One thing that helps to ensure a peaceful birth is a calm, focused and fearless mama. But how does mama prepare to maintain her inner strength and serenity during labor and birth? According to Australian midwife Jane Hardwicke Collings, meditation can be a key to her success. In this abridged version of her article Meditation During Pregnancy, Jane shares the benefits of meditation as well as tips for how to get started.
Pregnancy is a time when a woman is more naturally in touch with her body and her inner self.
Introducing a meditation practise can enhance the experience by creating a “way in” to her mind’s inner sanctum. She can then see deeper than her mind’s chatter and fears, and connect with her calm inner core. Once she has established that connection, she can return to that place as desired or as necessary.
During labour, when women are acting intuitively and free of fear, they often choose to withdraw and focus internally, finding their calm inner mind space. The hormones flowing in her blood stream support, enhance and co-create this experience. If a labouring woman in this harmonious natural state is disturbed by others or disturbed by fear, her hormones change, she loses her focus, her labour may be prolonged and/or more painful, and her baby may be jeopardised.
Using meditation as a tool, she can again access the peaceful mind space that supports and is necessary for natural labour, and improve her experience and the outcome of her labour and birth, making it safer for her baby and herself. A woman can actually choose to create a state of consciousness that is associated with a quicker and less painful labour and birth. When a woman in labour is undisturbed, she focuses internally and has reduced beta waves (to learn more about brain waves, read Jane’s full article Meditation During Pregnancy). If she is disturbed by people asking lots of questions, or by her own thoughts and fears, then her beta waves will increase, and the hormones in her body will change. She will be on alert, and will experience an increase in adrenaline. Adrenaline inhibits oxytocin, and therefore slows down labour.
To best facilitate the natural process of birth, the labouring woman needs to feel safe, and have her physical and emotional needs met. Once in this situation, she can relax her mind as per meditation, be in an aroused or relaxed body state, and access deep levels of consciousness. She can then connect with her innate body wisdom and give birth in a blissful painless state of complete awareness – the evolved mind state. This is the biologically intended space from which to give birth.
All that is required to access this state is a method of creating alpha waves such as:
- focus on the breath
- making constant deep sounds (toning)
- staying physically and mentally relaxed (letting go of body tension and thoughts or fears)
- reduced mental and sensory stimulation – a darkened environment, being in water and undisturbed
Women who meditate in pregnancy and birth have reported easier birthing experiences, often painless and often ecstatic. It seems that when birth is approached from a place of trust, it can unfold in its natural way and be a positive initiation into motherhood. If this is possible for some women it is possible for all.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the act of observing the mind; the practise of training the mind and a technique to master the mind. Observing the mind separates ourselves from our thoughts, allows us to notice that we are not our thoughts, we just think them. Training the mind to let go of thoughts or detach from them, to stop thinking, provides us with access to a clear mindspace. Practising this technique regularly, improves our ability to do it. Some of the benefits of regular meditation include:
- Lowering of blood pressure
- Slowing of pulse rate
- Improvement in circulation
- Deeper, slower breathing
- Reduction of harmful lactic acid in body
- Stress and tension levels dramatically reduced
- Improvement in length and quality of sleep, also easier to get to sleep
- Improvement in concentration
- Increase in perceptiveness
- Reduction in tendency toward addiction (to food, alcohol, drugs tobacco)
- Improvement in memory
- Increased sense of general wellbeing
- Reduction of the hormone cortisol which is known to induce stress
How to Meditate
There are various ways to meditate and many books written on the subject. It is up to you to find the way that works best for you. Here’s a simple method:
- Put yourself in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, without a full stomach, be warm, out of drafts and comfortably seated with a straight back.
- Close your eyes, relax your tongue and the whole of your body.
- Bring your awareness to your breathing, notice and count the duration of your inhalation and then your exhalation.
- Slow them down to 3 or more seconds each, breath deeply into the base of your lungs, you may notice your abdomen rise and fall with each breath.
- The desire at this stage is to achieve single pointed focus (to induce alpha waves), you can do this by counting your breaths, count to ten and then start again, or by visualising yourself in a safe place in nature.
- When thoughts enter your mind, don’t engage with them. Simply witness them and let them pass.
- See your mind as if the ocean, these thoughts will come drifting past you like a message in a bottle floating on the surface of the water, simply put – don’t open the bottle and it will float away.
- Continue counting your breaths, you may enter a state where images appear and you lose awareness of your limbs, this indicates theta waves.
- When you find your quiet inner mind, you can simply stay there, watching what happens, or introduce a question for contemplation.
- At the appropriate time (you will know when that is) slowly bring your awareness back to your breath and your body.
- Wiggle you fingers and toes and slowly stretch your whole body.
- Take some deep and quicker breaths and notice how it feels to be awake compared to where you were. This will assist you in knowing the difference between these states and help you know where you are in the process of meditation.
- Following this wake up phase, in order that you remember insights or content from your meditation, it is important to put them into thought form.
“The best way to do this is through words. Writing or speaking about the experience immediately after you have completed it will draw the contents up into your beta mind so that you can retain them consciously.” ~ Anna Wise
Have your journal nearby and jot down key words from your experience to be added to. Draw or describe pictures or feelings.
Using Meditation to Prepare for Birth
In a state of increased theta waves, you may encounter relevant issues in need of attention, such as an unanswered question you have, a fear, or outmoded belief you hold that needs review. These are the gifts of meditation and the opportunities you give yourself for refinement of your self, and prepare for birth on the subconscious level. The uncovering of these sorts of things, one of the most important reasons for meditating in pregnancy, will happen more often if you ask for them.
Use your meditation to set an intention, eg. During this meditation I give thanks for my noticing any blocks I may have to… You can also be quite specific in what you go looking for, eg. Imagine a particular scene or your ideal birth scenario. Who is there? What time of day is it? You can also detect blocks you have in your subconscious mind (because that’s where you are visiting) that may influence your experience.
You may also visualise – by imagining – your desired outcome. Notice what happens when you do this and then apply your conscious mind to it after meditation. Return again to that image next time with any changes you make to your ideas about yourself or the situation. Creative visualisation, imagining the whole scene how you want it to be, is a useful tool to use during meditation in preparation for birth.
Guided meditation, trance work and hypnosis are other techniques that can be used to create and access deeper levels of consciousness. As with meditation these practises can be done for the personal physical and psychological effects, and for purpose of praying and any activity can become a meditation and often does for those who bring what they learn from meditation into their daily lives. Basically it is about being focused, not distracted, having the clear intention to trust in yourself, letting go of fears, flowing with whatever comes next, and being fully present in the moment. A great way to approach birth!
Jane Harwicke Collings is an independent midwife from Australia, who has been attending homebirths since 1984. She is herself a homebirth mother of four, a grandmother and a teacher of the Women’s Mysteries. She gives workshops, writes books and has founded The School of Shamanic Midwifery. Jane has trained in Shamanic practices with James M Harvey, aka Blackbear and has had many wonderful teachers including Midwife Maggie Lecky Thompson, Birthkeeper Jeannine Parvati Baker and Teacher and Author Cedar Barstow. Jane lives in the country of NSW with her husband, some of her children and many animal friends. As Jane says, she’s working for the Goddess.