Take a deep breath and relax because today’s book tour stop is with Ms. Mind Body, Kate Hanley. We’re at Ms. Mind Body speaking our mind about mindfulness. But before you head over there, check out this interview with Kate, a yoga instructor and author of the The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide. She has shared her “Chill Out” expertise on the TODAY Show, with Martha Stewart (who seems always so relaxed to me she could nod off at any moment) and in articles for Whole Living, Natural Solutions, Natural Health, and Delicious Living.
Please welcome Kate Hanley. Be warned you might be reduced to a puddle of crying sensitive mush by the end of this post.
KT: First I’d like to tap into one of the secrets of our book, which is “Be as Good to Your Body as You are to Your Children.” We talk about the need for “rejuvenation” because getting more sleep is, well, unrealistic! But for a mom who is pining for more sleep, how can a little meditation or an “anywhere” chill moment help her rejuvenate?
KH: Meditation, yoga, stretching, and deep breathing all stimulate the body’s relaxation response, which calls off the flight or fight reaction and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” functions of the body. So, actively courting relaxation is restful to the body. Sleep is the ultimate form of rest, of course, but switching out of the stress response reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and promotes the release of relaxation-promoting neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin, which will help you feel less fried.
KT: You heard it ladies: If you don’t have time for a good sweaty stress reducing workout, taking a short break to stretch or even to take a few deep breaths while locked in the bathroom, will make you feel less crazy.
You know what else makes me crazy? The fact that I rarely eat a meal sitting down. How am I supposed to enjoy my food when I’m taking bites (from the pan because why bother putting my meal on a plate?) in between getting ketchup, refilling drinks, grabbing the renegade toddler, wiping up the spilled drinks and deflecting insults about “yucky food”?
KH: I know moms often don’t have time for a true sit-down meal, but you can decide to do nothing but drink your morning cup of tea, instead of drinking while you check your email and catch a few minutes of the Today Show. Taking even two minutes to just sit and focus on your tea gives your mind a break. (It’s like giving a puppy a chew toy—suddenly the mind won’t have to entertain itself by churning out the thoughts, it will be able to be still and just “gnaw” on one thing—in this case, tea.) This means you’ll be better at whatever you do after those two minutes are gone.
KT: I particularly love the idea of a “moving meditation” and feel that I (and many other fit moms) use their workout time (perhaps even unknowingly) as unofficial meditation time. In a survey we did of moms, “sanity” was the number one reason they exercised. So how can we make this opportunity for meditation more useful?
KH: Again, it’s all about your intention. If you decide to listen to your breath, or check in with where your body is in space—that could mean concentrating on feeling the transfer of weight in your feet as you walk or jog, or it could mean focusing on the colors, smells and sounds of the environment around you (this is a lot more pleasant outdoors than it is in a gym!)—you amp up the meditative effects of your workout. You could also decide before you get started on a thought, question, or problem you want to concentrate on while you’re working out, and then notice any seemingly random ideas, snippets of songs, or images that crop up.
You don’t have to be doing formal exercise to meditate while in motion. I definitely consider my nightly sweeping ritual (it’s astonishing how many crumbs we produce in 24 hours) a meditation in motion. Einstein said he did his best thinking while he was shaving—when he was focusing on his face and his body was engaged in an easy choreography. You could easily swap in knitting, showering, dishwashing, sweeping, or washing windows or whatever your daily physical task is.
KT: I love the idea of multitasking meditation. Which brings me to your own life. I see you have two children very close in age. I know the chaos you lived through and had many moments where I’m sure I needed to chill but didn’t. What can you share from your experience that will help other busy (frantic? stressed?) moms? When you took a moment to chill did you see this reflected somehow on your children?
KH: You mean the chaos is actually going to end at some point? Tell me when! I want a date.
KT: I’m not sure why I put that in past tense. That was a little unfair. Sorry, go on.
KH: What I’ve learned is that you’ve got to take your stress relief where you can get it. When I was breastfeeding, I would meditate while I was nursing the baby to sleep. When my daughter went through a phase where she insisted that someone stay in her room until she was asleep, I did stretches on her bedroom floor. Now that my kids are a little older and going to preschool and daycare and they need to be shuttled in different directions, I bought a bike and a child seat so I could get some exercise and some endorphins going during one of my daily duties.
Not only do the logistics of motherhood demand that we multitask, but it’s also great for your kids to see you doing things to take care of yourself, and for you to share with them how doing these things for yourself helps you feel better and act with more compassion (and hopefully, less yelling). It took me a while to figure out how to take time for myself while also spending time with my kids. But once I did, I started looking forward to the times of day that I would otherwise dread, because I no longer had to be tapping my foot impatiently thinking of all the things for myself I couldn’t be doing in that moment. The benefits were two-fold, because I removed a source of stress and took concrete steps to promote my own relaxation.
I absolutely see a difference in my kids when I’m taking care of myself, with regular exercise and something more contemplative (such as yoga stretches and/or meditation). They are sensitive creatures—just as they know how to push your buttons, they also modify their behavior to reflect the energy that you put out. So, if I get bent out of shape and barge into my daughter’s bedroom in the middle of the night after she’s woken up crying because she can’t find her teddy bear, she’s only going to cry harder. If I can remember to do a child’s pose in my bed for even one minute so that some of the tension is drained out of my back, neck and shoulders before I get up, I can go into her room with gentleness, give her some of the loving attention she’s craving (and, probably, the cup of milk), and be able to be firm when I tell her to go back to sleep and then leave the room.
In terms of parenting, the two best things that small moments of chill can give you in terms of parenting are heart-opening and clarity. When you shed some of your anger and muscular tension you can see your kid’s point of view and be more creative in your thinking on how to make sure both of your needs are met. And clarity is crucial for keeping the peace—I’m sure you all know first-hand that kids will only whine, cry or cajole more if they sense that you’re not resolute.
KT: Can I hug you now? Kate, thanks for the interview—multitasking parenting and self-care is genius!
Need more of Kate’s advice? Leave a comment on what stresses you out most during the holidays and be entered to win. Kate will also enter you to win if you head over to her site and subscribe to her weekly “Vegimental.”