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What is Mindfulness?

One of the tools for labour that we teach in GentleBirth is Mindfulness. And it’s not just a tool for labour but for life. So what is it? Mindfulness is not about sitting on top of a mountain for hours on end with your legs crossed with a completely blank mind. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to a particular activity without judgment. Mindfulness allows us to take a step back, observe the thoughts that are going through our mind without being critical of those thoughts. Non judgement is a big part of mindfulness. Many people give up on meditation because they feel they aren’t doing it “right” if they lose focus and get caught up in their thoughts. But that’s totally normal. Your mind will not always be empty of thoughts during meditation but you can observe them without judgement, let them pass on and bring your focus back to your breath. It doesn’t matter how often you have to do this during a meditation session. The act of bringing your focus back again is what is important.

A simple meditation practice of 5 to 10 mins twice a day is hugely beneficial. Most of us can find 10 mins a day if we try. For me it’s easiest if I get it done just as soon as I wake up before the day gets away from me. If you don’t find the time to meditate on a busy day, (and even if you do), you can also be mindful doing everyday activities such as walking, housework, showering and eating. It doesn’t have to be a big time consuming part of your day. When you are doing an activity just bring your whole awareness to it. What do you hear/see/smell/feel/taste? Be aware of your body and your breath as you are doing this.

Being mindful has so many benefits. Research has shown that meditation actually causes physical changes in your brain. It increases grey matter in the brain in areas associated with attention, learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and compassion. It improves coping skills, by giving you the space to react to things in a more useful way. I find that I still might get angry over something but mindfulness seems to create that space for me that I don’t overreact but rather react in an appropriate way. It changes pain perception, some studies say by up to 40%, which is fantastic for something like labour. It reduces stress and anxiety levels and improves emotional resilience, in other words how you react to a difficult situation. And if you’re not as stressed then you can make a better decision which is key if you need to make decisions during labour.

Practicing mindfulness also has loads of physical benefits as well. It improves your immune system, improves the glycaemic control which is very important if you have gestational diabetes. And it also reduces the stress levels in our baby if you are pregnant. So that’s why Mindfulness is such an important part of my GentleBirth workshops and I encourage everyone to develop a daily Mindfulness practice. Some people prefer to meditate just by following their breath or chanting but if you prefer a guided meditation there are loads of guided meditations out there on the internet. But if you are pregnant I would recommend the GentleBirth app as it has various different mindfulness exercises that are tailored to your journey and a daily plan to keep you on track.

I found this quote recently by Sharon Salzberg, a well-known mediation teacher and for me it sums up why I practice and teach meditation/mindfulness.

We don’t meditate to get better at meditating; we meditate to get better at life”.

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