Phoenix mom Jennifer Martin started practicing mindfulness several years ago when she was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Martin wanted to manage her stress—something which can aggravate the condition. “I tend to be a worrier,” she says. ” I needed to be able to relax.”
Martin soon realized the dramatic difference practicing mindfulness could make.
The scientific community now recommends practicing mindfulness for a range of issues such as anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is used with athletes to help them focus and with kids who have low self-esteem to help them feel better about themselves.
What is mindfulness?
Scottsdale mom Pallavi Lal is an expert on practicing mindfulness. Through her personal practice, Spectrum Consulting: Expanding Horizons, and her Facebook page Be Still Phoenix, she works with individual clients, families and businesses to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life.
According to Lal, it all begins in the brain.
When we are agitated, the amygdala—the primitive part of our brain—is activated with a “caveman” reaction in one of three ways: fight (with words or actions), flight (running away) or freeze (the “deer-in-the-headlights” response). Each of us is predisposed to one of these reactions, though all three are possible in stressful circumstances.
The hippocampus, where emotions are regulated, plays a different role. Its job is to give us more options.
The prefrontal cortex helps us decide which part of the brain to choose—the amygdala or the hippocampus.
Lal explains that practicing mindfulness teaches us how to use our prefrontal cortex to react to the world around us in healthier and more compassionate ways.
Unlike mediation, where the goal is detachment, mindfulness helps us to pay attention to what is happening in our bodies both physiologically and emotionally.
Lal says practicing mindfulness is useful for adults and children alike. She has had success working with schools, including David Crockett Elementary in Phoenix and Montessori Academy in Paradise Valley.
The principal of David Crockett Elementary reported that the suspension rate decreased dramatically after the school incorporated Lal’s program into daily routines.
Mindfulness can help with parenting
“A huge part of mindfulness is compassion and perspective,” says Lal. When we are able to take on the perspectives of our children—whether they are throwing a tantrum, having trouble sharing or misbehaving in other ways—we can come to the child with a more compassionate and validating response.
“In our home, a ‘time out’ is reflection time,” says Lal. “I say, ‘Please go reflect on what just happened. Then come back and we can talk about it.'”
Lal says practicing mindfulness also helps parents learn how to regulate their own reactions to outside stress. This helps them to model positive behavior and teach it to their children.
How to begin practicing mindfulness at home
Lal says that practicing mindfulness is something you must work at, but the basic concept is not difficult to learn. There are many online resources available and she recommends mindfulnessfirst.org as a good place to start. Once you learn the basics, it is best to start out slowly. Lal recommends 10-minute increments. Lal can also be contacted for consultations at [email protected]
Another great place to start incorporating mindfulness into family time is the dinner table. Families can put aside all distractions, including electronic devices, and learn to pay attention to one another—noticing the tastes and aromas of the meal, the ambiance of the room and the joy of each other’s company.