Here are a few meditative breathwork and visualization techniques you can practice regularly in pregnancy or anytime really, so that you are more prepared and empowered, and can more easily do them in labor and during any life challenge.
How do I get started?
Begin meditating by finding a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, set an alarm with a soothing sound, for 2 or 3 minutes. Sit tall or lay down comfortably, softly close your eyes and turn your attention inward. During this time, allow yourself to just BE and breathe, and rest in peaceful stillness without having to DO anything. Allow your mind to be totally immersed in the process of breathing and being. Bring awareness and acceptance not only to your breathing, but also the sensations you notice and feel in your body. If a thought or emotion comes, notice, allow, let it be or go, and settle back into your breathing. This is a conscious training of your mind, and like any muscle, requires regular practice. It is an ongoing practice, that changes and evolves as you change and grow. There is no need to control anything. It is kind of like surrendering, letting go to whatever you experience in your mind, body, heart and spirit – without any interpretation, judgment, reaction or need to fix anything. Simply watch what is happening within, as a detached witness. This enables you to be mindful in the now, the only place where your life is happening, and is a wonderful way to become present, out of your busy thinking mind, relax and connect more deeply to yourself and your baby. Staying aware, calm and present are key to an easier labor and life.
Another form of mediation involves a conscious effort to completely focus your mind’s attention on something specific. As above, set a soothing alarm for a few minutes, take a few moments to get into your meditative state. Then do one of the following and vary it up each time until are see which ones resonate most with you to practice regularly, so you have a variety to choose from that work best for you at the time. This could be gazing at simple object like a candle, towards the tip of your nose or the space between your eyebrows (even if you can not see it with your eyes), the horizon or a beautiful natural scene; listening to repetitive simple sounds in nature like ocean waves, rain, a flowing stream, relaxing chimes or for example Gregorian chants; engaging in something that requires complete attention and immersion like yoga or creative expression; doing rhythmic repeated movement like dance, walking mindfully or touching the tips of your fingers in sequence, using objects like mala beads, touching each one while reciting or singing a mantra or yoga sutra; saying chakra syllables, mantras, or simple affirmative words or sounds like “AhhhhhOmmmmmm” , “Shhhhhhhh”, “Release”, “Open” ,“Let Go” , etc.
To practice, sit tall with your buttocks perched up on two folded blankets, against the wall or back of a chair; or lay down on a comfortable flat surface without falling asleep, (but once you hone these skills you can do them anywhere); close your eyes softly, and try each technique for a few minutes. Notice how you feel as you relax into these practices. You might like them so much you will continue for longer.
1) Simply watch the details of your breath without fixing them – notice the inhale, and exhale, the rise and fall of your chest and belly, the coolness of the air going in, and the warmth of the air going out, and any other associated details.
2) Place one hand on your belly and breathe into your hand, notice the expansion of your belly into your hand and lower back into the surface behind or beneath it for a minute; then place your hands around your lower ribs and breathe into your hands, notice the ribs expand out to the side into your hands for a minute; then place a hand on your chest and notice the rise of your chest into your hand, and the expansion of your upper back into the surface behind or beneath you for a minute. With your hands by your sides, draw your breath deep down towards expanding your pelvic floor and inflating your entire torso like a balloon with each inhale, then release even deeper on each exhale as you empty your body of breath. Keep it smooth, fluid and even, for a minute or longer.
3) Breathe in a one to one ratio - count to three as you inhale, then count to three as you exhale. With practice, you can increase the ratio increments to 4:4, 5:5 or 6:6. Try holding for one count between each inhale and exhale and inhale again. Notice that stillness in between inhalation and exhalation.
4) Practice Ujjai breathing. This is a wonderful natural tranquilizer and awesome for yoga, deep relaxation and labor. Breathe at the pace and depth that feels right for you, but by inhaling through your mouth or nose, directing the breath into the back of your throat which makes a sound like ocean waves (it is a calm, slow, and smooth circular version of gasping on inhale and fogging a mirror on exhale).
5) Do alternate nostril breathing at a pace and depth that is comfortable - this is also extremely calming. Place your hand, fingers facing down, above the roof of your nose. Inhale, then occlude your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril, then inhale through the left nostril. Take your thumb off your right nostril, occlude your left nostril with your ring and middle finger and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril then take your fingers off your left nostril for exhale. Repeat this cycle for at least a minute. If your nose is stuffed, you can visualize or imagine breathing in this way.
In a meditative state, while breathing at a pace and depth that feels most calming for you, you can incorporate a visualization, unique to what you need at that moment. These are only a few examples, that have helped many mamas. As with the breathwork, experiment, sit with each one for a few minutes, see what resonates most, then incorporate a few you like best, into your regular practice, so that you have several to choose from when you need them.
