I have a strong commitment to active birth—the use of movements, position changes, and most of all laboring out of bed. As a result, in my classes I tend to emphasize movement-based coping strategies for labor. However, I have also come to realize that coping measures employing relaxation and breath awareness are extremely valuable. These tools cannot be stripped away from the birthing woman. Whatever happens during birth, whatever unforeseen circumstances that arise, or if her need for activity runs smack into the hospital’s need for passivity, the breath—and breath based tools—cannot be taken from her. I do not teach patterned breathing techniques in my classes, but I do teach various breath awareness skills.
Centering is a breath awareness strategy that I’ve adapted for use in birth classes based on the ten second centering process described in the short book Ten Zen Seconds. Using the breath as a “container” for a thought or affirmation is the basis of centering. A meditative technique, the purpose is to “center” and to become mindful of the present moment. The container is a 10 second long breath—a five second in-breath and a five second out-breath—that holds a thought. You think the first half of the phrase on the in breath and the second half on the out breath (Maisel, 2007). Use this technique once or twice to “greet” the contraction and then continue breathing with awareness throughout the remainder of the contraction.
Some suggestions of centering thoughts to use during birthing include:
(I am open) (to birth)
(I am ready) (for my baby)
(I welcome) (my labor)
(I am confident) (and strong)
(Right here) (right now)
(I am equal) (to this challenge)
(I embrace) (this moment)
A pdf handout describing this technique (for use in birth classes), is now available here: Centering.
Another phrase I find useful in daily life, as well as applicable to birth is (I expect) (nothing). While this may initially appear pessimistic, it is a very useful reminder of the idea that most emotional suffering in life is a result of attachment to how something “should” be (i.e. “labor should only be taking 12 hours) (Dyer, 2002).
I frequently remind my birth class participants that coping techniques work best when they are incorporated into daily life rather than “dusted off” for use only during labor. Centering is a skill that is readily incorporated into real life. Indeed, when I first learned the technique, I quickly realized that it was a skill that I will use for the rest of my life. I let my class participants know that I regard this as a life skill, that happens to also be useful for birthing. It is essentially a tiny meditation technique that can be more readily incorporated into one’s daily life (especially a life that includes small children) than traditional, dedicated, more elaborate meditation techniques.
Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE is a certified birth educator, writer, activist, and mother of two young sons. She is an LLL Leader and editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter. She blogs about birth at http://talkbirth.me, midwifery at http://cfmidwifery.blogspot.com, and miscarriage at http://tinyfootprintsonmyheart.wordpress.com
Dyer, Wayne. Ten Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, Hay House. March 2002.
Maisel, Eric. Ten Zen Seconds, Sourcebooks, Inc. March 2007.
This article is modified from one that originally appeared in The International Journal of Childbirth Education, July 2009 (page 20)