Mindful Space x Mindfulness: A Special Feature with Vernessa Chuah
1. What was your inspiration for setting up Mindful Space?
“Why do we need to speak positively, my parents yell and nag at me all the time” This was my AHA moment as an educator. It all starts at home with the parents. Without parents reinforcement on the values such as resilience, positivity, empathy and kindness, these are just talk in the air.
I noticed the tendency of parents complaining about their children being naughty, not listening, defiant and rebellious. Many constantly wants to find a way to fix their child. Is it because they don’t love their child? Of course not, it’s because they are parenting the way they are being parent, it becomes a default mode. Parenting the way they are familiar with, and many of us in Asia countries grown up being spank or yell at when we don’t listen or do as instructed.
Most parents know the concept of respectful and positive parenting, but knowing is different from practising it. I was curious how can I help them to have the knowledge and skills to be more mindful in their parenting. If I can help the parents to shift their perspective, breaking the pattern of their default parenting mode, I am helping their children, and their children’s children, and it goes on.
This is what inspires my three core pillars:
(1) knowledge and skills: increase parents’ awareness on respectful, positive and mindful parenting through parenting workshops and activities such as monthly Free #ExpertChat to support the community.
(2) bonding and learning: create holistic kids enrichment to teach values through play, and meaningful family activities so parent and children can spend quality time learning to socialise, communicate and create memories together. Eg: Family Aerial, Family Acroyoga, Family Gardening, Family Kayaking, Kids Mindfulness Camp, Batik Painting, etc.
(3) well-being: advocating that taking care of ourselves as parents is also part of taking care of our children. Self-care is child care. We get easily triggered, agitated and frustrated at our children because we are giving from the leftover of our cups, running ourselves thin when we are already tired and stressed. At Mindful Space, we have wellness and yoga classes for parents to join before/after they drop off/pick up their kids from school. Helping them to recharge and fill their cup, and ground themselves so they have more capacity and range to hold space for their love ones at home. We also hold mother circle, women circle and loss circle to have safe conversations, make connections and provide support.
“It will get easier when they grow up” that’s what they said, but I feel it’s just different set of challenges at each stage whether you have a toddler or a teenager, it doesn’t get easier. This is why I set up Mindful Space to be the first parent and child physical platform in Singapore that curates holistic parent, child and family activities from age 0 – 18 years old (infant to teenager).
My daughter was only six months old yet I was fuel with this passion to make it happen. This intense energy and drive (even with lack of sleep and constantly breastfeeding), has been the motivation for me to sustain the business despite Covid-19 hit us 6 months after opening our doors, and we have since been swimming in this water for the past 21 months. I am full of hope that Mindful Space can continue to hold space for parents and children to be a proactive, positive and respectful role model for the future generation.
2. What are some ways that you can teach children to practise mindfulness?
We practice mindfulness in a unique combination with aerial and yoga. “Parents, we need 10 more minutes, as the children request more quiet time” I stuck my head out the door to inform the waiting parents, and they couldn’t be more happy that their child is enjoying their mindfulness practice. They love sleeping in the hammock with music and lights off. They go home calm and centered. This has work well even with our children who experience hyperactivity, weak muscles and social anxiety.
At Mindful Space, we use movement from aerial and yoga to release the child’s energy. When children feel good about their body, their emotions is lifted, they are more ready to learn, more ready to rest when needed. This is where we bring in mindfulness practice to align and integrate their mind and body experience. After all the stimulation, they actually want to just rest and be still.
When children are practising aerial and yoga, they need to be mindful as they are up in the air. Their focus and attention needs to be sharp so they can observe and listen to the instructions, know where to place their body, hands and legs to be safe. With this, they are present in the moment and aware of their movements and body sensations.
Some suggestions for parents to practice mindfulness together through play:
- Walk on sand and just enjoy each step at the beach to experience the sensory under the feet
- Draw, and create art and craft moments together to express their emotions
- Using the child’s everyday task and events to teach mindfulness and values by acknowledging how they feel, and how they can choose to respond to the trigger. Eg: waiting in a long queue, being pushed at the playground, sibling rivalry, inability to get what they want, stress with homework.
- Learn to observe the facial expression and body language of others together to be attune to other’s emotion and needs. For example, I will ask my daughter, look at daddy’s face, what is it telling you? Sometimes she says “tired”. Then I will ask her “how do you think we can help him at this moment?” My daughter will say let him rest, and ask help from mummy instead. Learning to be mindful of our surrounding and the people.
