Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Power of the Mind..

One of the aspects of Natural Childbirth that I strongly agree with, is the belief in the connection between mind and body. Advocates of Natural Childbirth believe that our thoughts and our state of mind during pregnancy and labor can have a remarkable affect on it and it's outcome.

When I discovered I was pregnant I had an immediate interest in hypnotherapy for labor. As someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, I am well aware of the power the mind has over the body. Fear is an incredible thing, and will make any experience unbearable.So, I was really thrilled to try Hypnobabies and I had a strong faith that it would work because I truly believe in it.

Unfortunately, some people see no connection between the body and the mind and actually use this belief as a source of sarcasm and ridicule. Their belief is that if your labor was short or lacking in pain, it was purely luck. I'm sure that is true in some cases, but certainly not all. If you attempt to explain all the preparation you took to ensure a positive birth experience, they accuse of you wanting to pat yourself on the back and take credit for "good luck". They say that there is no scientific evidence to prove that the mind has any effect on labor and birth.
Perhaps no formal studies have been done on a woman's state of mind and the outcome of her labor, but I do know this.... fear, anxiety and negative thinking, will make you perceive that your experience is much worse than it actually is. If you had a choice between preparing and taking ownership of your birth experience, over not preparing, wouldn't you want take whatever steps possible to try to make your experience as positive as possible? I know I did.

The interesting thing is, there IS a lot of scientific evidence that proves there is a mind-body connection. There is plenty of evidence to support how powerful the mind can be and that by harnessing that power, we can truly do extraordinary things with our bodies.

A few years ago, I read a book called, "The Intention Experiment". It's a fascinating book about the study of intention and thoughts. One specific chapter of the book talks about a study that was done by a Harvard Medical Professor on a group of Tibetan Monks in India...

In a monastery in northern India, thinly clad Tibetan monks sat quietly in a room where the temperature was a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a yoga technique known as g Tum-mo, they entered a state of deep meditation. Other monks soaked 3-by-6-foot sheets in cold water (49 degrees) and placed them over the meditators' shoulders. For untrained people, such frigid wrappings would produce uncontrolled shivering. 

If body temperatures continue to drop under these conditions, death can result. But it was not long before steam began rising from the sheets. As a result of body heat produced by the monks during meditation, the sheets dried in about an hour. 

Attendants removed the sheets, then covered the meditators with a second chilled, wet wrapping. Each monk was required to dry three sheets over a period of several hours. 

Benson is an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He firmly believes that studying advanced forms of meditation "can uncover capacities that will help us to better treat stress-related illnesses." 

Benson decided that he needed to locate a religious setting, where advanced mediation is traditionally practiced. His opportunity came in 1979 when the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, visited Harvard University. "His Holiness agreed to help me," recalls Benson. That visit was the beginning of a long friendship and several expeditions to northern India where many Tibetan monks live in exile. 

During visits to remote monasteries in the 1980s, Benson and his team studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by g Tum-mo meditation, raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees. It has yet to be determined how the monks are able to generate such heat. 

The researchers also made measurements on practitioners of other forms of advanced meditation in Sikkim, India. They were astonished to find that these monks could lower their metabolism by 64 percent. "It was an astounding, breathtaking [no pun intended] result," Benson exclaims. 

To put that decrease in perspective, metabolism, or oxygen consumption, drops only 10-15 percent in sleep and about 17 percent during simple meditation. Benson believes that such a capability could be useful for space travel. Travelers might use meditation to ease stress and oxygen consumption on long flights to other planets. 

In 1985, the meditation team made a video of monks drying cold, wet sheets with body heat. They also documented monks spending a winter night on a rocky ledge 15,000 feet high in the Himalayas. The sleep-out took place in February on the night of the winter full moon when temperatures reached zero degrees F. Wearing only woolen or cotton shawls, the monks promptly fell asleep on the rocky ledge, They did not huddle together and the video shows no evidence of shivering. They slept until dawn then walked back to their monastery. 

The next time someone tells you that mentally preparing for birth and releasing fears has no significance on your labor you might want to tell them about this study. Yes, this study is about meditation and not labor, however it does prove the powerful effect our minds can have on our bodies, when we focus and prepare and practice.

Due to using Hypnobabies and giving birth at home in an environment where I felt safe and protected, I ended up with a labor under 6 hours, with mild pain comparable to period cramps. I found pushing to be painful but still bearable. I wonder what would have happened if I had not prepared.....  It's interesting to me how many women have such completely different experiences giving birth after they have prepared mentally opposed to not preparing at all.

Keep in mind, though, that we don't have control. We can do all the preparation in the world and still might not end up with what we hoped for. Relinquishing control, actually gives us more control. So, have faith that events will unfold the way they are supposed to and be prepared for the unknown. But never forget the power you hold.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” Buddha


  1. It is for beliefs such as this that I believed it possible my labor could be painless. I had done it twice before so was no newbie, but conditions then had not been appropriate for me. Still, the pain I experienced was very real. I am a lover of the Buddha, a believer in meditation, and a strong person with a strong will and determination. Despite the powers I truly believed I possessed, I was in tremendous pain.

    That said, I still believe in this. Just because it is something that I did not or for whatever reason perhaps could not experience does not mean it isn't real. It still helped me get as close to my peace as I could. Other women can still experience this, and maybe even me in the future. Other people may mock and laugh at a mastery of the mind, but they are only masking their inability to try, cowardice to try or believe in themselves, and jealousy that others have attained this while they have not.

  2. inability is wrong. unwillingness is more like it.

  3. theperfectbirth- I absolutely love how you choose to not be a pessimist. You are no different than other women who tried for the painless, easy births and didn't get it, except you haven't allowed yourself to become angry and bitter because things didn't go as you hoped. It would have been much easier for you to turn to sarcasm and laugh at others who try for it, but you didn't. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, things are not going to go as we envision it but I think there is always some deeper message or learning experience to take when things end up being more difficult. So, in my view, it's good either way, you know? From your experience you have more insight into what it feels like to work for something and really want it, not get it but still remain optimistic that it is a good choice. That is not easy to do. You made the best out of your situation and therefore it turned out to be a really positive one. That's I how I see it at least. :-) Thanks for sharing!

  4. I didn't do hypnobirthing or meditation or any real preparation except becoming stubbornly determined that I would birth naturally. In retrospect this might have been a bit naive! I made it, though. The mind-body connection for me was stubborn determination. I also smiled through my contractions!