In this intimate blog, Bliss Baby Yoga Director and Founder, Ana Davis, shares how Mindful Self Compassion can be a valuable tool for parents, particularly those raising teens.
I breathe into my belly and allow the hardness of my abdominal wall to begin to yield and soften. I feel my jaw that has been gripping and holding, loosen, ever so slightly. I place my palms onto the centre of my chest and feel the quiver of my breath there. I visualise white light streaming from my heart into his, enveloping him with a protective bubble.
Because that’s all I have to give him. Breath is all I have, trust is all I have.
I no longer have control.
As a single-parent of a headstrong 15-year-old, last year was the year from hell.
Sure, parenting teens is never easy, but for a number of reasons these challenges have been extreme.
Even though it’s been the toughest year yet, I feel nothing but immense gratitude.
To a large degree I have my Mindful Self Compassion practice to thank for getting us through, relatively intact. In fact the relationship my son and I now share is stronger, more loving, more resilient than ever.
Just like in birth and those early ‘fourth-trimester’ weeks, parenting my troubled teen has stretched me beyond what I could ever have imagined possible. I have tapped into dormant resources within, that I had no idea were available to me.
I haven’t always felt sufficient for the task. There have been a number of times when I just didn’t think I could go on. I have felt so exhausted, so hopeless, that I could have walked away and left this defiant changeling to his fate—which could well have seen him end up on the streets!
Yet, here we are. My son has calmed and settled and so have I. Things are still not perfect, and I’m sure we’ll continue to have many of the usual (and sometimes extraordinary) teen challenges as I continue to foster him into adulthood, but it’s in the deepening appreciation of this very imperfection that the magic and healing lies.
The challenges of recent months have prompted me to develop compassion-filled strategies as opposed to punitive control. I have a deeper appreciation of the power of empathy and unconditional love to soothe and heal even the most inflamed situations. I have learned that as my son has shouted and cursed at me to ‘f**k off!’, I have managed, for the most part, to stay calm and steady, as I gently reply: ‘I will not f**k off. I’m not going anywhere, and I love you.’
A little over a year ago I first had the good fortune to study Mindful Self Compassion with Doctors Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer in California. I instantly felt an affinity with this work as it aligns so beautifully with the practice of Ahimsa (self-compassion / non-violence) that informs a feminine approach to yoga.
Mindful Self Compassion, or MSC, represents an intersection between the ancient Buddhist practices of compassion and mindfulness with contemporary psychological science. It’s evidence-based, and it works! Even before I travelled to the USA to study with these two teachers, I read their books introducing the ideas behind MSC and found myself beginning to weave the practices into my parenting, with some success!
Parenting can be tough, single parenting sometimes tougher. And in my experience, I carry deep wounding around feeling alone and unsupported on this marathon that is parenting. MSC has given me a helpful tool for those times when I would previously have slipped into ‘victim mentality’.
Instead of descending into ‘poor me!’ laments that are not constructive, I can use MSC to self-soothe by validating just how hard things are for me, in that moment. From there, the process involves holding myself in self-compassion and realising that we all suffer at one time or another, and life is full of these imperfections.
In this way, I have come to an understanding that I am not so alone, which has meant I’ve reached out for the help I’ve needed from others — family, friends and professionals. Most importantly, I have been able to then refine my ability to express empathy for what my son is going through at that moment, fully acknowledging his suffering.
This all means that I have been able to carve out a path to move forward in a way that’s helpful for both myself and my son. And, it also means I have become so much more patient and loving in my parenting — yes, it is possible!
Midway through last year, when things were really spinning out of control, the breathing practice that Neff and Germer call ‘Compassion with Equanimity’ helped a lot.
One of the greatest challenges of parenting any teen is the ability to step back and surrender to the fact that we no longer have the kind of control over our strapping young boy or girl that we could rely on to keep them safe and supported when they were younger. Even with the best-laid guidelines and boundaries, and communication, there’s a huge element of trust when our teenager walks out the door to socialise with their peers — or even in the secrecy of their own room! This is my version of the practice that supported me (and I’m sure will continue to support me) when I felt the need to trust in my son’s own journey, while also nourishing both myself and him in the process.
As any parent or caregiver will appreciate, there’s an inherent challenge in our desire to care for the other so that we don’t also deplete our own energy reserves for empathy and caregiving; this practice can help us keep this balance, or ‘equanimity’.
How to do it:
Come into a comfortable seated or lying position. Take a minute or two to just allow your body to settle and soften, and your mind to begin to turn inwards to feel into the sensations of your body as you sit or lie here, in this moment. Then, place your right palm over your lower belly as you take a few ‘soft belly breaths’, allowing your belly to soften and yield to the breath. This will help you further quiet the busyness of your thoughts and connect with your inherent body wisdom. From here, place your left palm over the centre of your chest, your heart-centre, and you can keep your right hand on your lower belly, womb-space, or move it up to place it on top of the left palm (Hands to Heart Mudra — see illustration). Take some slow, deep breaths into your heart-centre, drawing in a feeling of deep love and compassion into this space. If you’re more of a visual person, you may want to also visualise this energy as white, healing, loving light filling up your heart-centre. As you connect with your heart-centre energy you can take a few moments to feel into any internal pain and suffering you’re feeling right now, and feel yourself held by your self-compassionate breath, soothing you, rocking you. Then, visualise your loved-one and sense into any pain and suffering they’re feeling right now; feeling that in your own heart.
Now, begin the Equanimity Breathing. As you inhale fill up your heart-centre, your whole body, with loving, compassionate energy, ‘self-love’, and then as you exhale you can send that energy to your loved one—imagine, your loving, healing, compassionate breath soothing and supporting your loved one.
You can continue in this way — breathing in compassion for yourself, breathing out compassion for the other. Or you can vary it so you breathe in and out compassion for yourself — ‘one for you’ — and then breathe in and out compassion for the other — ‘one for the other’. As you do this, you can repeat the Equanimity Breath Mantra: “One for me; one for you.” And if you feel the need, you can breathe several breaths in a row just for yourself — “two for me”, or conversely, several for the other — “two for you” — just whatever feels right in that moment.
After about 5-10 minutes of this practice, you can let go of the breathing and visualisation, and just let your body and mind be. To finish, bring the palms of your hands together into Prayer Mudra at the centre of your chest and bow your head in gratitude for all of the amazing lessons you’re learning, the inner strength and perspective you’re developing, and your endless capacity for compassion for self and other — during in this challenging time.
 Self Compassion, Kristen Neff, and, The Mindful Path to Self Compassion: Freeing yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions, Christopher K. Germer
 There are three critical steps in a MSC practice: self-validation, common humanity and setting a self compassion ‘mantra’. See Germer and Neff’s books for more information on the benefits and practice of MSC. Neff’s website — https://self-compassion.org — is also a handy resource featuring a number of free downloads of MSC meditations. I also recommend their book, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, as a practical guide.
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga, and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is the author of the popular book, “Moving with the Moon – Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond”. Ana has collaborated with Bliss Baby Yoga fertility specialist yoga teacher Rosie Matheson to create our Online Level 1 Yoga for Fertility Teacher Training. She is also the lead trainer on our popular Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course and Online L1 & L2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training courses, and offers private mentoring and yoga sessions online, and online yoga classes.
Illustration by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com
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