A Communication Tip for the Holidays and Beyond: “Me Time”

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you were so busy formulating a response that you missed what the other person said altogether? Sometimes I think life happens this way; life as a conversation where we are only half-way committed, half-way listening. Many times we are so fixated on predicting what happens next that we miss out on the actual moment as it happens. We miss what was said. We miss the moment. We miss the whole point.

I had an opportunity to attend a communication skills workshop sponsored by my son’s school called, “Communicating with Family Members During the Holidays” and how to have less stress and more cooperation. I can use all the help I can get, so I went. And I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the facilitator had us play a game. A volunteer told a story about a happy event in her life. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the volunteer, half of the room was told to ignore her. All I had to do was whip out my smartphone and become consumed. I didn’t listen to a word she said. I got wrapped up in my Internet world and tuned her out. It was really easy to do.

Her point? We, as adults, ignore our kids sometimes. How does it feel when someone is talking to you and, while you very well may be listening, are staring at your smartphone? Sure, you don’t mean to do it. But there it is! That smartphone is attached to your hand and you can’t seem to get rid of it. It’s like a leech, sucking the juices out of your brain. I know, because I do it.

Then, the facilitator introduced “Me Time.” The idea is very simple. You give your child your undivided attention for a scheduled time of 10 to 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time, right? Anyone can do that.

“Me Time” is based on principles of play therapy, which may be more widely practiced with younger children. This session of “Me Time” could even be called “Mommy and Johnny Time,” for example, or whatever makes sense for your child. My 12-year-old son has called it, “The Dreaded Time with Mom.” So, whatever works. Really, it can work for anyone at any age, including your resistant teenager.

There are few parameters for a successful session of “Me Time.” They are as follows:

  1. Schedule the 10-15 minute period of “Me Time.” I know it’s only 10-15 minutes, but if it’s scheduled it may feel more special and purposeful.
  2. Your child chooses the activity. Got that one? Your child chooses! And you must do it no matter what! If your child wants you to hop around on one foot and blow bubbles, then that’s what you must do. If your child wants to watch TV, that’s what you do. If your kid wants to play on his smartphone and ignore you, that’s your activity.
  3. Considering #2, you may suggest that the chosen activity not break any family rules (like no balls in the house).
  4. There’s no need to spend money. The activity is for such a short period, there’s really no need. Still, if you to make certain the focus is away from money, you may want to state this up front.
  5. As the parent, you cannot correct or direct the activity. Also important, you cannot ask, “Why?” Your child may view this as judging.
  6. You can’t play unless you’re asked. Don’t assume your child necessarily wants you to be involved. This idea coincides with the idea of play therapy where the child may need time to work something out. This is best done without any interference. You are merely an observer if this happens.

Discuss these parameters openly before you engage in “Me Time.” There’s no need for secrets. Truly, I think this idea could work for any relationship, even spouses or significant others. Why not? I have yet to try that, but I did try this idea with my kids.

This is what happened with my 9-year-old. First we cuddled in his blanket cave and made funny faces at each other. Then, he did a series of musical numbers where he got up to sing and dance. I clapped and cheered. He was hilarious and clearly wanted to show off his dance moves. I had no idea. This is not something he does that often and, clearly, he wanted an audience.

When it came to my 12-year-old, he said, “I thought you were kidding. Really?” First, he wanted me to wait outside his room. His little joke. Come to find out, he needed help with his homework, so that’s what we did. To make up for that, we watched a few “Dear Diary” cat videos. Those are always a good laugh!

But the biggest eye-opener? It was so relaxing to surrender my time voluntarily to someone else. To not be in charge or direct. To just listen. To be completely present. It felt so refreshing and helped me refocus my energy on my kids when it goes astray as, of course, it happens even with the best intentions. I highly recommend you give it a shot, especially during the busy holiday season when you feel short of time and stressed. I bet the more often you share this experience with your kids, the more insightful it will become and maybe, just maybe, communication will improve all around.

Time, that thing we’re always chasing or running out of. Why not carve out a little space for the important people in your life and share the gift of time spent together?

photo credit: Merry Christmas! via photopin (license)

The Power of Stillness

Lizards are masters. Snakes are pros. Cats are champions at it too… when they’re asleep. What do they have in common? They all can be exceptionally still. Humans? Not so much. We need to work at it a little harder.

Stillness doesn’t seem to be in our genes. Rather, we seem programmed to do more; to work more, work out more, play more, and well, be more. Sometimes our minds are racing so much, we might not realize that we are, in fact, running our bodies ragged.

Do you sometimes feel that your body is almost a separate entity from your mind? Do your mind and body go about their day as if they have nothing to do with each other? If your mind and body were to separate from each other, would they tell the same story about your life? It could make an interesting novel, yes?

