Connecting to the Core of Parenting and Relationships

Developing Resilience and Groundedness with Mindfulness

Meditative woman standingIf you’ve seen Kung Fu Panda, you know how important the belly center can be in resolving disputes (Skadoosh!). In the last article I went through in detail how the brain and heart centers are involved in the shift from the Punishment Model of discipline. This shift away from punishment involves the application of Positive Discipline and Mindfulness to our relationships. The belly center is vital in this shift because the lower (if we are standing up) aspects of our physiology and mind provide the foundation and structure to the emotions of the heart center and theories of the brain center that we build on them. This is typified by the quote I read the other day by Dr. George Crane: “the smallest good deed is worth more than the largest good intention”.

The belly is where we move from, where we can store energy, and where a deeper form of knowing begins. All of these resources from our core can be made available in relationships and parenting. When we are in touch with our belly center we become grounded.  In Tai Chi, the belly center is referred to as the Dan Tien, or ocean of energy. By focusing our attention on this center in movement, we can develop balance and root (another word for groundedness). When you have a moment (waiting in line, waiting for the bus, etc.) try this simple exercise:

-Stand with your feet parallel, as wide a stand as your shoulders
-Let your arms hang at your sides
-Align your belly and the top of your head as if they were suspended from a string
-Keeping this alignment move gently onto your left foot aligning this string with your sole
-Move slowly over onto the right foot
-Go slowly back and forth for a minute or two noticing what happens as you go in and out of alignment and balance

Chen Man Ching wrote that this shifting of the weight from one foot to the other is the essence of the tai chi form and helps us develop root. In my practice I have noticed this to be true, and also seen how after practicing for 10 minutes or so, my awareness sinks down from a “heavy on the thinking” level to a calm and peaceful place. I associate this experience as the belly level, the center of balance, the core. Many other practices bring us in touch with our core, what is your favorite?

When we are feeling calm and peaceful, it is pretty easy to agree that our principles for how we want our kids, partners, and ourselves to act are simple. Something along the lines of creative, loving, and aware. From this place we can see that we have these qualities the most in our own lives when we are balanced and calm. Our sense of mental and emotional balance relies on our physiology as well.

No one sets out wanting to punish others or strong arm people into doing what they want. This behavior arises from lack of balance and being mistreated by others. This is apparent, because when we look at the research we see such things as “Yelling at people makes them work harder, but not smarter”. When we look at this statement, it’s easy to see that it is better when people are doing the right thing at a sustainable pace than doing the wrong thing fast.

From our core perspective we can see our most central principles. People often report that in relationships and parenting, they wish to feel respected and respect the other, want fairness/equity, and have a feeling of caring that naturally arises. Along with these positive qualities we get another ongoing mindfulness practice: noticing when we are violating our core principles and when it seems that others are.

Often we let ourselves slide when we notice that we are acting outside of our principles, but we are quick to get angry with others when we feel that they have violated our core principles. My offering is to practice just noticing. If we are aware of our principles, ourselves, when we notice ourselves breaking one of our values, we can notice it, and it takes quite a bit of work not to judge ourselves. When we notice another, our teenager, our partner, etc. becomes the focus of our feeling of violation, we can speak with the balance and power of that experience, our personal experience that is happening based on what we perceived.

This approach demands quite a bit of trust of the other, and takes a bit more initial investment than punishment, but the payoff is larger in the end. As we continue to experience what we are willing to give from the center of our integrity, we notice that our kids, our spouses, and the people we care about are more able to find their sense of balance as well. Just like any mindfulness practice, attuning to our core is a long term process of entrainment that is continually tested and strengthened in various circumstances. No matter how many times you fall off your center, trust that you are also moving toward a greater integrity as you get back in balance again.

© Copyright 2011 by By Justus D'Addario, MA, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • NC

    June 17th, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    Amazing how these exercises(if I can call them that) can bring these changes. I have never tried anything like this but have read quite a lot about techniques such as these. Is it that you can just follow these instructions and do it or is a guide necessary for beginners?

  • Belle

    June 18th, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    “Many other practices bring us in touch with our core, what is your favorite?”

    When I’m feeling at odds with the world I like to ground myself by imagining roots coming out of my feet and going deep down into the earth’s core, anchoring me and calming me at the same time. It reminds me that everything in nature, including mankind with each other, is connected and we can draw upon that Universal connectedness to help ourselves heal and grow.

  • DorothyP

    June 18th, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    Internal Balance is so integral in many parts of our lives. I think that it is great that showing how so many of the areas of the mind and body need to come together in order to improve one’s overall quality of life. Great article! I sure do hope that this line of thinking begins to catch on more and more.

  • Kayla

    June 18th, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    Too many people discount this manner of holistic thinking but it is something to be taken seriously!

    There is a lot to be said for acknowledging that there are many different ways to bring peace and balane into your life. And if the advice has to come from Kung Fu Panda, then so be it ;)

  • Erin Mackie

    June 20th, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    Hi Justus, thanks for such an interesting piece. I tried your exercise and would like to know if I’m doing something wrong please.

    When I shift myself to align the string with my right foot, I feel off balance, as if I might tip over. It also feels like my right arm’s being gently but firmly pulled down towards the ground by the fingertips to the point where it’s aching, especially in and around the crease of my elbow.

    It’s hard to describe. I have a similar pulsing sensation in the left when I do it to that side but to a lesser degree. It’s as if I was dangling tiny weights from my fingertips to stretch them. That’s the best analogy I can come up with.

    I swear my fingertips and palms tingle too and both hands get hotter all over when I do this exercise. Any thoughts please? Thank you for your time.

  • donnie

    June 20th, 2011 at 4:34 AM

    Do you know how many parents actually look at things like this and make a concerted effort to bring this element of balanced parenting into their lives and those of their kids? Not too many. Most don’t care at all.

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