3 Steps to More Mindful Meditation :: A Review of “10% Happier”

Meditation Mom

In my job as a marriage and family therapist, when I suggest meditation as a suggested method of finding personal joy and internal happiness, I almost always get a slight eye roll, if not a full-on, eyes-to-the-ceiling sigh. Honestly, the mere mention of taking 10 minutes out of one’s day to focus on nothing but their breathing is like hefting the largest dose of psychobabble on a person. Rarely though do my clients actually take me up on the practice. Sometimes, I turn on guided meditation right in my office for up to 10 minutes to make my clients get into a relaxed space.

That’s why I love when I happen to find books by authors who aren’t afraid to talk about this crazy method of feel-goodery. (Stay with me here, I promise I have something for you.)

There’s an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that explains the amazing physical and mental health benefits of meditation. Besides reducing stress hormones, boosting your immune system, and improving clarity of mind, it also helps with disorders like depression, addictions, smoking, and even irritable bowel syndrome (most often made worse by anxiety). With all of those benefits, why wouldn’t we be more tuned into the effects that simple relaxing and focused breathing can give, especially for only 10 minutes a day?

Some years ago, I read a lovely gem, “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.” I often suggest this book to my clients, especially busy Moms, because…finding peace in a frantic world? Yes, please. Do you know a Mom in existence that doesn’t live in that fast-paced, chaotic state of life, at least some of the time?

Now, another book has hit the scene, and Dan Harris is as vulnerable as one can get for a self-described egotistical, status-hungry journalist. And, for a walking self-help library like myself, I’m pretty psyched to be able to pass the realness of meditation on through yet another great read. Some years ago, Dan had a panic attack while reporting the morning news for Good Morning America. I looked up the video to see this for myself, and yes, it was painful to watch. But he does an amazing job of rediscovering himself, and he details the journey in “10% Happier.” It’s a book all Moms should pick up because, well, bottom line, if he can do it, I think anybody can.

Truth be told, I love meditation personally, which is why I suggest it. My own battle through depression years ago sent me looking for alternative treatments, plus my insides idle at a much higher RPM than most, it seems. I often plop myself down on my own therapy couch in between clients, set a timer, and lull myself into the most peaceful minutes of my entire day. During that time, calm washes over me, the issues my clients bring into the space disappear, and I’m transported to a more peaceful existence. Research shows that not only do you feel peaceful in that one meditative moment, but meditation has a cumulative effect. In other words, the more you do it, the overall more at peace you feel. Meditation has that result. 

So, what does meditation have to offer us Moms, and how in the world would we ever even fit it in? Just as Dan Harris says in his meditation how-to guide, “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” meditation does not (necessarily) involve folding yourself into a pretzel, joining a weird group, or engaging in odd chants. No, meditation is simply a way to slow down the world around you, focus on only one thing (instead of the millions of things on your to-do list), and relax. There are three steps Dan reports for mindful meditation:

  1. Sit wherever you’re most comfortable. Maybe that is sitting cross-legged on the floor, and that’s fine. But it could be lying on your sofa (like I do), or sitting comfortably in your favorite chair. Wherever you are, just make sure your spine is straight, and you’re not likely to fall asleep (but as I always tell Moms, if you fall asleep, you probably just needed a nap! We aren’t surprised, are we?).
  2. Focus fully on your breathing. Notice your breath going in and out of your body, the rise and fall of your belly, and the in-and-out of through your nose. Make a mental note of your breathing, and just focus there – on breathing. Nothing else.
  3. Notice your breathing again. Yep, just notice again. Your mind will wander to the kids, your job, the shopping list, and oh, darn it, the school pictures you forgot to pay for, again! That’s okay, just go right back to focusing on your breathing. Again and again, go back to focusing. No matter how many times you wander off, just keep coming back.

As Dan Harris says, this process of coming back again and again is breaking years and years of habit in your brain. In my experience, it takes several weeks until you feel like you’ve finally gotten to a relaxing place, and think, “Oh, my mind didn’t wander.” Once you have the hang of it though, you get to that relaxing, meditative place much quicker, and you can stay there longer.

Meditation can be as long as you want, and research shows that even the smallest of amounts can help. Give yourself just 10 minutes to focus on your breathing. While the baby sleeps, while kids are at school, just before you have to wake them up in the morning, or just as they’ve gone down for the night, take just 10 minutes to meditate, and I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com