By Maggie Richards, co-founder of Mindfulness for Mums, London’s first workshops and courses dedicated to mums-to-be.
Studies show that mindfulness practice helps us cope better with stress, anxiety, illness and chronic pain, and improves our relationships. In short, it makes us healthier and happier.
- Befriend your breath
The breath is one of mindfulness’s best friends for two big reasons: it’s always in the here and now. And you can’t leave it at home. Observing the breath, without trying to change it, is an effective, natural relaxation technique. It reduces the heart rate and calms the mind. Often quite quickly.
Sit comfortably, place a hand gently on your abdomen and ‘tune into’ the physical sensations of the rhythmic rise and fall of your breath. Keep your attention here for as long as you wish. When your mind wanders, kindly bring it back to your breath. (You will especially need to be able to master the to-ing and fro-ing of your mind once your baby’s born and exercising its lungs!)
- Notice how things really feel
Many women become more sensitive to their environment when expectant. What a wonderful intelligence there is to pregnancy; the more aware you are of what’s going on around you, the stronger the position you’re in to decide what and where’s best for baby and you.
Experiment with small steps. Sit comfortably, relax, and start sensing the contact of your spine against the back of the chair. Keep noticing. Be curious how it feels to have your back supported in this way. When you’re ready, move your mind into your feet. Now neutrally observe the physical sensations of the contact of your feet on the ground.
This simple grounding practice is very good and reducing the all too easily triggered fight/flight response. Which means a calmer you and a calmer baba.
- Watch your thoughts
When we begin to train the mind to stay in the here and now, a deeper understanding of ourselves begins to appear. One way of doing this is neutrally observing our thoughts at any moment. Perhaps for the first time, we see the habitual thinking patterns that we tend to accept as ‘fact.’ “All my mum friends know what they’re doing.” “I’m a failure.” “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
In choosing to step away from the washing machine of the mind we’re rewarded with new perspectives and new possibilities. What if you didn’t buy into your fears and negative beliefs? What would happen if you rose above them and chose to think compassionate thoughts? Kindness is a strength.
- Picture the positive
The mind is the powerhouse of wellbeing. Run yourself a bath, get in, relax, close your eyes and focus on your baby. Lovingly imagine it all peaceful and safe in your womb. Keeping your mind steady, visualise a pure white light flowing from your heart to theirs in a circuit of love and joy. Feel your deep and silent love spreading warmly from your heart through your torso, arms, legs, your face, eyes and up through your mind, quietening your thoughts like a peaceful wave.
- Slow down
When we choose to be more aware of our experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations, reactions – in the moment, a sense that things are slowing down – feelings, thoughts, words – naturally arises. And with this slowing down tends to come a feeling of contentment. Of self-control. What was a problem now isn’t. Seek slowness – a very feminine quality – and it will seek you. Experiment with walking, typing, doing the housework and even speaking slowly. It’s soothing.
- Face your fears
What we’ve already faced, we’re not (half as) afraid of. Rather than getting caught up in your fears, invite them to sit in front of you, so to speak. By consciously engaging them, something fundamental in your attitude to your fears will shift.
So get together with a good friend and name your worst fears about the pregnancy and all that may follow. To bring them into the light of awareness is like opening the dark cupboard with the monster in it. It’s never as scary as you think.
- Learn to surrender
At a time of probably the greatest change of your life, it may seem counter-intuitive to practice letting go. But kindly hear me out. The miracle of a new life is growing inside you. Ultimately, regardless of what you do or don’t do, this new life has a purpose and design of its own over which no human has power.
Is it not possible, then, that inwardly surrendering to the supremely intelligent creative forces of transformation that you’re being blessed with by virtue of being woman can bring about a profound sense of awe, inner strength and love for all life?
If you find yourself struggling to trust your intuition, try repeating the Serenity Prayer silently to yourself:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.
Trust is a form of love, and the more loving we are, the quieter the mind is. Loving minds neither judge, berate, question, doubt or complain. They simply know.
- Be grateful
Gratitude gives upliftment. When caught up in fear about the birth or anxiety about the right thing to do, stop. Sit. Breathe. And count your blessings. Literally count them. Write down 22 things you’re grateful for, big and small, and watch how much happier you feel. Studies show that focusing on the positive like this triggers changes in the body’s biochemistry, including a better hormonal balance and an increase in the production of ‘anti-ageing hormone’ DHEA.
- Talk it through
Encourage honest discussion with your partner about your approaches to parenting, your fears and hopes. Forearmed is forewarned. Much better to know now that he believes in letting the baby cry itself to sleep than finding out while you’re sobbing outside the nursery at 3am.
- Practice being present
Learning to be fully present is a skill. And like any skill, from learning a language to training for a new career, it takes practice and dedication. Practice mindfulness daily, and when the day of the birth comes, you’ll really notice how much more resilient and in control you feel. For more ideas on how to be mindful during pregnancy, read Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke.
Explore all these and more motherhood-boosting mindfulness practices at a Mindfulness for Mums workshops, mindfulnessformums.com or call 0794 121 8662.