day in your mind. If you find yourself walking down the street explore smelling all the nature scents and flowers blooming.
Make boundaries with technology. Try using the time limits function on your phone to minimize your time on social media apps. Or another trend is having tech in a box in the household where you can separate from your phone until your children go to bed.
Start your day with an intention. Setting a word of intention, such as patient, calm, or present and thinking of the word throughout the day helps one to ground to how they want to feel throughout the day and helps one have something to come back to when they feel the day is getting the best of them.
Thanks, Natalie! Some further resources:
Pocket Meditations – Free Online Meditations inspired by fellow humans and real moments in life. Sign up with newsletter. http://www.nataliematias.com
One on One Coaching – Learn how to meditate or develop your meditation skills. All levels. Free 15 minute consultation http://www.nataliematias.com/meditationshop
Teen Innervation – A 5-day interactive summer program for youth ages 14-18. It’s a time for teens to meet up, engage with others and learn some cool life skills that will support them on their way to adulthood. From jewelry, leather-making and movement workshops to group conversations and secular mindfulness practices, the Innervation team will ensure that campers discover their unique talents and returns home with the skills they need to succeed.
July 8 – 12, 2019: Teen Innervation | July 2019 | Toronto, ON