Practically speaking, the mind and body work together every day, so they must be communicating. Our minds tell our bodies to retrieve an object, and our bodies follow the instructions. When our bodies feel cold or hot, our minds say, hey fix that, I’m uncomfortable! We’re quick to fix those discomforts that are on the surface. But what about other discomforts that aren’t so obvious?

One day in my yin yoga class, I did a spinal stretch and felt a sudden rush of emotion. I saw my father in a hospital bed. My father died earlier this year, so it makes sense my body could hold on to some of that grief. The image of my dad in a hospital bed was one that happened much earlier, long before he had passed, but there it was. One simple stretch and tears streamed down my face. I breathed through the stretch, trying to shake off my sorrow, and hoped my teacher wouldn’t say a word. She didn’t. I pulled myself together.

My body may hold on to pain that I have yet to face or perhaps it’s a memory stored on the cellular level. Whether you believe such things are possible, I feel that our bodies are talking to us in some form or fashion. I felt mine talking to me that day.

The trouble is we rarely listen to our bodies. Sometimes, there may even be confusion. Is it your mind or body requesting coffee? What I know is that the quest for more often leads to less sleep and less time for ourselves. In a rush to get somewhere and be more, being still seems counterproductive.

I’m reminded of the time I danced in a tribute to Pina Bausch and one option for movement in the piece was to be still. To not move. I found that strange. We didn’t even have to give it counts; we could decide how long. The only condition was that you had to be really still. If you moved a finger or twitched an eye, you fell short of the goal of attaining real stillness. Anyway, this stillness was as much a movement as the choreographed movements; being still was its own move. And if you did it right, you could make as much a statement with it as with anything else.

Try it. Be still. It may open your eyes to not only what’s around you but allow yourself to hear your body’s story. What is it telling you? Don’t forget to breathe on purpose while you listen.

Be still...like the rock.
Be still…like the rock.

photo credit: Rock Simplicity via photopin (license)

Breathing on Purpose

As humans, we are required to breathe each and every day. Just like the plants, we need oxygen, food and water. Unfortunately, we can’t make our food from sunlight.

But breathing. We have control over this one. Lately, I’ve managed the practice of breathing on purpose. Now, if you don’t breathe on purpose, your body will supply oxygen and do your autopilot breathing for you, otherwise well…we wouldn’t be here right now, would we?

Breathe and Listen

Our bodies actually take good care of us. If we listened to our bodies, we would all probably be in wonderful shape, both physically and mentally. Still, some days, life takes over and pushes us over the edge. Those are the days we might catch ourselves and remind ourselves to breathe. Take three deep breaths, you say, and you can handle any situation. Calm yourself. Collect yourself. Recharge.

Whether it’s in the form of autopilot breathing or the intentional de-stressor, breathing is our friend. When we breathe on purpose, we are training our body to initiate this kind of deeper breathing all on its own, the kind of breathing you ask yourself to do when you feel stress or anxiety.

Only with my recent introduction to yin yoga have I been able to breathe on purpose and to make a connection between mind, body, and my environment. I’m a novice, but I feel it’s really made a difference in my life with only a couple of months of practice.

Let’s try some breathing

Here are some things I’ve learned:

Get comfortable: Lay down on your back or relax in a sitting position; dim the lights, and if you like, play some soothing music (check out the sample video). Feel the earth under yourself, no matter where you are.

Ocean breath: Close your eyes, start with an inhale from the belly and an exhale out the mouth with an ocean breath, as if you might fog up a window, but it doesn’t need to be as forceful as that. The inhale should come from a deeper place than your autopilot breathing. Let it fill your chest.

Breath In/Out the Nose: Resume more relaxed breathing in and out the nose; relax the jaw. Feel the space between your neck and shoulders. If you need a release, try an ocean breath.

Let the thoughts float away: You mind will race. Let the thoughts come and go. Think of them as leaves floating away. I have a visual for you below. 

Focus on your breath: Don’t worry if you lose your breathing. Just bring it back and resume the ocean breath.

Environment: If you mind is racing, check in with your environment. This helps you to be aware of your present moment. What noises do you hear? Do you feel the air over your skin? Make note of it and bring back your breath.

A specific focus: Sometimes a focus on something specific can be the breathing. Can you hear your heartbeat? Check in. You can also do some internal chanting: An “Ah” on your inhale and an “Om” on the exhale. Whatever sounds you choose.

Try a specific length of time: Try breathing for the length of a song and increase it as you like.

The most important thing is to relax. This is time for you.

Let the thoughts float away:

Breathing on purpose has given me that clarity of focus not unlike those matrix-like moments when the action slows and you can focus on the separate parts from the whole. That clarity of focus is you listening to your body.

Tune in next week when I will talk about how this listening to your body can help improve how you listen to the people in your life.

Here’s some soothing music from Garth Stevenson: