Meditation and Calming the Mind

I have to admit, I never thought to write about this part of our fertility journey until today.  A friend I went through my Hypnobabies class with asked me what I visualized during the pressure waves.  It wasn’t something I talked about in my birth story and she was curious.  So, while this is a post about how I dealt with some of the stress and disappointment during our fertility journey, it is also a post that belongs in the birth category because I used these same techniques during our joyous birthing time.

Many people who spend any amount of time in the infertility hamster wheel eventually can benefit from talking with someone about the stress they are feeling, the disappointment they are experiencing, and even the anxiety that can accompany trying to conceive.  I have always been a strong believer that there is a HUGE mind-body connection.  If the mind isn’t ok, there is no way the body will be ok and vice versa.  We were lucky that the Fertility Center of the Carolinas believes in the mind-body connection as well.  In fact, they offer a class to their fertility patients called the Mind/Body Program.  It is led by Cynthia Whitaker and Dr. Paul Miller.  When Dr. Forstein mentioned the program I was a little wary.  I just wasn’t sure about the group setting this program provided, but I needed someone to talk to who wasn’t my husband, wasn’t a friend, wasn’t family.  Someone who could be neutral and just be in my corner.  Someone who could offer me some advice.  That is how I came to know Cindy.  She was more than happy to meet with me one-on-one instead of in the group Mind-Body Program.  Going to talk to her was the best decision I could have made.

She offered me a lot of suggestions for handling the stress, sadness, and pressures surrounding our fertility journey.  Two techniques in particular I still use today – the PEACE walk and meditation.  If you haven’t guessed from any of my other posts, I am the poster child for Type A – I am a perfectionist, I am driven, I am a fast-paced, no-nonsense kind of girl.  I don’t go anywhere leisurely.  At work, my colleagues always know when I am coming because I move quickly and with determination, which can be a little noisy when wearing heels 🙂  I tell you this because I love the PEACE walk.  It is simple and slows down the body and the mind all at once.  It helps to cancel out the noise of our lives.  Here is what you do: when you are walking to your car, into a building, to the restroom, anywhere really, think the word “peace” with each step you take.  Breathe in and breathe out “peace”.  This doesn’t have to be audible, although sometimes for me it is if I am really ramped up about something.  Breathing out “peace” with each step causes you to slow your steps down, it slows your breathing, it focuses your mind on being peaceful.  Simply by saying and/or thinking the word “peace” your body is recognizing the cue and responds.  This is so nice at the beginning of the work day, walking into a doctor’s appointment, or when leaving work at the end of the day.  As I mentioned, I still use this daily, and I used it when I walked into the hospital for our embyro transfers, going for the numerous blood draws required during fertility treatments, and when I made my journey into the hospital from the parking lot during our birthing time and again when I walked from triage to our birthing room.

The second technique, and this is the one that will answer my friend’s inquiry, is meditation.  Cindy told me to carve 15 minutes at the beginning and the end of each day to sit and think about NOTHING.  She said to find some soothing songs (with or without words) for my ipod.  Find a (1) comfortable place to sit, (2) listen to the songs using ear buds (I’ll explain in a second why that is so important), (3) concentrate on my breathing, and stop my thoughts for 15 minutes.  This may sound easy, but it isn’t and Cindy gave me some suggestions for what to do when I wasn’t successful the first time – because, being the expert, she knew it would be hard.

(1) Choose your spot with care, it needs to be somewhere you won’t be interrupted.  I am lucky enough to have a meditation room in my house…at least at the time it was a meditation room, now it is my office.  I chose to sit on a cushion on the floor in a tailor sit.  For someone trying to conceive this is a good yoga pose for opening up possibilities and blood flow to the uterus.  Choose whatever is comfortable for you.

(2) Load your music player with at least 15 minutes of music that you find soothing and peaceful.  For many people it will help to find music that doesn’t have any words.  I found that more distracting because as a music major.  I wanted to conduct or analyze the tempo shifts, key changes, etc. so I loaded mine with songs that had words to focus on.  I even named the playlist on my ipod “soothing songs”. Then get some comfortable ear buds.  I thought it was so weird that Cindy emphasized using ear buds.  Why couldn’t I just use my docking station with the nice speakers?  Cindy explained that by using the ear buds the music was going straight into my ears, there wasn’t as much “room” for outside thoughts, noises, and demands to creep in.  Eager to be successful I used the ear buds.  One time I was too lazy to dig them out of my drawer and so I just plugged the ipod into the docking station.  BIG mistake.  I was so distracted, I couldn’t quiet my mind.  I ended up digging out my ear buds.

(3) Here is the hard step.  Close your eyes, turn your brain off, and just breathe for an entire 15 minutes.  This is where Cindy said to be gentle with myself, be forgiving, it will take time to achieve this goal.  The first time I sat down to do this I made it a grand total of 30 seconds or so before my mind wandered and I was making lists in my head of what I needed to get done after my 15 minutes was complete.  Taking Cindy’s advice, I simply forgave myself and started again, and again, and again.  I imagine for some people this is easier than others.  I already admitted that I am Type A, I also have to have the tv on to fall asleep so that my mind will quiet enough for me to settle into slumber (thank goodness for Nick at Nite) – that should give you a good idea of how hard it is for me to shut down.  In the beginning of your practice it helps to focus on your breathing – in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts.  If you want you can lengthen your breath even more, but 5 counts is a nice place to start – counting gives your brain something to do and doesn’t allow it to wander.  Every time your mind starts to think, forgive yourself and start over.  The first time you attempt this you may only be able to sit for 5 minutes.  That is ok.  Work up to the 15 minutes in increments that work for YOU.  Let your family know that this is sacred time, you are not to be interrupted.  I always told my husband I was “going to sit”.  He knew to keep the dog away so that I didn’t have to shoo him away while trying to relax.  My cat was another story.  I usually got so relaxed that she wanted to sit in my lap.  I can’t tell you how many times I started my meditation by myself only to find the cat curled up in my legs and fast asleep by the end of the 15 minutes.

It was this complete brain turn off that I used during my birthing time.  I didn’t visualize anything, I stink at visualizing things.  When I felt pressure waves beginning I just tuned my brain off.  My body was already relaxed from using my Hypnobabies “light switch” so it was easy to have my brain follow suit.  I didn’t allow any thoughts in my brain during a pressure wave, I was just quiet and still.  I think this was probably one of the biggest reasons I had a completely pain-free birthing time.  By combining the body relaxation and mentality of Hypnobabies with my years of meditation practice there wasn’t room for fear or pain.

These two techniques got me through 5 years of infertility.  I would encourage you to try them, even if you aren’t dealing with fertility problems.  They are just good ways to calm your nervous system and brain.

What techniques do you use or have you used in the past?