Advocates of hypnobirthing prize the technique’s emphasis on getting out of the body’s way during childbirth and allowing it to perform its natural processes.
Today, more than 50 percent of women giving birth in hospitals choose to have an epidural during childbirth, a testament to just how many women are terrified to go through labor and delivery naturally. Sure, many hospitals recommend new moms take Lamaze classes before their babies are born, but much of that education flies out the window when the first really painful contraction hits. Another lesser known birthing method, hypnobirthing, could help those women who’d like to have a natural childbirth but are just too scared. The method is based on knowledge that fully accepts and acknowledges those fears.
Hypnobirthing operates under the concept that muscles under tension create the experience of pain; conversely muscles that are in a relaxed state do not. “It’s like when you lift your arm without holding anything in your hand – it doesn’t hurt,” explains Rivkah Estrin, childbirth educator and postpartum doula, who herself practiced hypnobirthing successfully though five deliveries. “But if you’re holding something extremely heavy in your hand and then you try to lift your arm, then you feel it.”
So how does hypnobirthing work?
The method allows you, over the course of your pregnancy, to practice relaxation techniques that allow your uterus to function as it’s intended to. “The first part of the process is just about releasing your own fears and understanding the mechanics of the labor process,” Estrin says. “The more you know and the more you educate yourself, the more confident and relaxed you are.”
You can either take a local class or if one isn’t offered near you, buy the book “HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method” together with the guided meditation CDs. “You practice every night — either by doing guided meditations with your partner or alone. The more you use those meditations, visualizations, and affirmations, the more you end up really believing them, and the more empowered you become,” Estrin says.
Then, during labor itself, you create the environment that is most calming for you. For Estrin, it was dimmed lights with candles lit. She found that place within herself where she was most relaxed and allowed herself to breathe through a contraction — or a surge as it’s referred to in hypnobirthing. “I felt pressure but no pain,” Estrin says. “I still feel like that labor and delivery was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”
There are two kinds of hypnobirthing — the Mongan method (named for Marie “Mickey” Mongan, who pioneered hypnobirthing) and HypnoBabies, which uses the same method for hypnosis used by people preparing for surgery without anesthesia (called hypno-anesthesia).
What advice would Estrin give to new moms interested in learning more about the method? “Absolutely pursue it, learn about it, educate yourself, and become your best advocate,” she says. “It’s about advocating for yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking questions or changing providers, who will allow to have the birth be what you want. It’s with any learned skill in life — once you’re educated and empowered, the fear really goes away and you focus on what you can do to assist your body in its natural process, rather than get in the way.”
Credit: Chanie Kirschner
Even if you sleep like a baby most nights, you’ve probably had at least the occasional bout of insomnia. Whether it’s that late-night snack that keeps the sandman away, stress or something less sinister, here are six relaxation techniques to try when sleep eludes you:
1. Guided visualization
Lie in bed and tell your body to relax from head to toe, suggests Joshua Jacobi, MD, an interventional cardiologist in Pasadena, California. “Forehead relax, eyes relax, cheeks relax,” and so forth down until your toes. “Then, I picture lying on a beach. I bring in all the sensory awareness to the setting. So I feel the sand in my toes, the warmth of the sun, a cool breeze. I see the waves slowly coming in to the shore. I see palm trees waving in the wind. I hear the sound of the waves as they come in,” says Jacobi. Picture this scene or something else that is relaxing for you.
2. Analyze your sleep cycle
Take a page from the Quantified Self movement and start recording your sleep data, says Ari Meisel, founder of Less Doing More Living, a productivity hack blog for optimizing, automating and outsourcing everything in your personal and professional life from fitness to email management.
His favorite sleep tracker is Basis Band, which includes sensors for constant heart rate monitoring, skin temperature, and even perspiration so you can get an incredible level of insight into the way you move through your various sleep cycles (light sleep, deep sleep, REM). “While your perceived level of exhaustion may have you convinced you are getting no sleep at all, a pattern most likely will emerge,” says Meisel. Once you identify that pattern, exploit it. “Simply knowing that you average three-hour stints instead of the 15 minutes you thought you were getting can be a huge psychological windfall.”
3. Treat your anxiety
CureCrowd, the first search engine to visually rate treatments and remedies for medical conditions by crowdsourcing the experiences of real but anonymous patients, found that users rated marijuana more highly than Ambien to treat anxiety and sleeplessness. Other remedies included exercise, yoga and prescription antidepressant/antianxiety meds.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing encourages deep relaxation by balancing the left and right sides of the brain while calming the nervous system, says Amita Patel, founder of Aligned Holistics, a coaching services company that combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career and personal philosophy.
Here’s how: Rest your right ring finger and thumb on either side of your nostrils, lightly touching them. Take a big breath in and a big breath out, then close off the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril for a four count. At the top of that breath, close off the left nostril with your ring finger, hold and retain for a count of four, and then release the right nostril and exhale for four. Repeat as many cycles as comfortable until relaxed ending with the left nostril, recommends Patel.
5. Count backward
While lying in bed, start counting backwards from 100. Do it slowly, about once a second, 100…99…98. Take your time. “The trick is this: If you get lost or forget what number you’re on, you need to start over again from 100. Every time you get lost, gently start over. Don’t allow yourself to become frustrated, just be gentle with yourself and start back over from 100,” says Phillip Mandel, a hypnotherapist in Beaverton, Oregon. Why does it work? It’s both monotonous and mildly hypnotic. “Note that it’s not hypnosis in the usual sense, such as ‘you are getting sleepy’. Rather, you’re just doing something monotonous with your mind that will have the effect of making you sleepy,” says Mandel.
6. Guided imagery
“Guided imagery, a close cousin of meditation and hypnosis, can shift brain wave activity, and specific images can be learned that promote the brain’s movement toward deep, restful sleep,” says Leslie Davenport, a psychotherapist and author of “Healing and Transformation through Self-Guided Imagery.”
To try it, imagine a small ball of yarn. See this ball of yarn as holding the last bit of residual tension you have. Find the tip of the yarn and watch as the ball begins to roll slowly, unwinding as it moves. See the strand of yarn unfurling and resting on the floor, becoming longer as it continues to roll slowly. “Sense the decompressing. Feel the spaciousness around it now,” says Davenport. “As you watch the yarn, feel also the unwinding of any residual tension within you. Like tiny muscle fibers softening, watch as the ball continues to release from its very core, the soft yarn now stretched out, open, and completely at rest.”
Of course, this list is just a sampling. Other relaxation techniques include Progressive Muscle Relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing each major muscle group to create awareness of tension and relaxation; somatic exercise, in which gentle, soft stretching and movements are done while lying on a mat to help shift your central nervous system to create new muscular habits that alleviate pain and tightness. And finally pandiculation, a brain reflex action pattern similar to how a dog gets up from rest, putting his front paws out and lengthening his back as he relaxes his belly. Pandiculation can wake up the muscular system at the brain level and provide deep relaxation. One or more of these may help you find that elusive 40 winks.