Mindfulness has received mixed press recently. While lots of people praise its benefits it is also being labelled the latest craze and many companies are pushing to make money out of it. It’s sad really when all the scientific research is pointing towards it being an effective way for us to treat conditions like anxiety and depression which up until now it has been all too easy just for doctors to prescribe pills to ‘solve’ these complex problems.
Mindfulness takes work and dedication, at the end of the day it is changing the way we look at the world and acknowledge our own thoughts. But I have to say having spent the last six months using it to overcome my pregnancy anxiety, it really does work and I will be taking what I have learnt through mindful birthing forward into the rest of my life.
Foundations of Mindfulness
Beginner’s Mind – don’t let fear from past experiences take over new experiences
Non-judging – things don’t have to be good or bad they can just be
Patience – learning not to let things get to you by coming back to the breath
Non-striving – there is nothing to achieve in mindfulness, it’s all about learning to be more present
Self-reliance – learning to listen to ourselves
Acknowledgement – accepting things just are without trying to change them
Letting be – learning to accept situations as they are without trying to run away from them
Kindness – towards ourselves and towards others
The first thing to learn is how to use the breath as a tool to bring you back to the present moment. Breathing is something we all take for granted, it keeps us alive, and yet it is something we carry with us all the time without even thinking and something we can use to focus our mind on. Once you come to realise how amazing our breath is you understand how powerful it can be in reducing anxiety and depression.
Once you have got your head around the breath you can move onto a variety of both formal and informal mindfulness practices. The idea of formal mindfulness practice is to take time out of your day to ‘formally’ carry out meditation. These sorts of practices include:
- Body scan – where you really think about the feelings and sensations in your body
- Yoga – using the breath as part of a series of stretches and exercises
- Pain Practice – using Ice Cubes to simulate contractions and learning to use the breath to cope
- Walking meditation – concentrating on the rhythm of walking
- Loving – kindness meditation – sending loving thoughts to your baby, yourself and others
Informal medication is how mindfulness slowly takes over your life and makes you look at life completely differently. It’s all about taking opportunities to focus on the here and now. It might be just taking 2 minutes at work to really focus on your baby’s movements or when you feel pain or an itch. It could just be taking the time to really concentrate when you are brushing your teeth or walking in the park rather than letting yourself get caught up in your thoughts and missing what is happening in the here and now.
Mindfulness somehow seems to address all the issues around birth. Whether it be the straight forward how am I going to deal with the pain of labour or the more complex emotions of fear and anxiety from a previous traumatic pregnancy and labour. To the even more complex emotions of losing a baby in the past – there seems to be a way for mindfulness to help and so I would recommend it to anyone – no matter the situation.
Mindfulness also is so important in our future roles as parents. Parenthood is filled with challenges, from the pain and struggles of breast-feeding, sleepless nights, sick children, temper tantrums, potty training, the list is endless. Being able to take a deep breath and let go of our anxieties and judgements allows us to view all these challenges in a more clear way and make better more balanced decisions.
Mindfulness also strengthens our relationships with our partners, how can it not, values like patience and non-judgement can only ever strengthen a relationship. Becoming parents is hard, having a baby will never fill gaps in a relationship, it will only highlight them all the more and gives so many new opportunities for problems to raise their heads. Mindfulness teaches us to be kind and loving, to try to understand how the other person is feeling and to take a breath before we say something we later regret. I believe mindfulness helps to fill gaps in our relationships and so I know I will make sure I continue to use it to help me to cope with the challenges of life.