As a psychology student, a number of my friends approach me on various issues. One of them was a friend who had worried herself into a wreck. After five years of trying, she had finally conceived and was into her sixth month of pregnancy. But, far from being elated, my friend had become a hassled, slightly neurotic version of her earlier self. The reason – stress, worry and dreaded nausea.
Pregnancy is a beautiful phase of life – but it is also one where you are constantly under stress – while your body is trying to adapt to the new life that is growing inside it, you are wondering whether your baby is healthy, whether you would be a good mother and how the whole process of labour is going to be. And, if you are working through your pregnancy – you would also be faced with looming deadlines, pressures at work and home and noisy environments. In other words – everything to make your mind and body a playground for frustration, anxiety and stress.
So, how do you tackle these problems without working yourself, and the little one inside, into a tizzy, or relying on (unwanted) medication and other short-lived escape routes? The answer is Meditation – a highly effective and safe way by which you can maintain a balanced mind and body. Meditation is being in a state of thoughtful awareness. It is the art of focussing your thoughts and attention and is a step towards helping you control your emotions and reduce stress. It requires zero investment of money or effort – all you need to have is some time in your hand, a quiet place and the motivation to meditate.
Why should I meditate?
Practitioners of meditation have been extolling its goodness for years. Now, several studies show that meditation has far-reaching benefits on a person’s physical, mental and social well-being. And, if you are pregnant – the benefits that meditation has for you and your yet-to-be-born baby are immense. Here is why you should meditate:
- Makes pain more manageable: Studies have proven that meditation helps the brain tackle pain better – much needed for the days leading to labour. In fact, a 2002 study conducted by the John F Kennedy Institute in Denmark revealed that meditation helped release the dopamine levels by 65 percent! Now, dopamine and endorphins are natural painkillers. Hence, the sooner and longer you meditate, the more you will be able to control pain in the labour room.
- Reduces Hypertension: In some pregnancies, women develop a condition called preeclampsia, which is triggered by high blood pressure, protein in the urine and fluid retention. This can prove to be a serious condition, if not treated. However, one of the ways in which hypertension can be reduced is by meditation. Scientifically, studies have shown that transcendental meditation is beneficial for combating stress, blood pressure, depression and anxiety among college students.
- Boosts immunity: Pregnancy is a time where your body goes through numerous changes, which makes you more prone to falling ill. Meditation boosts your immune system by slowing down the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. It also creates a positive environment which enables your immune system to grow stronger. In a study where 48 biotech workers underwent weekly meditation training for eight weeks, it was revealed that the workers had higher levels of infection-fighting antibodies than their counterparts who did not meditate.
- Fights insomnia: While pregnancy may make you feel tired throughout, you may find it difficult to sleep at night, especially towards the last two trimesters. Meditation has been found to treat insomnia, as it slows the heart rate and creates a feeling of sedation.
- Happier pregnancy and happier baby: Regular practitioners of meditation are also found to be happier people, as they are better able to manage their stress and emotions. Pregnancy also causes your hormones to fluctuate, hence giving you major mood swings. Meditation will help you deal better with these mood swings. Studies have also revealed that mothers who meditate throughout their pregnancy also have calmer, happier babies! Hence, a win-win situation all around.
I have never meditated before! How do I start?
It is not the amount of time you meditate but the intensity and the regularity with which you meditate that will help make a difference. Ensure that you set aside a certain amount of time every day to practise meditation. Before starting, find yourself a peaceful environment, away from the TV, phone and other distractions. Different people find that different methods help them while meditating.
Choose the one that best suits you – this could be guided meditation from a recording, meditation music, chants or just sitting with your eyes closed and focus on your breath and different parts of your body. While initially, it is quite hard to control your thoughts, you will slowly realise that while these thoughts may remain, they start fading into the background as you concentrate deeper.
How can I make meditation more comfortable?
While most meditation techniques recommend that you be seated while meditating, if you find it difficult, you can stay in whichever position you find comfortable. Avoid eating a heavy meal just before meditation. Wearing loose fitting clothes and making sure that the environment is neither too hot nor too cold can help make meditation more comfortable. You can either meditate indoors or outdoors. If you have a park located close to by, meditating under the trees, with the cool evening breeze, can make the experience even more pleasant.
If you don’t already follow a school of meditation, there are many guided meditation tracks available online. The various types of meditation that you can do are:
- Guided visualisation: This is a recorded meditation which helps you focus on a concept or an environment, which can either a flower, the beach, the mountains or any other imaginary image.
- Mantra meditation: Involves chanting a particular word or phrase repeatedly. This could be Om, or any other word that helps you relax and focus on your body chakras, or centres of energy. If there is a particular prayer or hymn you like, you can also listen to it on loop, with your eyes closed.
- Breath awareness: This is one of the easiest methods of meditating and involves focusing on your breath as you inhale and exhale slowly. In this type of meditation, as you settle your body and thoughts, you slowly bring your mind to notice how your breath moves in and out of your body. This is a great way of relieving stress and will also help you control the pain when you are finally at the delivery table.
Now that you have read about all the wonders that meditation does to you and your baby, it’s time to start. And if you are able to rope in your spouse during your meditation sessions, you will find that it’s a great way of spending some quiet, peaceful time together – something you would really appreciate before your baby arrives.