- Practise mindful eating (no screen time while eating)
3. What are some of the benefits of children practising yoga?
1. Body awareness including spatial awareness and sensation
2. Neuromuscular development and neuroplasticity (flexibility and strength)
3. Capacity and capability to understand their own body better (balance and coordination)
- Improves focus and concentration (increase attention span)
- Helps manage their anxiety and stress (relaxation)
- Constantly seek to improve better while being kind and respectful to their body
- Boost self-esteem and confidence
- Increase emotion agility, resilience and self-control
- Creates a space for children to express themselves to help them reduce impulsivity
- Practise stability before mobility
- How to use your breath to stay calm when you are scared, angry or sad
- Understanding the concept of “there is always room for improvement”
There are many other benefits yoga can bring, it depends very much on the teacher and their philosophy of teaching 😊
4. How do you practice self-care? Do you have some tips for parents to practise self-care when they’re feeling stressed - particularly during this pandemic?
Let’s focus on self-care based on the 3 universal human needs:
(1) the need for connection: personal time to connect with ourselves, bonding with family, socialising with friends and a bigger community
(2) the need for authenticity: a space to allow our voice to be heard, make choices we truly want and show up the way we want, feel valuable
(3) the need for meaning: we want to make sense and meaning of what we do
the need for connection
Human being are social beings, we have a need for connection. Take care of yourself by connecting internally (within) and externally.
It has been researched that our mental health decrease when we don’t have enough rest. We are trapped in a rat race, that makes us constantly busy and it almost feels like resting is a waste of time. Yet when we have lack of rest, we are less patient, we have less clarity, we are less creative and actually less productive despite spending longer hours working.
So, I would say number one self-care is sleep and rest.
When I have lack of rest, I get easily triggered and annoyed. Hence, I know my insufficient sleep affects me and the people around me. I am giving the leftover me (tired and stressed), pouring into other’s cup with lack of head space and capacity for it. When I am recharged, I can hold space for my daughter even when she is throwing tantrum, I can be calmer in my parenting. We connect with ourselves better mentally, emotionally and spiritually when we are well-rested.
Next tip is work out plans to kill few birds with one stone when it comes to exercising and bonding (with family or friends). Some of my personal example:
(2) I cycle with my 3 year old daughter to the beach, so I get to exercise with mother nature while I bond with Elvanna
(2) I meet up my friends at the beach where she plays with her sand toys and I catch up with my friend on the picnic mat
(3) I go hiking with friends so I get to exercise and bond at the same time
the need for authenticity
One of my self-care motto “draw boundaries and work within my capacity”.
We need to focus on what we really care for and want to do as we only have 24 hours a day and limited resources. Respecting our self-care means drawing boundaries and say no to certain things that do not serve us. We might have the tendency to take on more than we can cope on our plate. When we say no to some things, we say yes to other things. When we pack our schedule back to back, we are not serving ourselves nor our children.
When I draw boundary and be firm with my daughter on my working time, I say yes to being productive and focus with work. My daughter knows when I close the study door, I am in work mode. When I am out of the room, I can be in play mode. Managing her expectation of when I will be out to read a book or play with her.
Self-care means giving ourselves permission to be authentic so we can make choices, draw boundaries and show up the way we want.
the need for meaning
Self-care also means doing what gives you meaning, what makes you feel purposeful and satisfied.
I asked myself if I have all the resources of time and money, what would I do? My answer is spend lots of time just being with my family, travel, read, exercise, be a changemaker and build communities. Then I ask myself why can’t I do this now? What is holding me back?
These days I do my best to schedule meetings after 10am, so I can take my time to dress Elvanna, cycle her to school, wait for her to daydream and take off her shoes at school. Then cycle home to practice 30mins yoga and have breakfast before I start my day. I already feel good when I start my day this way, my self-care needs are met and I am ready to conquer the day.
When my daughter sense of belonging is met, she is also more cooperative and calm, parenting becomes more peaceful and respectful.
On Saturdays, I will have special one-to-one time with my daughter for half a day. Being out of the house, allows me to be present with her, away from my laptop and phone (out of work mode). On Sunday morning, it’s my spouse turn for special time with her and I get to dedicate the 3-4 hours to myself, doing what I want to do.
I also learned to increase my sense of satisfaction by doing something every day that I enjoy even if it’s just 15 mins, either a cup of tea, a book, yoga, nap, etc. Self-care can be as simple as this. The convenient excuse of being busy is not enough to validate my daughter’s unmet needs, and my own self-care needs.
Start your self-care by setting a routine so your body knows what to expect, your mind is ready and you manage your own and others expectations.
Remember to base your self-care on the universal human needs – connection, authenticity and meaning.
Vernessa spent more than 16 years gaining experience as an educator in Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. She integrates her knowledge of eastern and western approach, and founded Mindful Space - the first parent and child physical platform in Singapore that curates holistic parent, child and family activities from infant to teenager. She aims to build a proactive, positive and respectful parenting community.
She is also the first pregnancy loss coach in South East Asia, supporting the community after losing three babies herself.
For more information, www.mindfulspace.com.sg