Being mindful -- or mindfulness -- is more than just a trendy buzzword. In fact, mindful practices have been around for thousands of years. Now, seemingly all of a sudden, you're hearing all the time about how being more mindful can positively impact your mind, body, emotions, and health. And it's true -- researchers have conducted a multitude of studies and continue to investigate the benefits of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness practices benefit anyone of nearly any age at any stage, including pregnancy. Let's take a look at the researched benefits of mindfulness that can help you during pregnancy:
- Better manage chronic pain, depression, and anxiety
- Reduce fears about childbirth
- Reduce fears surrounding your pregnancy and parenting
- Increase confidence for birth and parenting
- Reduce perception of pain in birth
Mindfulness practices involve learning and practicing to be aware, moment by moment, of your surroundings, your breath, and thoughts. This awareness is simply that -- an awareness, or noticing, of things without judgement of them. And, like any practice, it requires, well practice. Just as if you were learning to play the piano or speak a new language: it takes a commitment and daily practice to become part of your regular habit.
While there are specific books, practices, and even classes you can take part in that offer pregnancy and childbirth-specific mindfulness training (check out the book Mindful Birthing for more information), more generalized mindful practices also can be helpful. We have pared down a list of the five most common and most basic mindful practices that can be done nearly anytime, anywhere. They don't require anything special, other than perhaps a helpful online video for instruction. I encourage you to choose one or more of these practices and determine how you will carve out time (even just 10 minutes!) daily to practice.
Meditation - For some, the idea of meditation sounds off-putting and "too hard." But hear this: meditation does not mean 30 minutes sitting in a silent room with your eyes closed thinking of nothing. It can be so much more (and so much less)! Try spending 5 minutes, sitting in a chair or on the floor with your eyes closed and focusing only on your breath. Follow your in breath and out breath. You can even chant (silently) "in" and "out" along with your breath. Set a timer for 5 minutes on your phone to signal when you are done. Still too tough? Download one of many guided meditation apps like Calm or Insight Timer.
Breathing - Sounds so cliche to teach a pregnant person to breathe, right? Well this is different. Mindfulness is asking you to pay attention to your breath. Try it now -- I'll wait. Pause your reading, and spend 10 breaths paying attention to your breath, following it with your mind. You can deepen it or slow it down if you like, but you don't have to. It may help to close your eyes so as to shut off outside distractions.
Notice - Have you ever spent time just noticing? Not doing, not really thinking, but just noticing? Whether you're looking at the activity outside your window, spending time noticing how you feel in the moment, or just taking in your surroundings, bit by bit without contriving thoughts or judgement about them, this too is an act of mindfulness.
Journal - You don't need to write anything of length or inspiring to incorporate the act of mindful journaling into your daily practice. Choose one or two things to record, whether it's your feelings at the moment, one thing you're thankful for, or your observations as you spent time noticing.
Yoga - You don't have to go to an hour-long yoga class to feel the benefits of mind-body connection it brings. While it certainly helps to have the foundation of yoga from a certified instructor in a class setting, you also can practice a few yoga movements in the privacy and comfort of your own home, or practice alongside an online yoga class (check out YogaGlo or Gaia). Yoga provides the added benefit of combining mindfulness with helpful movements that work to alleviate common pregnancy discomforts and prepare your body for birth. Be sure to look for movements safe to do in pregnancy, as some inverted and twisting poses need to be off limits or modified during pregnancy.
Of course, if you are looking to incorporate more mindfulness into your pregnancy and childbirth, consider taking a good childbirth class that incorporates mindful practices in to birth preparation, like Lamaze. Lamaze classes have long encouraged and taught mindfulness practices into birth preparation childbirth classes.