How MBSR Taught Me to Become a Mindful Parent
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By Punita Jani-Thaker, guest contributor
What led me to MBSR?
Becoming a working parent! It was not only the most exciting moment but also the most daunting, juggling professional and personal lives with a good bit of travel thrown in for good measure.
While there is no ‘manual’ or ‘instructions’ on how to raise a child while working full-time, I left the hospital anxious but excited for the journey ahead. Despite having read countless parent books, nothing could have prepared me for the day my son was born. Due to a congenital birth condition, he was born without a left hand below his wrist. It had a devastating impact on us both from a “why us?” perspective and also out of deep concern of how he would be able to cope in life.
The love, happiness, and anxiety blanketed me in a fog of uncertainty. While I had the full support of my husband, I could not shift the worry and fear that was constantly there each day: was I doing this motherhood thing right? I strived to be the ‘perfect’ mother but the rabbit hole that I would go down to find out the right way to bathe, feed, swaddle and stimulate my son was endless and exhausting. I had grown up as an eldest child with all its advantages and had luckily not had many major setbacks, so from my perspective, I did not know any better.
I distinctly remember the day my mindset shifted; I was gifted Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn and later Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Danny Penman and Mark Williams. The wisdom and impact on my mental health was profound, with each page it became clear that I needed to become a more present individual. I had a revelation that I could be my authentic self without judgement that changed my relationship with myself. I had shied away from living in the present with all its immediate uncertainty because I felt more in control of a future which I could influence and a past which I could explain away due to circumstances outside of my control.
Each difficult moment has the potential to open my eyes and open my heart.
― Myla Kabat-Zinn
Slowly but steadily, I began a daily practice, that practice grew as the months turned into years. One boy became three energetic boys and choosing to be a full-time mother meant that the days were filled with sports, playdates, and school activities. My daily practice sustained me during this time with all its various challenges.
What led me to teach MBSR?
Over time this interest in mindfulness grew into a desire to truly understand the MBSR techniques and share my knowledge and experiences with others from all walks of life. The admiration I have for Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work and research and its impact on me, my family, friends, and colleagues, is what sparked that initial inner fire to get certified as an MBSR teacher. I knew it would be a rewarding and fulfilling journey, not only for myself but for others around me. Wanting to learn, grow, and evolve, I soon enrolled in the prerequisite MBSR course taught by a local qualified teacher.
Because of my degree in chemistry, the science-based underpinnings of MBSR are important to me. I needed to be able to trust the evidence and well-tested methods. The abstract concept of ‘could, should, would’ was not sufficient: I want to be able to say with confidence that the brain is plastic and meditation induces changes to your neural connection that can be measured. In my own daily practice and in my classes I have noticed a deeper capacity for present moment awareness, strengthening the mindfulness muscle as if it is a gym for the brain.
During teacher training, I not only learnt how to bring meditation and mindfulness to others but more importantly who I am deep down; peeling back the layers one by one for new discoveries. I am a human being with complex feelings, emotions, and thoughts. I refuse to be defined by society as JUST a mother, wife, sister, daughter!
I was asked by many around me as to why I was continuing this path of training to be an MBSR teacher. My answer has unfolded in front of me with many pieces coming together along the way. The core of the answer is that I did this for me, plain and simple. Not to be something or someone I am not, but to bring to the surface who I truly am! Non-judgmental self-awareness and being in the present moment are uniquely liberating and promote a distinct sense of peacefulness of just being in the here and now.
I wanted to befriend my fun, loving, joyful self without the barriers and boxes society has inadvertently placed me in over the years. There were parts that no longer served me so I learnt with practice to let go and let be without judging the past or what the future may hold. Amongst many of its other benefits, mindfulness has allowed me to navigate the compression of time, sensory overload, and a feeling of reacting to my environment on autopilot, which is a dominant feature of our modern life.
Being an MBSR teacher has brought forward in me discipline and gratitude for the moment of space that arises with pausing. I do not suppress what is present for me in any given moment but instead view it with open curiosity. Embedding mindfulness into each aspect of my life has given me a new perspective, that while each day may bring challenges and/or triumphs I know that this moment is just that, one moment, and to not allow it to color the rest of day or subsequent moments. The “now” is the only reality, all that you can truly experience, and even that too shall pass.
YOU HAVE TO BE STRONG ENOUGH TO BE WEAK
Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Notice any labels you attach to crying or feeling vulnerable. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, riding the waves of “up” and “down,” “good” and “bad,” “weak” and “strong,” until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
When we first heard that school was going remote, offices were closing and we were going to be confined to our home, my mind went into overdrive. How was I going to go grocery shopping? Where do I buy masks from? How will we all cope with this shutdown? What would happen to the children if either of us got COVID with family being In England?
In the middle of everything one of my fears was realised, my husband lost his job. That question arose again, why us?
This was devastating with all that it implied, limited health insurance and with no end in sight on future opportunities. Faced with this new reality, it was critical that we maintained our mental health. I took this as my cue to incorporate brain breaks during the day to encourage us all to sit and be present in that moment, it not only helped my husband and children see the true value in the meditation as I found myself looking forward to those times that we could be together and breathe.
I dug deep into my practice to help guide me to a place where I could manage my worries and fears, these were legitimate thoughts that I am sure crossed each of our minds during this time. I made a conscious choice each time I sat down to not push anything away but to welcome all that arose.
As a Qualified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher from UMass Center for Mindfulness, Punita Jani-Thaker has been practicing and teaching mindfulness for over a decade. She is a qualified 200 hour Registered Yoga teacher (RYT) and has created K-12 programs through Mindful Schools. Punita is an active teacher across diverse institutions. In addition, she has conducted online and in person meditations, mindful parenting, and yoga sessions for a wide array of participants.
Punita is an instructor for our MBSR course. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes.
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