We spoke to Yoga expert Hannah Barrett about the enormous positives that doing exercise can bring while we're all at home that bit more than usual.
"The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little" - Jon Kabat-Zinn.
As we move through this second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to focus on keeping a healthy routine and balanced lifestyle in this challenging time. As a mother, achieving anything that comes close to this is a huge triumph, and it is so important that mothers acknowledge that a sense of wellness is so much more than physical health. We have to prioritise our mental health too.
I’m sharing some tips that have helped me navigate motherhood and feel grounded throughout the turbulence and challenges 2020 has thrown our way. Yoga is, of course, not a magic bullet or cure-all pill. But it has helped literally millions of people move on from where they were to where they are, a little bit at a time. Life will always be full of the greatest highs and the lowest lows, and the tools offered by yoga means that even when we’re suffering through the darkest days, it can provide us with the strength and resilience to know we will get through it.
1. Let’s Flow
One thing I have learnt this year is that it is tremendously important to find an exercise that you love. Instead of punishing your body and forcing yourself to exercise, find a way to move your body so it becomes something you look forward to. Not only is this essential as a mother, to maintain connections with hobbies you used to love, but it also means forming exercise as a habit becomes a that bit easier.
The physical practice of yoga is something you can truly do anywhere, any time. It doesn’t need to centre around a class or involve complex poses which can be both intimidating and inaccessible for many. Five to ten-minute flows while your baby sleeps or your kid plays in their room is enough to find connection in your body and mind, grounding yourself in the present moment. If you’ve ever attempted to hold a Warrior II pose for a minute, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Gaining connection to yourself and feelings of resilience through yoga stay with you off the mat.
Whether you want to start your day in the right frame of mind, build strength or wind down in the evening, without a glass of wine, you can find the right medium to suit your mood. There are loads of incredible teachers out there who have moved online this year and so many free sessions, on YouTube videos, Instagram TV or Reels, you name it. Try a few different teachers and styles to find what resonates with you. I released an app last month that has over 100 different classes available, differing in styles to suit various moods, capability levels, and even month-long challenges to help you develop a yoga habit.
2. Embrace the Silence
Meditation and breathwork changed my life! If I could challenge you over the next four weeks to introduce ten minutes of meditation to your days, every single day, I would only expect positive feedback. Make it a priority, get up ten minutes earlier if you need to, tell your children that for 10 minutes, mum is going to sit in silence. You could even get them involved if they’re old enough!
We live in this society where everything is constantly moving, surrounded by technology, meaning it’s near-on impossible to switch off. It seems counterintuitive to prioritise time doing nothing when there are so many other things to do. Yet research shows that doing just 10 minutes of meditation can help overcome stress, anxiety, block out internal, negative, and restless thoughts, bring clarity, and allow you to concentrate better. What more could you ask for as a parent?
Each day find a comfortable seat and simply focus on your breath. Your mind will be sure to wander, and that’s natural, just gently bring your mind back to your breathing. It’s hard but keep going. You will quickly see the benefits.
There are so many incredible apps out there to help you too – my personal favourites are Headspace, Calm and Expectful. My aforementioned app also caters to those wanting to meditate and I’ve put some guided mediation classes on there.
3. Find Gratitude
Oprah once said: "Being grateful all the time isn’t easy. But it’s when you least feel thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you: perspective. Gratitude can transform any situation. It alters your vibration, moving you from negative energy to positive. It’s the quickest, easiest most powerful way to effect change in your life – this I know for sure."
Writing down a few lines of gratitude, reflecting on the positives in your life and the thoughts you’ve had throughout the day can help you find space and connection with your true feelings. If you’re married or co-habiting with children, ask your partner and/or family to do it with you at the start of each day. It’s a great tool to pass down to your kids and might help ease any lockdown tension you’ve experienced as a family.
4. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment, on purpose and without judgement. The only time we truly have is right now. When we lose presence, we run the risk of missing the moments that matter, under appreciating the value life brings. Mindfulness can change how we react to stress, how we deal with anxiety and how we interact with our friends and family. Being a mother certainly adds a whole lot of stress and anxiety, but mindfulness allows us to change how we think, feel and behave for the better.
We spend most of our day on autopilot. Tune into this, take yourself out of it! Appreciate the moments, big and small. When you go for a walk, notice the colours, sounds and sensations, drink everything in and notice how it makes you feel. You could play a game with your children, see who notices something others might not have? Can you be present, fully in the moment? Can you notice when your mind starts to wonder? Work on gently bringing it back. It might surprise you how quickly you’ll get better at this.
I love watching my children play – they are so in the moment, completely immersed in what they are doing. As adults, we lose this. Rediscover the magic in everything!
5. Sleep & Sleep Hygiene
In theory, we want to have seven hours of sleep every night. This is of course a bit of a challenge for most of us. Instead of worrying about how many hours you are getting, refocus on optimising the hours you do get. My best tip for this would be to stop using your phone at least 30 minutes before bed. Reduce the blue light you’re exposing yourself to (so yes, this also means no TV and no iPads!). Try a gentle yoga flow, meditation or pull out a good book.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that just because you’re a mother, that doesn’t mean you have to lose sight of the other things that make you, you.
Hannah Barrett Yoga is available from £19.99 on iOS and Android devices. For more information visit her website.