1) You can visualize and literally direct your breath, the life force, to areas of need, intense sensation and discomfort. You can direct your breath in various directions to achieve different results.
2) To connect with your baby, you can dwell on your feeling of love for your baby. When breathing, you can imagine that feeling to grow and expand, as you imagine your inhale going right to your heart center, and then on exhale, imagine sending that breath, that feeling of love energy directly to your baby, surrounding your baby. You can give the energy a color if you want. Imagine your baby smiling and basking in the love you are sending, and then visualize a direct impenetrable line of light, color or energy connecting your heart with your baby, like a phone line, always available for connection.
3) To feel grounded, if seated, imagine roots extending from all points of contact between you and the surface beneath you, extending deep down into the earth center. Inhale breath from your crown, and exhale directing your breath down your spine, and out through the roots, which draw you further down and heavy. Each exhale your breath extends out through the roots, growing them even further down and spreading out into the earth beneath you. If you are lying down, imagine the breath coming in through the front of your body, and exhale out the back of your body, with the same root visual. Feel the pull of gravity down, as the roots wrap around you and hold you secure. Inhale deep into your core, where there is an eternal candle flame, and on exhale spread that fire to fill your heart, abdomen and pelvis, and repeat breathing with this visual.
4) To feel centered, imagine a straight sparkling rod of steel, diamond or golden light extending deep into the earth center, running up your spine, from your sacrum to your crown, and up into the infinite space above. If you are interested in the chakras, see and sense the circular vortexes of energy in their colors around and up your body’s center, from the red at your root, then orange at you pelvic area, yellow at your solar plexus, green at your heart space, turquoise at your throat, indigo between your eyebrows, golden white at your crown just above your head.
5) To feel protected, visualize inhaling a spiritual, healing energy, light or color from your crown, and exhale directing your breath, that energy, light or color to fill your entire body, head to toe and completely surround you like a fortress or eternal spiritual bubble that can not be broken. Sit in that visual so that you see it, feel it, sense it, know it.
6) To feel cleansed, inhale from top to bottom or from front to back, a healing color, spiritual energy, or white/golden light filling your body. If you are carrying around anger and rage, for example, exhale all the red fire and loud screams out of your back or any points of contact between you and the ground. If you have sadness, grief or despair about something, use the visual of a powerful waterfall or fire hose of tears forcefully exiting your body on exhale. If you have blocks or baggage that weigh you down, use the visual of multiple bricks and heavy rocks exiting your body on exhale. For release of all negativity, toxins, beliefs and habits not serving you, use the visual of black smoke exiting your body on exhale. Or come up with your own visuals that resonate more with you.
6) To feel strong and magnificent, sit tall with the visual of a huge radiating sun, the eternal light of your spirit filling your heart center, big and huge, extending out in all directions.
7) To feel calm and blissful, imagine yourself in your happy place in all its detail. What does it look like, feel like, sound like, smell like, taste like. Let those feelings take over. Many tend to visualize themselves in a tropical paradise, by the sea, in the mountains, in a cave, floating on a cloud in a blue sky of beauty, by a lake or in the stillness of the forest. Or, imagine yourself so relaxed, that you are like a sleeping cat, a napping dog, or like a rag doll – totally surrendered, limp and released without ANY muscle tension. See any residual tension melt completely, as a tiny piece of ice quickly becomes water on exposure to heat, and watch that water flow down and away from your body.
8) Specifically for labor, there are some common ones that many mamas like to use. Often it helps a mama during childbirth to visualize the waves of the rise and fall of the sensations of labor, like the rise and fall of the waves of the ocean that rise and fall, and come and go. Others like to imagine the surges to be hugs to the baby. It also helps mamas to visualize the cervix, the tightly closed, long, thick and firm entrance to the uterus during labor, and the birth canal and the perineum during pushing, to soften and open like a rose bud blossoms into a flower. The ring of fire commonly referred to when the baby crowns, can be seen as the ring of flowers, or one big opening lotus or rose flower.
What matters is that whatever you are visualizing, comforts and helps you. Through taking responsibility for your own state of mind and well being, by daily practice of meditation, breathwork and visualization, you are empowering yourself with tools for labor and life’s challenges, and helping yourself tremendously. They can make you feel like an active participant in your pregnancy, childbirth and life experiences – labor and life are not just happening to powerless you; you are present within it, working with it, helping it along, taking positive steps to do what you can to bring your baby into the world with more ease and cope most effectively with whatever comes your way.