Relaxation is an art and a science essential in pregnancy and indeed throughout life. Sleep, which is generally looked on as being effective relaxation, doesn't always revitalize the whole system, give complete rest or adequately relieve the tensions that can accumulate in mind and body during pregnancy. Relaxation sounds so easy; just sit back and close the eyes. But what usually happens is that a whole flood of memories, problems and distracting thoughts comes into the mind and you find yourself either reliving the past or worrying about the future. How then to relax and do it well?
The greatest relaxation method is meditation. Through various practices you can influence your glands and mind as well as the entire physical and mental makeup of your child. Meditation is not a religious practice but rather a mental exercise whereby the tired, tense mind and body are calmed and revitalized without the use of tranquilizers or other drugs.
Through meditation you learn to tune into your inner environment. You go to the different rooms of your mind one by one and dean them. Once the mind is clean the process of relaxation starts and a positive attitude develops simultaneously. A short time spent redirecting your energies inward can give a great feeling of inner peace and tranquility, allowing you to approach your daily duties with a profound sense of well being. Meditation also becomes an active process as you learn to perform your activities with more awareness, efficiency and joy.
The following technique is simple but effective. You can practice it on your own every day for five to fifteen minutes.
Antar mouna or inner silence helps to quieten the restless mind. Emotions such as fear, which may be strong during pregnancy, can be reduced by this practice. During antar mouna alt your suppressed emotions bubble gently up from the subconscious. What you dream at night you see many things. Antar mouna works in the same way except that you are awake, aware and able to visualize problems, complexes and emotions that have been creating tension in your mind and personality. In yoga this is the beginning of pratyahara or sense withdrawal, as you are no longer dealing with the outside world. The pictures you see are called samskaras or impressions; they are your individual interpretation of your experiences in life.
To avoid falling asleep, this meditation is practiced sitting with the spine straight.
Spend time adjusting your position so that you can sit comfortably without moving for an extended period.
With the eyes closed, look within. Watching in a relaxed fashion, you may see patterns, colours, faces or landscapes flash past; pictures or images may be projected like a reel of film on the screen of your mind. All this represents your imagination and instincts, and gives insight into the things that are troubling you in your everyday life but have previously been hidden in your deep subconscious causing hatred, insomnia or anxiety. They must come up, but simply witness them as you would a film, do not get involved.
The way to remain detached is by concentrating on the natural breath without changing its rhythm or speed. The breath deepens by itself, giving more oxygen to your system and relaxation takes place automatically. The mind is naturally drawn away from the external world and you become aware of inner peace and silence.
After the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy you may find it difficult to sit for meditation with the spine straight. At this time you will find the practice of yoga nidra or psychic sleep very helpful as it gives total relaxation while lying down, in yoga nidra you are on the borderline between sleep and wakefulness and therefore in contact with the subconscious. Self awareness is increased while anxiety and tension disappear. This practice may be performed in a yoga class or at home. It is beneficial during pregnancy to practice during the day and before going to sleep at night.
Usually shavasana, corpse pose, Is employed for yoga nidra but expectant mothers should use matsya kridasana, coma pose, helped by a thin pillow under the head or knees. (Refer Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, a BSY publication.) Adjust the position until you are comfortable, after which the body is to remain still and the eyes closed for the entire practice.
Rotate your consciousness through all the different parts of your body, letting your awareness flow from part to part, mentally repeating the name of each part as you come to it.
At this point make a sankalpa or resolve to achieve any goal of deep personal significance, for example, 'I will be calm and positive in all circumstances', The resolve should be simply phrased and must remain the same from practice to practice. Now repeat your resolve mentally three times.
Relaxation of the body is achieved through breath awareness. Concentrate on the breath; feel it flowing in and out and repeat mentally 'I know I am breathing in' on inhalation and I know I am breathing out' on exhalation. This helps to concentrate your awareness. Now start counting each breath from 108 back to 0. You may feel sleepy or thoughts may flow in, but go on counting. If you lose count then start again from 108.
Witness what is going on in the mind. Do not suppress any thought.
When you are peaceful and calm, try to project a scene into your mind, for example, the birth which you will experience soon. Witness it and imagine a perfect, easy delivery. Gradually all the fear you have will be dissolved.
Repeat your sankalpa again three times.
Become aware of the external environment. Move your toes and fingers; slowly open your ayes and sit up.
By practising these techniques, the expectant mother can better ensure a trouble free pregnancy and delivery of a healthy child. She also becomes her own psychiatrist, able to understand all Her fears, the reason for her existence and the aim of life.
As the mind becomes calm and quiet with the deepening of relaxation and meditation, the sensory nervous system is directed inwards and the autonomic nervous system progressively relaxes. The autonomically dependent processes of heart rate, blood pressure, the digestive processes and the release of endocrine hormones into the bloodstream are modified as the nervous system relaxes, returning to minimal activity levels. The mental and physiological relaxation produced by these techniques is deeply soothing for every tissue and organ of the body, including the uterus and the unborn child.
Meditation has a direct effect on the pituitary gland, the master control gland at the base of the brain, which in turn controls the secretion of the endocrine hormones. It is against the ever changing background of hormonal interaction and balance that the mother's body and metabolism alter to accommodate the progressively maturing foetus. The pituitary responds to the mental patterns and hormonal variations of mother and child. This response is finely tuned by meditation. Just as a radio must be exactly toned if it is to produce harmony rather than static, when the pituitary is thus tuned it is optimally regulated in terms of monitoring and release of the body's hormones.
There is a special energy flowing in expectant mothers, recharging and directing the pranic force within so that the child may grow and develop. Meditation teaches mothers to be more aware of their energies and to live happy, healthy and spiritual lives.
You too can learn to help yourself, your family and the world. First experience the peace and love within you through meditation, and become more open, natural and creative. Then you and your child will experience union with the eternal source.