For Your Health

Devyn and Alec enjoy the Practice of Opening together Photo credit: Cornelius Matteo

Devyn and Alec enjoy the Practice of Opening together
Photo credit: Cornelius Matteo

For decades, meditation has been studied as a nonpharmacological healing method for ailments ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain. Research consistently indicates that meditation has profound impacts on the mind and body, many of which stem from an increased ability to cope with stress.

The simple act of sitting into silence, watching the mind take over, and returning to a state of awareness lends itself beautifully to a world in which stressors are unavoidable: even with eyes open and during activity, a meditator can function from a state of inner calm.

Preconceived notions of meditation being or and demanding can be pushed aside: the meditations practiced in Calm Birth and the postnatal practices are simple, elegant, effective, and based in ancient Tibetan meditation science. “Calm” does not mean passive or still: to be “calm” is to function from the space of inner wisdom from which all action, movement, words, and decisions can arise.

Our era has been called the "Age of Anxiety." Stress causes an overproduction of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, suppressing important biological functions in order to shift energy into muscle systems in preparation to fight, fly, or freeze. Anxiety suppresses immune system function, but meditation brings adrenaline and cortisol levels down, restoring healthy endocrine balance. Meditation strengthens the immune system with major hormones, melatonin and DHEA, to give a vital basis for life and to promote healing from any aftereffects of birth. Less stress for the parents means that they are more emotionally and physically accessible to welcome the baby to the world.

Biological and psychological benefits of meditation are transmitted to a prenate through the pregnant woman’s bloodstream and placenta. The woman communicates with the child physically and energetically, influencing the production of beneficial neurohormones and neurotransmitters. Postnatal benefits will be transmitted to the child through lactation and breast-feeding and through sympathetic resonance. Before and after birth, meditation benefits are dual, inseparably benefiting the woman and the child.

Biological Benefits of Meditation

This subject has become vast, but with respect to directly influencing the quality of prenatal and perinatal health, the focus will be primarily on hormonal balance and immune system enhancement.

Anxiety pushes tolerance of pain to low levels; meditation restores normal tolerance of pain and produces endorphins, pleasure agents in the nervous system, so important for childbirth, reducing physical pain.

The chemical treatment of anxiety in pregnancy can be risky, but childbirth meditation is a safe, proven antidote to anxiety. Childbirth meditation reduces the need for medical interventions during labor, and brings biological enrichment.

DHEA

 DHEA, a life-enhancing hormone, was one of the first biological benefits of meditation to be observed. DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, just above the kidneys. Issuing from the same glands that produce the stress hormones, elevated levels of DHEA imply reduced production of restrictive cortisol and adrenaline. DHEA has a variety of health-impacting benefits. It is an immune enhancement agent that has been proven to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lupus and other conditions. DHEA stimulates the production of monocytes (T cells and B cells), potent immunity bio-chemicals that cause the production of other immune system agents. T cells (white blood cells produced in the bone marrow) produce two powerful immune system agents: interleulin-2 and gamma-interferon, intelligent defense agents that help maintain health. DHEA is good for the bones, muscles, blood pressure, vision and hearing. It is the substance from which the male and female hormones are developed and it is the source of vitality and youthfulness. DHEA is a mood elevator that makes people feel and look better. It enhances brain biochemistry and growth.

Anxiety and stress lower normal DHEA levels in the bloodstream. Meditation elevates DHEA levels. Thus meditation during pregnancy, in offering potentially ideal hormonal function, conveys elevated levels of vivifying DHEA to the womb child, and, through lactation and breast- feeding, to the child after birth.

Melatonin

Meditation produces elevated levels of melatonin, the hormone secreted by the pineal gland located at the center of the brain. Melatonin many be the most potent and versatile antioxidant. It directly stimulates interleukin (IL-2) activity which in turn stimulates the increase of all the various cells of the immune system, in a pervasive, global optimization of immune function. Melatonin directly restores and increases T-helper cell production in bone marrow.

In stress-inducing times, which tend to cause detrimental hormonal imbalances, strong levels of melatonin in the bloodstream, naturally induced by pregnant women, are a sign that they are engaged in effective prenatal care. Melatonin is renowned as a sleep-aid. Especially when produced naturally to elevated levels, it helps establish normal sleep and rest even in challenging situations. Melatonin is known to have a calming effect, bringing contentment and improved mood.

Endorphins

Meditation is also known to produce endorphins, peptides secreted throughout the nervous system that have a very strong pain-relieving and pleasure-inducing effect, similar to that of morphine.

Endorphin production is important to a woman in avoiding the risks of medical interventions and in gaining confidence in her natural abilities in childbirth.

Pain tolerance

Another important benefit derived from meditation is increased tolerance of pain based on psychological factors. Extensive research conducted at the UMMC (Murphy & Donovan, 1999, p.77-78) demonstrated statistically significant reductions in the following: present moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity, mood disturbance, anxiety and depression, and the need for pain-related drug utilization. The implications for childbirth are evident.

 

Murphy and Donovan describe published research in the following psychological benefits of meditation:

  • Extended Perceptual Ability
  • Quick Alert Reaction Time
  • Field Independence
  • Concentration
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Self-Actualization

In a pregnant woman, the above benefits of meditation will likely entrain the womb child, through sympathetic resonance, to develop these inherent traits.

Blood Pressure

One of the first important health effects of meditation to be discovered by modern medicine was that it lowers blood pressure. Today there is strong evidence that meditation helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. The findings have been replicated in many studies (Murphy and Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, IONS, 1999).

Childbirth meditation directly reduces blood pressure and heart rate, lowering the risk of hypertension and potential preterm brain damage.

Other observed benefits of childbirth meditation:

In their important study (2003) Vieten and Astin concluded what common sense and countless thousands of women who meditated during pregnancy have indicated: meditation significantly reduces prenatal anxiety and stress. Furthermore, “Experts suggest that the practice of meditation by the mother can reduce high levels of neurological and endocrine [stress] chemicals that could be detrimental to the newborn." (Giobbi, M.; 2011, p. 1)

Two recent studies from Thailand are significant. Because of the great concern in the USA about preterm birth, a primary factor in the high infant morbidity and mortality rates in USA, a major Thai hospital study (2011) on the prevention of preterm birth through the intervention of meditation is important. The study concludes that meditation is a promising technique for reducing the incidence of preterm birth. Recommendations were made for further research in this area.

Another recent hospital study in Thailand, “Incorporating Buddhist Clear Clean Mind Meditation into Natural Childbirth Practices”, concludes: “Clear Clean Meditation should be encouraged during natural childbirth, through labor and delivery, in other hospitals in Thailand.

Other observed benefits of meditation with significant implications for childbirth are as follows: Benson (1996) noted cesarean section surgery reduced by 56% and epidural anesthesia use reduced by 85% among meditators.

All together, increased attention to the child, increased pain management skills, increased levels of endorphins and important hormones, should be important incentives for women who don’t want to risk chemicals and anesthesia in childbirth.

As we discover more and more dimensions of physiological and psychological function, and as mind/body methods become more and more a part of childbirth medicine and the focus of research, we’ll learn more about the potential benefits of meditation in childbirth.

Please note that meditation should not be used solely as a medical treatment for physical ailments, but it can be a powerful complement to any health challenges. Please consult your doctor if any medical concerns arise.