This Thich Nhat Hanh quotation hangs on the wall of Peace House, where I lead mindful hypnobirthing classes. At the class last week we put this idea into action practising a lovely technique called Mindful Movements. This is new to the Mindful Mamma class, along with the book Mindful Hypnobirthing published last month.
Mindful Movements is based on walking meditation, a mindfulness practice that involves bringing awareness to the sensations of walking. As with many mindfulness meditation practices such as breath awareness, the intention is to bring awareness to a simple aspect of our physical lives – one that is always with us and easily accessed, but often by its very ordinariness overlooked. Walking mindfully, we notice the weight rolling from heel to toe and shifting from one foot to the other, feeling the points of contact between feet and floor. We may be aware of the rocking of our hips, our arms swinging, our balance, our pace and rhythm, and the thoughts wandering through our mind. Noticing each detail, tuning in to each moment. Like breathing, walking is something we usually take for granted, and it can be a revealing practice to bring awareness to this everyday activity. The first time I tried this practice, I was struck by a feeling of immense gratitude for my ability to walk, as I remembered my previous job in spinal cord injury rehab and all the people I met who had lost this ability.
Being upright and active during labour is known to be beneficial – as Janet Balaskas explains, research studies show that contractions are stronger and more regular, cervical dilation is more efficient, resulting in shorter labours, less use of analgesia, and babies born in better condition. However it’s a common misconception that hypnobirthing isn’t compatible with active birth. Perhaps this is something to do with the many beautiful hypnobirth videos showing women looking very relaxed, lying comfortably on a sofa or floating in a birth pool, and it’s true that many women find calm and relaxation in a comfortable restful position even during intense labour. But other women feel the need to be upright and moving during their labour, and for many women it’s a combination of phases of activity and phases of rest.
So it was great to practise Mindful Movements with the class, showing how self-hypnosis and mindfulness work in harmony with movement. As the class rocked their hips and swayed from side to side, some of the women practising movements they had learned at aquanatal or pregnancy yoga, I reminded them of how this rocking motion would help to rock their babies down, finding the perfect position in the pelvis, making the journey through the birth canal quicker and easier. There is a wealth of information on Spinning Babies for ways of using movement and positioning to encourage your baby into an optimal position for birth.
And the second-time parents in the class remembered this familiar rocking motion from the hours spent walking and swaying with a fretful newborn. New babies are often soothed by being lovingly held or carried in a sling while their mother or father walks, rocks, sways or bounces gently – or in the case of one of my children, vacuums the floor (this technique had the added benefits of white noise which is often soothing, and a clean floor once the baby was asleep!). The combination of close contact and warmth in the loving arms of a parent, prompting oxytocin release to calm the baby’s system, and the rocking motion familiar from life in the womb, has the power to calm and comfort many a baby, as this study shows.
Sometimes whatever we do to soothe a colicky baby the crying continues, and it’s well known that this can be one of the hardest aspects of life with a newborn. Tuning in to our own movements, our breathing, becoming mindful of the thoughts and emotions passing across our mental sky, can help us to work with the pain of our crying babies, acknowledging their distress and our discomfort while knowing that ‘this too shall pass’.
Using Mindful Movements we can bring peace to every step of an active labour, and peace to every step of our journey through the early weeks with our babies.