Conversations I have had in the past about the difference between relaxation, self-hypnosis and meditation have always been slightly perplexing. As the universal benefits of all three: reduction in stress, anxiety and low blood pressure were all cited as the reasons pregnant women should choose one discipline over another.
However, after recently upping my own meditation practice I wanted to share why the three are different and how they can work effectively together for women looking to create calm and positive birth experiences.
When we are able to relax emotionally it's like pressing a refresh button in our brain. It enables us to let go of the often continuous underlying stress we carry around daily. When preparing for birth this is incredibly important because of the much talked about mind-body connection. When we are able to relax emotionally the body responds in the same fashion, we notice our muscles and tendons loosening up, relaxing too.
In a society where taking time to relax and switch off from the daily grind is often bottom of life's priority list, this is a very important skill to focus on and develop throughout your pregnancy. As the more accustomed you become to being able to relax quickly and on demand emotionally, the more instinctive it will become for you to do this while you're in labour. The more relaxed a woman is during birth, the more efficiently her body works to birth her baby, leading to better birth outcomes.
Many of my clients at The Calm Birth School often ask if it's a problem that they fall asleep whilst listening to their self-hypnosis audios, that are designed to help them prepare for birth in various different ways. The answer is always the same. No.
This is because the audios are designed to work with the sub-conscious part of our brains. If you imagine the brain being a little like an iceberg, the tip of the iceberg is where we do our rational and logical thinking. Scientist claim that the logical part of our mind is responsible for anything between 4% and 12% of our actions. Below the surface of the sea is our sub-conscious, it is this part of our brain that is responsible for all of our instinctive behaviours. What we often fail to acknowledge is that anywhere between 88% and 96% of our behaviour is based on pre-programmed patterns within our subconscious.
For the majority of women fears about their ability to give birth in a calm and positive way appear both consciously and subconsciously. Our subconscious is infinitely more powerful when it comes to governing our actions, so self-hypnosis is designed to reprogram the way we feel about our ability to give birth at the deepest levels. Working through our fears about birthing, creating a positive expectation about our upcoming labour, building our confidence in our body and the nature of birth. It just so happens that self-hypnosis is most effective when we are very relaxed, but the practice itself is very much a passive process.
Meditation as I practice it and there are many different ways to approach it, is a far more active discipline. In the past during meditation I have looked to clear my mind of any thoughts and focus on the breath. This can be incredibly overwhelming for many, particularly if you're just starting out on your meditation journey. With the frustration of not being able to stop thinking causing tension. I have avoided this by choosing to follow Kyle Cease's advice on how to meditate. Which in short is allow what ever thoughts you have to come up, without feeling the need to identify with them.
As most of us move through life completely identified with all of our thoughts and the thoughts that other people have about us, this is a very interesting and illuminating practice.
This skill can be a powerful tool in both life and pregnancy is for a number of reasons:
1) It helps you to practice the art of acceptance with what's going on in your mind without judgement, creating a distance between you and your thoughts. When women during labour talk about being able to distance themselves from the sensations or pain they experienced during childbirth, I believe this is a by-product of not identifying with every single thought they have.
2) The practice of active meditation gives a woman time to connect with her pregnant body and her baby where she can enjoy an internal dialogue. Which whilst might sound a bit 'woo' women who report back the most positive birth experiences often cite the experience as being a team effort between herself, birth partner, body and baby. You can only experience that type of intimate connection when you create time to become intimately connected.
3) We produce more endorphins, endorphins are our pleasure enhancing, pain relieving hormones. The more we meditate during pregnancy, the higher endorphin levels we take into labour with us.
To summarize, being able to relax both emotionally and physically during pregnancy, will help you be able to instinctively relax during labour and birth despite the different and sometimes intense sensations of birth. Self-hypnosis is a passive activity designed to help reset the way you think and feel about your ability to give birth and create a new blue print for your subconscious mind to work from when you go into labour. And meditation is a more personal journey and active process which amongst many other benefits will increase the connection you have with your baby and your body, creates space for you to become less identified with your thoughts and helps promote endorphin production.
All three disciplines will reduce stress, anxiety and help you enjoy your pregnancy more! To start your journey to relaxation today sign up here for your free relaxation download.