Mindfulness + Meditation
Practicing mindfulness can mean the difference between walking to work on autopilot focused on your to do list and taking the time to savour each moment of your journey, experiencing the sound of the birds and the fresh smell of the morning dew on the grass.
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, explains BC Women's family physician Dr. Karen Buhler (pictured below right). "Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to yourself and what’s around you, then letting go of that and noticing the next moment. It is a way of being open to what is and watching the changes."
Mindfulness-based mediation is a well-established tool for managing the impact of health problems like chronic pain or depression. US expert Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program more than 25 years ago, combining meditation and yoga practice. However, practicing mindfulness-based meditation can also have many benefits for pregnant women and their partners. These include assisting with pain management during labour, reducing anxiety, enabling early bonding with your baby and enhancing communication with your partner.
Brian Dean Williams, a Vancouver counsellor and meditation teacher, began teaching expectant parents about meditation because he experienced the value firsthand with the births of his three children. He notes that his own longstanding mediation practice helped him to become a more effective birthing partner for his wife, and it continues to enhance his daily life as a husband, father and professional therapist.
"Meditation holds the potential to change your relationship with your body and with experiences of pain and discomfort," Williams says. " It also has the potential to help you navigate the changes associated with bringing a new baby into the world - in terms of physical changes, relationship changes, lifestyle changes."
After discovering meditation for herself, Dr. Adrianne Ross brought the first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program to Vancouver two decades ago. As a family physician, she wanted to share the benefits of meditation with her patients. Ross explains that meditation goes beyond coping with pregnancy or other medical needs. "It's really giving people life skills that they could apply to any difficult situation, and to living life fully in line with their deepest values."
Mindfulness meditation can be especially beneficial for women with a history of high-risk pregnancy, pregnancy loss or post-natal depression.
When you are pregnant, meditation can help you to separate what you are feeling in your body from the way you react to these sensations - a valuable technique for helping with your response to pain and your ability to both focus and relax during labour. Ross notes that it helps you to develop the capacity to be " in the moment skillfully" rather than worry about the past or future: "Meditation is a resource for birthing, for parenting, for life."
Types of meditation
Meditation practices have been developed over many years and spiritual traditions. Some people think of meditation as concentrating on a mantra or object, but mindfulness meditation is in a different category. Although based on ancient Buddhism, it's a non-religious practice that focuses on being more aware of what is happening in the moment, paying attention to what we are experiencing inside and outside of our bodies with acceptance, patience and compassion.
One of the meditation techniques used by both Ross and Williams is “the Body Scan,” which guides you to focus on your breath and pay attention to individual sensations from head to toe. At the same time you practice separating the physical experience from your own emotional reactions to pain or other sensations in the body.
In his workshops for expectant couples, Williams also uses the Buddhist practices of the heart repeating phrases that can be used to reduce stress for the parents and comfort the infant, as well as mindful speech to introduce couples to a way of communicating that's beneficial during birthing, for parenting and across their relationship.
If you are interested in learning more, look for resources in your community and online. For example, Ross and Buhler have developed their own Meditation for Pregnancy CD, and Williams provides workshops for pregnant women and couples.
Our experts offer some tips to develop your meditation skills:
• Don't go it alone - connect with someone else or a group interested in meditating. Your pre-natal or other birth preparation classes can be a good place to find another person or couple interested in learning more about meditation or using one of the CDs or online tools available to guide you. (If you find a teacher or class, ask about the teacher's training and whether they practice meditation themselves.)
• Practice is essential - to get the benefits of meditation, you need to practice regularly. It's useful to pick a time of day that works for you and make that your meditation time. If you are a busy, even a five-minute session can be helpful if you can do it regularly. It can also help to have a space for your meditation, but it can be part of another room in your home. A table with a meaningful object or photo can work as a reminder and a place to focus.
Meditation and Pregnancy
Meditation for Pregnancy (CD and mp3 available)
Developed by Dr. Adrianne Ross and Dr. Karen Buhler
This resource contains four guided meditations for pregnancy: Body Scan, Healing Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, and Opening the Heart Meditation. You can purchase this online at the C&W Bookstore (a donation from each purchase goes to the Perinatal Addiction Service to help pregnant women struggling with substance use) . It's also available at no charge for people with a limited income by contacting the BC Women's Department of Family Practice via email
General guided meditations
Free mp3s available from this site.
Workshops and Support Groups
Brian Dean Williams Meditation Workshops - Pomegranate Midwifery
Meditation Workshop: BC Women's (a fundraiser for the Newborn ICU)
Support Group for New Dads (Brian Dean Williams)
Book and DVDs
This article was written by Anne McLaughlin and reviewed by Dr. Karen Buhler, Dr. Adrianne Ross and Brian Dean Williams.
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