Today, NPR’s Talk of the Nation interviewed Harvard professor and psychologist Ellen Langer about her mindfulness studies. In an engaging interview, Ellen Langer describes mindfulness as letting go of our preconceived notions and acting on new observations. In this way, one can reframe a situation and have a more positive outlook. By practicing mindfulness, we can lead a less stressful and healthier life. During the interview, Ellen Langer refers to a not yet published study in which her research group taught women in their fifth month of pregnancy to attend to variability in their sensation; when did they feel good and when did they feel bad? These women were able to realize that the sensation was not really as bad as they thought and also that they could make small adjustments to feel better. Interestingly, compared to the comparison group which was not taught mindfulness, these techniques led to a healthier mother and baby (as measured by Apgar scores) at the time of the birth.
Sound like this might be useful to you during your pregnancy? What about labor? Hearing this interview made me think of the ways mindfulness are used in labor. Foremost in my mind are some of the techniques we teach and that can be found in the book Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz. Breath awareness and non-focused awareness are both great mindfulness techniques that can help a laboring woman stay on top of her labor sensations. Reframing how we think about our labor is also a common labor technique that can help us think more positively and have a better, more comfortable labor process. Rather than think about the pain of labor, mothers are encouraged to think about things such as the movement of baby, the progress they are making, or the power and ability of their body.
In the interview, Professor Langer spoke of choice as an exercise in mindfulness. In her studies, elderly people who are given choices about their daily routine were healthier and lived longer than those that were not. By making choices, we are recognizing that there are differences between the options and we are engaging in our own health. In labor and birth, choice is paramount. Every woman should feel that they are able make well informed and thoughtful decisions regarding where they labor, how they labor, and with whom they labor. In my experience, women who thoughtfully engage in the birth process tend to have a more positive labor.
Check out the entire interview, Mindfulness: Using your brain to beat Stress.