"Thoughts are real, and they produce results. for every thought, there is a phsyical response in your body."
- Kathy, HypnoBirthing Instructor/Doula
A lot of what you learn in HypnoBirthing is about the connection between your mind and your body, and the difference that perceptions and thoughts can make in your physical experience. Very early during our first class, our teacher demonstrated, then had us try, a very cool exercise. Here's how it went.
She asked for a volunteer, preferably one of the husbands. She is not a big woman, shorter than I am at 5'7'', somewhat petite. She had the husband come to the front of the class and stand with his arms stretched out to his sides at 90 degree angles. He was instructed to try his hardest to keep his arms up, and not to let her pull them down. She then had him repeat aloud the following mantra:
My arm is straight
My arm is strong
I am good
After he repeated it several times, she grabbed his arm and tried to pull it down towards his side. It barely moved.
Next, she had him stand in the same position, with the same instructions, and repeat the following:
My arm is weak
I am tired
I am trying not to move my arm
Then, she reached up and pulled. What do you think happened? His arm moved, and it moved A LOT further than it did the first time she tried. Despite the fact that he was trying his hardest, the negative and weak words he was saying directly affected his ability to hold up his arm.
If you take nothing else from this post, now you've got a good party trick! After she did it in front of the class, we all did it with our partners. I practiced with the teacher since my husband couldn't make the first class. I told her afterwards that when we did the 2nd part of the exercise, I felt my arm drop a little before she even touched me to pull it down. It was VERY clear to me how my mind had affected my body in this case.
So, how can we use the mind body connection in our favor when it comes to childbearing?
In her book, HypnoBirthing, Marie Mongan talks about the Laws of the Mind. The four areas she focuses on are The Law of Psycho-Physical Response, The Law of Harmonious Attraction, The Law of Repetition, and The Law of Motivation.
The Law of Psycho-Physical Response
The first law, Psycho-Physical Response is most popularly demonstrated by Pavlov's Dogs. In his experiments, the dogs became conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell in anticipation of receiving food, but with no food in sight. Mongan says that this is the most important of the laws when it comes to birthing, because "what is experienced in the body is determined in the mind."
Most of us can think of some example of this in everyday life. I have a strong salivation response anytime I think of really sour candy, like Crybabies or Sour Patch Kids. Just the thought of those foods makes my mouth water like crazy. This is the same conditioning that makes your heart race like crazy when you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror.
Practicing HypnoBirthing allows you to "become skilled in using your own natural abilities to bring your mind and body into psycho-physical harmony." It's about conditioning your body and your mind to produce endorphins and connect with your baby and body. The bottom line is that we are working to use our minds to reduce tension in our bodies and let nature take it's course.
The Law of Harmonious Attraction & The Law of Repetition
The second & third laws Mongan discusses have to do with the harm we can create with negative energy, thoughts and words. This is where our culture's deeply ingrained negative views and portrayals of birth come into play. As I talked about in my last HypnoBirthing themed post, we see a lot of imagery and hear a lot of stories about birth cast in a negative light.
Going into my first labor, I was terrified of what the experience would be like. This time around, I have had a lot of exposure to positive stories, to tools and techniques for making it a better experience for myself, videos of women having wonderful and amazing birth experiences. My perceptions have changed. Instead of being afraid, I'm very excited about what this experience can be for me and my baby.
As Mongan says in the book, "Regardless of whether you are the person speaking or the person being spoken to, the sound and vibration of what is being said cause an emotional response within your mind, and a physiological and chemical response within your body." Anyone who has experienced put downs or emotional abuse understands that words CAN hurt. Sometimes, they cause more damage than physical pain. The things we feel become the beliefs we carry through life, and we live our lives based on those beliefs. By choosing to think positively, to expose ourselves to positivity, we can change how we physically experience our baby's birth day.
The Law of Motivation
The fourth law that Mongan discusses is The Law of Motivation. This law says that "when the mind is highly motivated, the body responds properly." We have all heard examples of how this law works, stories of impossible feats accomplished by people risking their lives to save someone else like the mother who is inexplicably able to lift an automobile to pull out her child. The story of the athlete who is injured and managed to continue to play and not experience the pain until afterwards. Remember Olympian Kerri Strug and her gold medal winning vault on a badly sprained ankle? Human beings have an amazing ability to use the mind to overcome physical challenges in certain situations.
Motivation is tied to intent and self image. We have the ability to choose how we experience most of life, including how we birth our children. How we regard birth and our role in the birth experience directly affects how we DO experience it when the day comes.
Visualization for Success
One of the main pieces of HypnoBirthing is about practice, practice, practice and visualizing success. To some, this may seem silly. BUT, as our teacher pointed out in class, athletes visualize all the time, and no one makes fun of THEM. The subconscious mind can't determine between real & imaginary, and the imagery we create for ourselves can directly affect our life experience. Here's another quote from the HypnoBirthing book that struck me:
"Most athletes will readily advise that relaxation and visualization are crucial to successful performance. Golfers quickly learn not to "press," but to release and let go. It is not uncommon to see Olympic athletes standing off to the side running visualizations of the perfect performance through their minds. Sports greats know that stress adn tension in the mind equate to stress and tension int eh body; the two cannot be separated. Conquering stress and fear is waht allows sports figures to appear to perform so effortlessly. It's impressive."
So, who's to say that as mothers, we can't use the same power to transform our birth experience?
Hypnosis: It's Not Magic
In the chapter of the book about the power of the mind, Mongan also shares some notes on self-hypnosis. One of the most important things that people need to understand is that hypnosis is always voluntary. It is not possible to hypnotize someone to do something against their morals or core beliefs. The people you see hypnotized during stage shows are volunteers, they want to have a good time and are having fun. Mongan points out that if the hypnotist suggested the person do something agains their values, they would immediately revert to an alert state.
When we practice relaxation and self-hypnosis, we are simply training ourselves to voluntarily enter a state that many of us find ourselves in on a daily basis. Have you ever been driving home from work to suddenly realize you're pulling in to the driveway? Become engrossed in a task and lost track of time? Gotten caught up in a daydream or become so immersed in a book or TV show that you emotionally react to it? These are all examples of the mind and body being in the kind of state we're going for with HypnoBirthing.
As Mongan says, the bottom line is this: "The value of self-hypnosis comes from learning to reach that level of mind where suggestions that you give yoruself effectively influence your physicological experience."
Next week, I'll write about my experiences taking my local HypnoBirthing class, and practicing and preparing for my baby's birth day since then. I'll share some of my views on HypnoBirthing and what I believe it has done, and will do, for me. In my final post in this series (well, until the baby comes, which I will certainly write about!), I'll share some stories and videos from mothers who have used HypnoBirthing.
This is post 3 in a series about HypnoBirthing and my experiences learning the method. The next installment is HypnoBirthing Classes: My Experience. Or, view Part 1 and Part 2.