In January 2017, I started meditating every single day. I started out doing five minutes a day and made my way up to ten minutes (1). My ritual was to meditate as soon as I got out of bed. When I got pregnant, the only change was that I had breakfast before meditating. And I kept that practice up, skipping very few days, until I gave birth in February 2018. This meditation practice was simple but transformative. I noticed what a difference meditating was making by what happened on the rare days I didn’t do it — I would become easily frustrated. Once, I skipped two days in a row because I was staying in a different place and my routine was thrown. By the end of day two my head was spinning and I finally realised what had gone wrong.
Becoming a mother completely shattered my meditation ritual. But in those first few weeks, I didn’t feel the need to meditate. I was already completely present in every single moment. And our child constantly needed my attention, so I was always required to be present in the moment.
Our baby is four months old now, and I feel like finishing the fourth trimester has been more dramatic for me than it has for him. Since I have come out of the post-birth bliss baby bubble it has been more important for me to be strict about making time for a daily meditation practice. I have slowly reintroduced formal meditation into my day, with growing consistency. My Insight Timer app tells me I am now up to 36 days in a row of meditating every day!
As you can imagine, my daily meditation practice no longer looks like it used to. Our son’s needs are still near-constant and I can’t always take off for ten minutes at the same time each day. Here are three things I do to make time for meditation every day.
- Morning routine
Every morning I make and eat breakfast, and have a shower. That hasn’t changed since having a baby. So instead of adding meditation to the daily routine, I make it part of the daily routine. Every morning I put a seven-minute timer on using the Insight Timer app, either when I am making and eating breakfast, or when I am getting dressed after a shower (2). It is a form of active meditation. I am still ‘doing’, not just ‘being’, but I am aware of my breathing and I stay on task. I am also not allowed to have a conversation while I am doing active meditation.
The Insight Timer app has a feature where you can put on background music to play while you meditate using the timer. I used to find this annoying, but now I find it helpful for active meditation because it reminds me that I am meditating.
- Mindful breastfeeding
I had no idea how much time breastfeeding a newborn takes. Before I had a baby, I heard it was 36 hours a week – that’s a fulltime job! I actually have no idea how much time I spend breastfeeding every week, but I do know that it is a lot (3).
No-one ever warned me how boring breastfeeding can be. I had visions of the baby gazing lovingly up at me as she (back then the baby was a she) fed, and me gazing back adoringly, like some madonna archetype. A long time ago, a friend of mine who was pregnant told me that her sister advised her to get a game on her phone, so she had something to occupy herself while breastfeeding for hours in the middle of the night. I was secretly horrified. Wouldn’t you just want to gaze lovingly at your child? The answer, I now realise, is that 36 hours a week (or however much time it is) is a lot of time to spend in mutual gazing. It’s not that it never happens, just that it doesn’t happen every single time.
When I first had a baby I contracted a mild smart phone addiction. I needed something to occupy my mind while I breastfed. I realised I had a problem and so I bought a “dumb phone” – one of those old-fashioned things we used to have in the early naughties that just texts and makes phone calls. But I still use my iPhone at home using the wifi, so I found myself scrolling through Instagram or googling questions (“What age does a baby start crawling?” “Are hoods SIDS-safe?”) while feeding the baby.
In post-natal yoga, the teacher suggested we practice deep breathing while breastfeeding. I realised I was missing out on a great opportunity to practice meditation. The fact that I ‘needed’ something to occupy my mind while breastfeeding was an indication that I had some room for improvement on the mindfulness side of things.
So I have been trying to use breastfeeding as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. To sit still and not fill my mind with anything. Sometimes I do gaze at the baby. I try to pay attention to all the little details – his eyelashes, the faint imperfections in his skin, the colour of his hair (sparking the constant question of whether or not he is lucky enough to be a ginger).
- Meditation nap
They say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ but that is just ridiculous. Babies sleep for 16 hours in a 24 hours period. No adult can sleep that much. And after the effort of putting a baby to sleep, you can’t then turn around and fall asleep on demand. By the time you have fallen asleep, it’s probably time for the baby to wake up again. (It is possible I am being a bit literal about the advice to sleep while the baby sleeps.)
My practice, since the baby was born, has been to have a lie-down every single day. I don’t sleep whenever the baby sleeps, but I try to have a lie-down during one of the baby’s naps during the day. Actually, what often ends up happening is I have a lie-down between breastfeeding duties, while The Pilot or someone else is taking care of the baby, whether or not he is asleep.
A lie-down is like a nap except you are not required to sleep. There are two rules: 1. Lie down 2. Don’t have any stimulation. That means no devices and no books. I have a timer setting on Insight Timer that goes for 20 minutes and plays meditation music. Similar to the meditation timer during my morning routine activities, it is helpful for reminding me to stay present, even though I am not doing a strict formal practice.
Meditating rather than napping during the day is good because you don’t have the pressure of falling asleep on demand. I have also heard that meditating is more effective at addressing sleep deprivation than actually sleeping. My strategy of doing a meditation nap gives me the rest of lying down with no mental input, without the pressure of trying to clear my mind.
When I am up for more formal practice, I use nap-time to play a guided meditation from Insight Timer. Usually a 10- or 20-minute yoga nidra or a meditation from Sarah Blondin, one of the teachers who uploads to Insight Timer.
Those are my three strategies for meditating during this chaotic and special time. I hope you find it helpful/interesting. I put the baby to sleep in his bouncer while I was writing this, so now I’m off to do a meditation!
- My ultimate aim is to meditate for twenty minutes, twice a day, just because that ‘dosage’ has come up quite often. But even meditating for one minute a day is better than nothing, so it’s good not to have unrealistic goals.
- Sometimes The Pilot or the baby joins me for breakfast, so I do it later, when I am getting dressed.
- I would be interested in the data but it would require someone to keep track of it. Some mums use apps to track it but I would find that really hard. And I can’t imagine anyone else would be interested in following me around and taking note whenever I feed and for how long.