Have you ever tried meditating?

Big Sur

My husband and I spent this past Sunday in an 8-hour Labor & Delivery class in the basement of our hospital (happiness is being done with that class!). All kidding aside, it was actually really interesting and much more enjoyable than I feared it might be. One thing we focused on was how to use mental and physical techniques to endure painful contractions.

On the physical side, we focused on massage by a partner, friend, or family member. As much as I deeply enjoyed the time devoted to massage practice (being the pregnant one means getting to be the recipient), I was really interested to learn about some of the mental techniques. I’d love to share them with you.

Slow and controlled breathing

Our instructor talked a lot about the value of slow and controlled breathing. The idea is to slow down your breathing, taking breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Counting our breaths

Counting our breaths, or having a partner count for us, is a great way to accomplish slow and controlled breathing. The basic approach is to slowly count to a number (say, 4) as you breathe in, and then to count to that same number as you breathe out. This ensures your breaths are even and controlled. Personally, I preferred to count myself in my head.

Imagining a golden ball of warm light slowly expanding to encompass our body

Our instructor guided us through this technique. She told us to imagine a golden ball of warm light slowly encompassing our body, starting first with our feet, very slowly expanding to travel up the body, and finally receding back to the feet and, ultimately, back into the earth. It was a great way to slowly think about each part of our bodies and tune out other thoughts.

Imagining that every exhale comes out as a color of light

Another more imaginative technique we learned about is to imagine that all of your exhales come out of your body as a color. For me, it was green. I think the idea is to help your mind focus on your breathing and not on anything else, like pain.

Letting out sounds, low and sparingly

This technique is reminiscent of many Hollywood movies, but we learned we should actually use it sparingly during labor. Labor is often many hours, and we burn energy making sound. However, in limited instances it can be helpful in dealing with pain. We learned to avoid higher pitches; lower pitches work better at keeping us calm.

While some of these techniques were familiar to me from all the time I’ve spent in yoga and pilates classes, I considered this a broader introduction to meditation, something I don’t have much experience with.

What really caught my attention was the idea that our body can only handle so many incoming signals (sounds, smells, touches, tastes, sights, sensations, and so on). If pain is one of those signals, it’s best to overwhelm it with other signals. Going for a walk, jumping around and shouting, watching a good movie, listening to music, and using the mental techniques described above can help push pain into the background. Just sitting and enduring it makes the experience more painful to us.

She encouraged us to try these techniques for 10 minutes a day. So, the past three days I’ve been trying this great app called Headspace that walks me through a 10-minute meditation every day. Once I get a little further along with it, I’d love to chat more about it here, as well as meditation more broadly.

Have you ever tried meditating? Do you use some sort of guided approach, or do you meditate on your own? What techniques do you use to deal with pain?