"Mindfulness" is being thrown around everywhere nowadays. So much that's it's starting to become a watered down buzzword. But the fact is, mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years and they're still relevant because being mindful can have lasting positive impacts.
Now, seemingly all of a sudden, you're hearing all the time about how being more mindful can positively impact your mind, body, emotions, and health. Researchers have studied mindfulness practices extensively, and continue to investigate the benefits. What we know is that mindfulness practices have positive benefits for your mind/mental health, body, emotions, and physical health. And of course, mindfulness practices can benefit anyone at any age during any stage, including pregnancy! Mindfulness practices during pregnancy has several benefits:
- Better manage chronic pain, depression, and anxiety
- Reduce fears about childbirth
- Reduce fears surrounding your pregnancy and parenting
- Increase confidence for birth and parenting
- Reduce perception of pain in birth
Mindfulness practices, simply defined, involve learning about and practicing being aware ("noticing"), moment by moment, your surroundings, your breath, and thoughts. "Awareness" simply means that you're pausing and noticing things without attaching any judgement. It also often involves a "slowing down" instead of the all-too-typical rush, rush, rushing through your day, from one activity and deadline to another. Like any practice, mindfulness requires, well, practice. If you were learning a new language, you'd do best to practice speaking and reading it every day. Same goes for mindfulness.
There are specific books, practices, and classes that provide pregnancy- and childbirth-specific mindfulness training (check out the book Mindful Birthing for more information), but most of the time, general DIY mindfulness practices are equally helpful. Below is a list of the five most common and basic mindful practices that you can do almost anytime and anywhere. Consider choosing one or two of these practices that speak to you most and make a plan to set aside time daily (even just 10 minutes!) to practice.
Meditation - If you've ever thought to yourself "I'm not the meditating type," keep reading. Meditation does not have to be 30 minutes of sitting silently with your eyes closed while you think about nothing. Try spending five minutes (set a timer with a soothing alarm sound) sitting in a chair or on the floor with your eyes closed and focus only on your breath. Follow your in-breath and out-breath. You can even say in your head "in" and "out" along with your breath. If other thoughts bubble up during the five minutes, don't get frustrated -- notice that you've gotten sidetracked and reset your thoughts to your breath. Do this as many times as you need without judging yourself for getting off course (it's normal). You can also try a guided meditation where someone leads you through the process, which is very helpful for beginners and experienced meditators alike. Download one of many guided meditation apps, like Calm or Insight Timer.
Breathing - Learn how to breathe -- sounds ridiculous, right? Well, this is different. Mindfulness asks you to pay attention to your breath. Try it now – I'll wait. Pause your reading, and spend the next 10 breaths paying attention to your breath, following it in and out with your mind. You can deepen it or slow it down if you like, but you don't have to. Closing your eyes if you're comfortable doing so can help you shut off outside distractions and better focus. Pausing to pay attention to your breath at different points throughout the day can help you feel more calm, focused, and refreshed.
Notice - Can you remember a time where you just looked around you (or within you) and just noticed? Not thinking, asking, judging, contemplating -- just noticing the details of what you see or what you feel. Whether you look at what's happening outside your window, spend time noticing how your body feels from head to toe, or just take in your immediate surroundings, bit by bit without too many thoughts or judgement, this act of mindfulness can help you feel more present, bring you clarity, and increase feelings of calm.
Journal - Before you think, "Me - write?!" let me clarify: you don't need to write anything lengthy, inspiring, or "good" (whatever that truly means) to start a daily journal practice. It can even be as simple as jotting down 2-3 daily bullet points on a topic you choose, like what you're feeling, what you're thankful for, or things you want to remember about your day. Often, the more often you write, the more you end up writing -- and even enjoying the process!
Yoga - You don't have to go to an in-person hour-long yoga class to reap its mind-body connection benefits. Don't get me wrong -- it absolutely helps to learn a foundation of yoga practice from a certified instructor in a class setting, you also can practice yoga in the privacy and comfort of your own home on your own or alongside an online yoga instructor (check out YogaGlo or Gaia). Yoga combines benefits of mindfulness with movements that can alleviate common pregnancy discomforts and strengthen your body for birth. Be sure to look for yoga poses that are safe for pregnancy, and consult with your OB or midwife in case you have any complications that would make yoga unsafe for your pregnancy.
If you are looking to incorporate more mindfulness into your pregnancy and childbirth, consider taking a childbirth class that teaches mindfulness practices for pregnancy and birth. Lamaze childbirth educators, for example, often teach and encourage mindfulness practices during childbirth classes.
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