Dirty minivans of mindfulness...

I was reading an article about the best places in the world to meditate.  The article listed exotic locales around the world where you can supposedly reach the height of spiritual enlightenment.  I have no doubt that I could also find my inner being and place of peace if I was granted an all-access meditation retreat package that came with turndown service and a mint on my pillow.  Sign me up.  Let's get going...

Oh, wait, I would totally go but I have to drive two kid's to lacrosse practice and one to triathlon training (yes, there is such a thing for children, it's for this amazing charity.  I'll put the link at the bottom) so no time to hop in my private jet and sail the skies to a remote destination of quiet tranquility.

The good news, I use my dirty minivan (or as I prefer to call her, the swagger wagon) as my powerful mindful peace mobile and if you are a mom (or dad) who is currently rocking the drive kids all around this green earth, I think you should too!

Here's why:

First, you are in the gosh darn thing for a majority of your life at this point, you might as well look forward to getting into it and have some self-fulfilling purpose.  It will actually make you like driving more and resent the zipping around town less.  It can help make car rides more enjoyable and help you keep your sanity.

Second, be mindful when getting into your car that this is your intent.  Get your mindset in the right frame and then try one or more of these techniques:

With The Sprouts:

  • Tell yourself and everyone getting into the car with you, that once they get in, before even talking, take 3 deep breaths.  This is good for setting the tone of the ride and it also stops kids and grown-ups stream of mindless yelling at each other about the stressful minutia of trying to get someplace on time all together with all of your required belongings.  
  • After you and everyone have taken 3 deep breaths, you can calmly go through a checklist of what everyone should have or have not bought and adjust accordingly.  I personally, just have a sticky note that says: shoes, water bottle, epi-pen (for G sprout) stuck to my dashboard.  I simply raise it in the air after breaths and since everyone is centered, they can read it and access their situation.  I also have a second one that says: snacks, homework, sports bags for a different evening in our lives.  *for the younger crowd 1-6, I sometimes ask them what animal breathing we should do and let them have a say in how we breathe once all buckled.  Every animal breathes so deep breath in and animal noise on the way out and you are all set and ready to rock.  
  • Drive without the radio on and no movies or electronics. Yes, turn it off.  Even if that makes the tween roll her eyes.  Also, no phones.  You really shouldn't be talking or texting while driving anyway and monkey see monkey do, if they see you doing it guess what they will do when it's time to get their driver's license no matter what you tell them, because they have watched you do it time and time again.
  • Talk to each other.  This is a great connection time.  This is a great time to talk about what they kindness they saw that day or what they are grateful for.  
  • Notice what is going on in the world outside your dirty minivan windows.  We like to choose something that we can mindfully observe (and count... Middle Sprout always has to make it a math game which is awesome.  I just always have the rule that we are earning points cooperatively not competitively so he usually sets an arbitrary number for us to reach based on how far we are driving).  How many people walking their dogs?  How many cardinals?  We love to notice kindnesses (a car letting another car in, someone stopping to let someone cross, etc.) and Middle Sprout counts those as major bonus points.  Sometimes, on a good day, we play the game that every time we see the thing we are being mindful of take a grateful breath. 

The important thing is that we are being mindful of what is going on around us. 

How often have you seen kids glued to a phone or screen and they have NO awareness of the world around them?  Grown-ups?   Um... all the time.  That level of unawareness is not good for us.  The average attention span is now 8 seconds and dropping.  8 seconds!  I am guessing you would like your child to pay attention to you, school, tying their shoes, listening to directions, etc. for more than 8 seconds, correct?  Well, then you have to train their brains to observe themselves and the world at large.  You have to help them learn to pay attention.  Life comes at you fast nowadays, you have to teach your kids that they control the pace.  They can CHOOSE to slow down and focus.  The earlier you start training their brains to take a moment to pause and be mindfully aware of themselves and the world around them, the better their ability to self-assess and focus.

When we train our brains to observe and then decide how we feel about those observations, we can make decisions that serve us in a way that helps us feel a connection.  When children start consistently disconnecting from themselves and the world...we see major issues start to set in.  It starts small but over time it has an immense impact on well-being.  Scientists and doctors agree and statistics agree...just floating along with the current standard American lifestyle without taking time to observe and reflect upon our choices and actions, leads to unhappiness and health issues.

By yourself in the car?

What, you lucky duck...you somehow managed to get a moment in the car by yourself?  Well, don't waste that precious time letting your hamster wheel of thoughts fly off.  Time for some dirty minivan meditations.

First, and this should go without saying, but for goodness sake DO NOT close your eyes while driving.  These are open-eye suggestions.  

  • Next, even if you are going somewhere you loathe (g.store, pick up kids, work, etc.) take a big grateful breathe that you have a moment to yourself.  Just recognize the feeling of breathing in and out and feel gratitude that you were able to take a moment to connect with your breath.
  • Radio off, cell away.  No phone calls.  If you are someone who immediately turns on the radio, this may be hard for you to sit in the silence, but that is actually what we really need.  We are bombarded with stimulus all day long, our nervous system and brain thank us when we take a break from being barraged with the "noise" of life (including auditory radio ones).  It helps calm and regulate our systems and lowers stress levels.  I am not saying don't ever listen to the radio again, but maybe take a week off and after a week be mindful of when your body and brain crave silence.
  • Count breaths.  This is a good place to start for beginners.  Just see how many breaths it takes for your to get from point A to B.  If you get distracted by your thoughts in your head and lose count, don't sweat it, just bring your focus back and start again.  The more you do this, the better your brain will get.
  • Think of all the people in your life and send them gratitude and love.  Breathe in with the person's name and on the out breath just think about why you love and are grateful for them.  This is not only a mindful brain boost, but incorporating kindness/gratitude is like a supercharge of positive neurotransmitters release in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.  
  • Play the Gratitude Alphabet sign game.  Remember when you were little and you used to look for letters on signs and try and make it through the alphabet?  Well, this is the 2.0 version.  You don't have to go letter by letter (or if you are the grownup version of Middle Sprout, then you will) but every time you see a sign thing of something that starts with that letter that you're grateful for.   Just breath the word deeply in and out.
  • Red light, green light.  Every time you go through a street light, if it is green, breathe in and out a blessing or a wish of good for someone.  Red lights can be either breathing in and out blessings or wishes for yourself OR breathing in and out positive self-affirmations.

Can you imagine if everyone did this?  Road rage wouldn't exist.

Try it for a week.  Don't give up on the first eye roll from the kids.  Start with just you and work your way up to the kids if necessary.  This life hack might make a difference in ways you might not have thought.  Decreasing our stress level throughout our day could help us stay healthy, not gain weight, sleep better at night, have better communication and relationships with others and lessen our chances of depression.  And when you are at the end of your life and you think about all the time you spent driving around town, are you going to say, "I wish I would have paid attention less...to the world, my kids, my feelings" or "I'm glad I used those small moments to make sure I took care of myself and my kids mental and physical health and taught my children to pay attention to the world."

Please comment and let me know how your dirty minivan meditations went this week and please share this with anyone who has kids so they can take a mindful minivan moment with their kids.

G Sprouts training information:

Triathlon training and Tri 4 Schools information:  http://www.tri4schools.org/