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Mindful Parenting on and off the Mat

Raising children can be hectic and can sometimes feel like being caught in the winds of a hurricane. The mindfulness developed through practicing yoga cultivates the ability to find our way back to a calm center and to parent from a place of greater balance, awareness, and inner strength.

By Kari Marble

Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., a psychologist, researcher, and mother, conducts studies at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco to determine how teaching mindfulness and yoga to pregnant women and new moms might reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. She states, "A lot of suffering is, paradoxically, caused by all of the ways we attempt to get away from distress. By increasing our capacity to be present and aware, without moving away or reacting, moms will likely be more able to deal with all those situations that can't be changed—the crying, the body changes, the lack of sleep—while still being right there. This is a lot of what good parenting is: being able to stay present even in painful moments, and not pulling away or reacting habitually."

Optimal Health and Hygiene for the Mind
Our babies observe and imitate us from their earliest moments of life. Sharing a meditation state with baby through yoga allows baby to experience that state and have it as a reference point. Angelika Nugent, a San Francisco-based licensed and certified professional midwife and mother of five, sees mother and baby being in the present moment together as "mental hygiene for both, a way to clean the mind. People clean their bodies, but they don't clean their minds. Paying attention and having quiet time to cleanse the mind needs to be a practice. If our children see us honor this, they will honor it also."

The expansion in awareness we can experience in yoga and meditation teaches us that we are inherently free from the fear and anxiety so characteristic of our modern age. Robert Newman, author of Calm Birth: New Method for Conscious Childbirth (North Atlantic Books, 2006), says that within and outside the womb, "a child inseparably, in sympathetic resonance with her mother, experiences the health-enhancing return to free awareness." Newman says a mother continually trains her child energetically. "If the woman practices awareness-enhancing disciplines like yoga and meditation, the child will be entrained to a higher order of function and will tend to more completely access her potential."

Letting Go of Control and Expectations
New parents often struggle with the loss of control and enormous life transformation that comes with having a baby. Many women are having babies in their late 30s and early 40s, when they have an established lifestyle, career, identity, and sense of control over their lives that may all feel completely derailed by a new baby. In addition, women have internalized a societal pressure to "do it all." The result may be tremendous stress and physical and emotional depletion.

That's where yoga comes in, according to Jessica Weiss, director of the Yogamoms program for Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, and a mother of two. "In postnatal yoga class, mothers can shed the cloak of perfection and really talk about what's going on in their lives, moving from isolation to connection." Weiss guides women to change their pace and come into sync with their babies.

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