by Alison Rogers
Yoga Teacher, Author, and MSC Graduate
June 10, 2019
New mothers often feel conflicted and uncertain about the many significant decisions they are required to make. They are faced with layers of conflicting and contradictory social and cultural expectations with few realistic options for meeting those expectations. Work or stay home? Breast or bottle-feed? Crib or co-sleep? Any one of these choices can make a woman feel like the wrong sort of mother. And this type of double bind – doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t — results in many women feeling powerless, ashamed, and conflicted — feelings that are all risk factors for anxiety and depression.
Mindful Self-Compassion encourages mothers to take time to listen to their feelings and thoughts without becoming over identified with them, to feel kinder and more protective towards self, and to realize that all mothers struggle with conflicting feelings, unrealistic and contradictory expectations, and at times, isolation.
In our forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers, Erin White and I invite new mothers to take short pauses to practice self-compassion through the use of a practice we call GRACE. GRACE is an invitation to step out of the fray, to feel your feet on the ground, to relax tension in your body and mind, and to reboot your hardworking nervous system.
GRACE is an acronym that guides new mothers — and anyone —through a simple, five-step exercise designed to create a clearing in body and mind.
We gather and then shift our attention from the external busyness of life and our thinking mind to our body by focusing on the breath and our sensations, particularly the sensation of our feet solidly on the earth.
On each exhale, we intentionally relax any tension in our jaw, shoulders, belly, and hands. We rest.
We ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now?” Then we allow whatever comes into awareness without resisting or arguing or shutting down.
No matter how we feel right now, how we are judging our self, we connect by remembering that mothers everywhere, throughout time, have felt the same things we are feeling. We treat our self like we would a dear friend—with understanding, attentiveness, curiosity, and respect.
We engage life with our feet firmly planted on the ground in the present moment, our nervous system steadied and relaxed, and our heart softened, ready to begin again.
The practice of GRACE cultivates self-compassion, which is the cornerstone of Breathing Space. Self-compassion reduces anxiety and the sense of isolation in mothers. Self-compassion is not self-pity; it is a kind of friendship with ourselves. From an early age, women are taught how to be good to our friends, to listen to their stories, to bolster their spirits in difficult times. To look at them with generous eyes. This is how women can also see themselves. We can be curious, loving, patient, impressed with all we have accomplished, excited by the great adventure of our lives.
At first this change in perspective can be hard, but early motherhood is the perfect time to reorient our thinking about self-compassion. In this period, women have more capacity for love than at any other point in our lives. GRACE encourages new mothers to include themselves in that expanding circle of love, protection, and care.
Sylvia Boorstein says, “Let me greet the present moment as a friend,” which seems like a great place to begin a practice of compassion. Because if you can greet this moment as a friend, you’re greeting it with generosity and love. And by greeting it, you are, in a way, greeting yourself. Not the self that you were—or that you hope to be or wish to be or think you should be—but your present-moment self.
New mothers need connections, not comparisons. And they need compassion. The shift from a comparing mind to a kind mind is more important even than mindfulness alone. You can practice self-compassion by practicing GRACE. By pausing and resting long enough to ask yourself how you feel—and long enough to wait for an honest answer.
When a mother feels less anxious, more aware of her own emotions and more compassionate towards herself and others, she is empowered to resist shame and step out in her own unique imperfect, and good enough version of motherhood.
You can find a guided audio practice of GRACE by joining our newsletter at https://theyogaofparenting.com