Saturday, 14 May 2016

How hypnobirthing techniques can be used for general wellbeing

I'm on the other side. I've given birth. And it was....... great.

And I think it was down to hypnobirthing.

I've been reflecting on what I've learnt from the course and realised that hynpobirthing techniques don't have to just be for mothers giving birth, they can be used for most things in life, including running and general wellbeing.

Hypnobirthing sounds a bit woo, but I'd heard a lot of positive things about it so was intrigued. Its basic premise is to help mothers feel less anxious, fearful or worried about giving birth through relaxation and breathing techniques. There are a few different methods out there including Marie Monganthe yesmum and Wise Hippo. I chose to go with natal hypnotherapy (Maggie Howell) as there was a teacher near me who could do a private course plus I'd heard great things about this style of hypnobirthing (though Hollie de Cruz at the yesmum in London is fabulous if you can attend one of her courses).

My experience of childbirth with my first was not one I really wanted to repeat, so this time round I thought I would try everything possible to make this a more positive experience. Difficult with childbirth as you never really know what's going to happen, though there are definitely some things you can control, like your mindset. And this is where hypnobirthing comes in.

There are a few key elements to hypnobirthing which I found to be most empowering, and easily translated into other areas. 

1) Self hypnosis
The major part of hypnobirthing is to teach yourself to be able to get into a calm, relaxed state quickly through self hypnosis. This takes practice, so every day you are encouraged to listen to a set 15 minute audio track. This audio track uses cues such as '3,2,1 relax', plus visualisation techniques that help you focus in detail on positive, safe places in your life, such as a sunny beach, your bedroom or a dappled wood. This self hypnosis is coupled with other positive reinforcement cues such as getting into a comfortable position, dimming the lights, and dropping some lavender oil on your pillow - basically things you may do to help you get to sleep.

Being able to get into a hypnotic state is helpful for birth as it gives you an increased receptiveness to positive suggestions and helps your body and mind to remain calm and relaxed.The aim is to encourage your conscious brain to switch off and to let your subconscious take over. In other words, to go into a daydream-like state.

This practice of self hypnosis is obviously extremely useful for anything in life, not just birth. I practiced 15 minutes a day and it was just a really nice 15 minute break to give my mind a break from more conscious thoughts. For specific events, such as a big race coming up, or more general worries, such as I'm not good enough to try running, it's also brilliant, as it can help reframe your mind into feeling more relaxed and confident about what's ahead. A bit like mindfulness rebranded. 

2) Positive affirmations
Alongside self hypnosis to help keep your mind and body in a calm place is the process of positive affirmations to help you feel positive about the task ahead. I kept two or three affirmations in each room so that I read them whenever I saw them. Affirmations are personal to you but could include things like "I am relaxed and calm" "I can do this" or "I am confident in my body". Affirmations need to be specific to you and you need to read them regularly too. 

Reading short, simple phrases like this can help reprogramme the mind by changing negative beliefs and patterns. Changing negative thought processes can be a long and hard process so having a visual cue like this helps to remind ourselves of the more positive thoughts we should be having.

I'm a firm believer that not having confidence in yourself is the major thing stopping us achieving what we want. We are all amazing and can achieve great and good things, yet this inner critic often stops us. This is true of birth, and of all other stuff too. How many times have you said to yourself "I'm not good enough to do that" "I'll fail that" etc. Using positive affirmations, coupled with hypnosis, can help us to think more along the lines of YES I CAN! So positive affirmations are great for believing you can give birth, but also for everything else too.

3) 'What if' scenarios
My hypnobirthing course encouraged me to think through scenarios I was concerned about or fearful of and to figure out what I would do if it really happened. Some situations you will have some control over and can influence, and some you cannot. What's important is how you react to events. Going through all scenarios can also help to make you feel prepared - forewarned is forearmed.

I use this technique a lot before races too. I think about all the things that could happen - stitch, falling over, late for race, hit the wall etc and what I will do in each event. The main thing to note is when you have control over things, and when you do not.

Another technique which is transferable is visualising the perfect birth. This can also be used pre races too. I used to do this a lot before marathons where I would imagine the glory of the last mile and getting that PB!

4) Breathing techniques 
Though not a major part of natal hypnotherapy, breathing techniques are used, and I found them to be invaluable for controlling pain. The main technique used is the focus on the breath - in and out, ensuring it is steady and rhythmic. Outside of giving birth, focusing on breathing is always a good and simple technique to quell anxiety and fears.

I've got so much out of my hypnobirthing course - my dream birth for one. I never thought that hypnobirthing could be useful in other areas of life though. The key to success is to practice regularly. I'm hoping to keep my positive affirmations out to remind myself of all the POSITIVE things about me, and to find a spare 15 minutes here and there to lie back, switch off and relax.

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