The power of meditation and checking in with yourselfThe benefits of meditation

Meditation has become more and more mainstream over the past few years. While it used to be practised by only the more ‘alternative’ types, it’s now widely used in business, education and health care settings.

The reason is that there is now solid research clearly showing measurable benefits to the human brain. These benefits include reduced anxiety and depression, improved memory and cognitive skills, and even improvements in the brain’s structure that can be seen on MRI scans.

There have been numerous studies conducted showing that an expectant mother’s stress and anxiety can impact their baby’s immune system, temperament and cognitive development. The good news is that simple meditation practices can reduce stress and anxiety, and therefore bring positive health benefits to the unborn child that continue after birth. There is also evidence that using meditation techniques during labour can reduce pain perception.

There are many myths and claims made about meditation, generally around spirituality. In reality, meditation is a very simple process. It’s so simple in fact, that you can do it any time you have a few minutes to spare. You don’t have to burn incense and chant in the lotus position to meditate. You can be on the train commuting to work, going for a walk or just sitting at your desk.

There are many different forms of meditation. In its simplest form, meditation is really just going within, ignoring the outside world, and focusing on the body, the breath or performing a visualisation that is calming or has a therapeutic aim.

Meditation for Pregnancy

The pregnancy meditation has the therapeutic aim of increasing the bond to your baby and promoting a sense of calm and peace. This meditation can be used daily. Even just 5 minutes a day will calm your mind and make you feel relaxed. You can increase the length of time to suit you, either over a few days or weeks, as you get used to it.

1. Use a timer (such as the one on your smartphone) so that you don't have to keep opening your eyes to look at a clock. Once you are finished the visualisation, just focus on your breath until the time is up.

2. Find a comfortable seated position. This can be on a chair or lounge with your feet up, or on a cushion or a folded blanket on the floor.

3. Relax your hands loosely in your lap (or beside you) with the palms facing upward. If you wish to have music playing, choose something with no words or words in another language, so that you don’t get distracted by it.

4. Take a slow deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Repeat this a couple of times, and feel your shoulders melt away from your ears. Roll your shoulders backward a few times to loosen them if they’re tight. Then find stillness in your position for a few breaths, and really follow the breath in and out of your nose. Notice the feeling of the breath inside your nose, down the back of your throat and the feeling of your chest expanding with the breath. And then follow it back up, noticing the chest relaxing, and the air coming back up the throat and out through the nose again. Do this a few times to really connect the breath with your body. Next, bring one hand to your heart chakra (where your breast bone is) and place one hand on your baby. Visualise the loving energy from your heart chakra going down to your baby. See or feel that energy continuing down like a waterfall, smooth, constant and soft. Continue to visualise this for a few minutes, or as long as you like, and then bring your attention back to your breath.

5. Place your hands back in your lap or beside you, and return to following the breath in and out of the body, until your time is finished.

6. Then slowly start to move your fingers and toes and make circles with your wrists and ankles a few times in each direction to wake up the body. Do a few more shoulder circles and stretch your arms over your head to get the circulation going again.

Meditation once your baby arrives

Being a new mum is a very busy time, and it’s hard to find 5 minutes a day to yourself sometimes. This is where the Shower Meditation comes in as a great alternative. Doing your meditation in the shower may be the only time you have to quieten and calm your mind, so why not give it a try?

Shower Meditation

1. From the moment you are in the bathroom preparing for your shower, start to focus on your breath. Deepen it and slow it down. Your eyes remain open and as you progress through your shower routine, continue to keep your mind focused on your breath. Your mind will wander and thoughts will come in, and each time you notice that, just gently guide your attention back to your breath. There’s no need to be frustrated or annoyed with this, it’s perfectly normal.

2. Sometimes it can help to count each exhalation, up to ten. So the first time you exhale it’s ‘one’. Then the next time you exhale it’s ‘two’, continuing to ten. Once you reach ten, then start at ‘one’ again. You may find you rarely reach ten without getting lost, or you might find yourself at fourteen without knowing how you got there. There is no wrong here. Just take yourself back to one and start again.

3. When your shower ends and it’s time to go back to your baby, take a conscious final breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, and acknowledge that this is the last breath of your meditation.

4. Once you are in the habit of doing this during each shower, you will find it becomes easier to fall into the meditation, and it will calm your mind and relax you. The first few times you do this, it will feel awkward or you’ll keep forgetting that you’re supposed to be doing it. This is all completely normal. Just persevere and it will pay off.

If you find that you have longer periods of time available once baby gets into a regular routine, and you would like to find some sitting meditation time, then there are some great apps to guide you. Try ‘Smiling Mind’, a free Australian app that is designed for non-meditators to help them start to meditate. You can start with just 5 minutes a day for the first few times, and then increase by 5 minutes every week, to the length of time that suits you.

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