One of the biggest secrets to success in parenting is being in tune with your mind and body. We’ve all heard, “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That’s because our mental and physical state really can have a huge effect on the people around us. For that reason, it’s important that Mom keep tabs on how she’s feeling and how her condition may be impacting her family.
Being aware of mind and body is also critical in running. Many of the functions in running that can easily be taken for granted (like breathing, posture and mind set) can cause real problems (like injuries and poor performance) if they are out of whack. So, paying attention and making necessary adjustments is an important practice to get into.
The great news is that each time we lace up and escape for a run, we free ourselves to focus solely and completely on the one person we are likely to ignore in a typical day… OURSELVES. In our solitude, we can tune into OUR bodies, analyze OUR thoughts, and intentionally work on areas that need our attention.
Running provides a low distraction training ground to get back in touch with ourselves and be more in sync at home.
As we continue our series on HOW RUNNING MAKES ME A BETTER MOM, let’s take a look at how focusing on breathing, posture and mind set can help us become better runners and better moms.
FOCUS ONE: BREATHING
in RUNNING –
Proper breathing can make all the difference in the world when running. I used to go out for a jog and soon find myself huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, fighting off painful side cramps, and quickly losing energy. Once I learned to pay special attention to my breathing and incorporate a few techniques (like belly breathing instead of chest breathing), running became far more enjoyable and tons easier. (I have a few of my favorite references on my Triathlon Tips, Tools and Training Pinterest Board).
Breathing plays a big role in parenting, as well, starting with the newborn days. As a new mom, I remember feeling completely stressed out when my first born struggled to fall asleep at bedtime. The more he cried, the more tense I became, until tears started pouring from my eyes, as well.
What I didn’t realize at the time, is that babies can sense their parent’s anxiety, particularly when they are being held. All the wishful thinking in the world will likely not help Baby relax if Mom is a bundle of nerves. I finally learned to be deliberate in my thinking and breathing as I rocked my baby to sleep. While focusing on the quiet room, the softness of Baby’s skin, the blessings of being a mom, and the gentle movement of the rocking chair, I learned to breathe slowly and deeply. And as my breaths became calm and steady, my body and mind relaxed. Like magic, Baby’s breathing would begin to mimic mine; and soon, he’d peacefully drift to sleep.
FOCUS TWO: POSTURE
Being aware of the way we hold our bodies when we run is also a big deal, particularly when it comes to preventing injuries. Once I decided to get a little more serious about running, I started to focus on technique and make adjustments. Checking out articles like this helped me to see and fix what I was doing wrong. One of the first things I noticed was that my shoulders tend to scrunch up to my ears and I tend to lean over while I run. I learned to change my posture by relaxing my shoulders and standing straight like a puppet on a string as I moved. These, coupled with changes in arm swim and stride have helped my running be more efficient and enjoyable.
Paying attention to body posture in parenting is important, too. It’s easy to forget how much bigger we are than our li’l ones and how imposing we can come across. Just the way we instinctively stand over our kids can shut them down with intimidation when we’re actually trying to get them to open up and listen. Imagine what it might feel like to be told what to what to do by (even a gentle) King Kong. OK, I’m not trying to suggest that moms look like big hairy beasts, but our size and height can be just as overwhelming to a child, particularly when our arms are waving and our voices are raised. Research shows that intimidated tots can’t focus on a parent’s words when their brain is busy fighting fear and uncertainty. (For more on how children’s brains work, check out one of my favorite books The Whole-Brain Child by Drs. Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson).
So instead, if we focus on squatting down to meet our child at eye level and lower our voice, our body language will tell them, “I’m not trying to scare you or even pull a power play on you. I love you, and I respect you.” Making just those minor adjustments can free your child to be more receptive to what you say next.
FOCUS THREE: MIND SET
Running is a tough sport – both physically and mentally. There’s pain to push past, mind games to conquer, and crazy course conditions that can spring out of nowhere. (Not unlike parenting, huh?!) But for me, running’s a sanity saver, and part of its appeal is the challenge of overcoming the mental and physical obstacles I face along the way.
Now, I must confess, there are days when the negatives of running seem to get bigger with every step. If I’m not careful, my mind will turn a tiny mole hill into a mountain of misery, and the next thing I know, I’ll quit trying and walk home. So now, I make every effort to be intentional in focusing on the positive.
What does that look like? Well, when I’m out for a training run, I force my focus away from the negative and hone in on the beauty around me, the lyrics of the worship music filling my ears, and the strength of my legs that are carrying me another mile. During a race, I focus on the spectators cheering from the sidewalks and the local bands playing live music. My legs may be wobbly and my energy may be waning, but with my mind redirected to the positive, I’m able to successfully complete what I set out to accomplish…with a smile on my face.
Strengthening this mental discipline on the road proves to be incredibly helpful in parenting, too. Particularly when it comes to keeping my cool under pressure.
“What’s the secret to staying calm in the ugly moments of parenting?” This is a question I get quite often in parent workshops. While the answer may not be easy, it IS simple, and I believe it’s worth its weight in gold.
The secret has to to with focus. When our kids make unwise decisions or display crazy amounts of inappropriate behavior, it’s natural to zero in on all that is bad in those situations. But, like a huge, dark storm cloud, our perception of the “terrible/frustrating/annoying” behavior can grow uglier and more ominous until it distorts our entire view. Once that happens, we become blind to all that is good in our kids, which increases our frustration, and ultimately leads to overreacting.
Here are steps to successfully handle the ugly while focusing on the positive.
1. In your mind, separate the child from the child’s undesirable behavior. (Literally visualize the behavior as a separate “entity” from your child. – Like a little purple monster standing next to your child).
2. Remember that this unwanted behavior may seem enormous, but it’s actually tiny hiccup in the life of your child.
3. Zero in on the positive (and more permanent) characteristics of your child, and give a shout out of thanks to God. Such as, “Thank you, God, for this incredible child, she IS a precious gift and I am so blessed to be her mom.” or “Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this little guy in front of me – help me to remember that he IS fun loving and gracious 99.9% of the time.” And keep those “positive anchor thoughts” foremost in your mind.
4. Now team up with your child to come up with a plan to get rid of the ugly behavior and prevent it from coming back. (Try saying something like, “I love you so much. And I can see that you are very angry at your little sister right now because she messed up your room. I would be mad too, but hitting is not the answer. Let’s see if we can come up with a better way to tell your sister how you feel.”)
Staying calm and relatively positive in the midst of misbehavior can make all the difference in the world…both in short and long term. The key is learning to put things in perspective and intentionally focus on what’s really important. It takes practice, but it’s a great habit to get into.
Taking time to be in tune with ourselves is essential to good parenting. When we are having a great day, it’s so important to celebrate all that’s going right! But when we are aren’t feeling quite ourselves or we seem to hit the same road block over and over, we need to step back and take a look at what’s going on. Running has helped me to be more mindful of my mind and body when I’m alone, challenging myself to go a little farther or a little faster than I had before. Those same skills can be applied to parenting, when we are in the company of little people and the conditions are a wee more complicated. So for sake of my sanity, and to keep my mind sharp, I keep on running.