The Art of Loving kindness for pregnancy, labour and new motherhood
« In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts, that we have forgotten this essential art of taking time to converse with our hearts….If we are still, and listen deeply, for even a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart… »
Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
In my prenatal yoga classes this week I introduced the technique of loving kindness or « amour bienveillante» as it is known in french.
This afternoon I was just about to send out an email to all of my mum-to-be yoga ‘students’ to remind them of this beautiful practice when I thought, « why not share it with other pregnant mammas and new mums who might also benefit ? » so I decided to thrash out a quick blog post about it instead.
As some of you already know I could HARP on about the benefits of yoga and mindfulness practice ALL DAY long, and list the many books that you absolutely HAVE to read and podcasts that will UNDOUBTEDLY change your life, but I’m going to try and make this relatively brief and focussed on the practice itself. BECAUSE, as we all know, it’s actually DOING the practice that creates the truly radical changes in our lives.
The practice of loving kindness is one of the key elements of modern mindfulness programmes, but it is equally found in many of the other ancient traditions.
I first learnt the technique myself when I did a Reiki initiation programme whilst studying my undergraduate degree at Durham University, back in 2009.
The practice is a simple yet powerful way of cultivating positive regard for both yourself and others around you, as well as the world at large. It both taps into our innate capacity to be kind and compassionate towards one another, whilst equally recognising this ubiquitous human desire for happiness and wellbeing.
The answer is always Love. And the question starts with YOU
« If you can’t accept yourself – if you hate yourself and get angry with yourself – how can you love another person and communicate love to him or her ? …Self understanding is crucial for understanding others, self love is crucial for loving others. »
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
There is consensus amongst almost all of the many ancient wisdom traditions that we must first seek to love ourselves more fully before we can authentically and honestly give love to others.
The overarching message is : the work starts with you.
Cultivating compassion for yourself must come first if you are to seek to respond more compassionately to those around you.
Many of us have developed a strong reflex tendancy towards being ‘hard on ourselves,’ judging ourselves and our own achievements harshly.
Such tendencies can result in a cycle of suffering, as we perpetuate feelings that we somehow fall short of our own potential and/or that of others.
Developing a practice of compassionate understanding and kindness towards ourselves and our experience can thus be a radical and crucial first step towards loving acceptance of things ‘as they are.’ And oursleves ‘as we are.’ And this is where our mindfulness practice truly starts to take flight…
WHY is this practice especially benefitical during Pregnancy/New Motherhood?
« You are giving birth to your mindfulness teacher » Nancy Bardacke
The first part of this practice directs loving kindness first towards your baby, and then towards yourself.
It is therefore especially useful during pregnancy and early motherhood as you begin to cultivate a relationship of compassionate understanding towards both your baby and yourself, right from the get-go, and perhaps even before he or she is born if you start this practice during pregnancy.
In a nutshell, you’re setting off on the right foot ! or «c’est un bon premier pas » as the french would say.
Whilst most mums do fall madly in love with their babe from the minute they clap eyes on them, you will undoubtedly meet with many emotional obstacles in both pregnancy and the early days of motherhood as your pre-pregnancy life and identity shifts and you meet with the many challenges of stepping into this new version of yourself as «mamma.»
Developing this practice of loving kindness and compassionate self-acceptance is thus an important aspect of meeting these challenges with an open heart and an open mind.
Most importantly, it helps us to steer away from these old habits of negative self-judgement that can potentially tell us « we’re not doing it right » or comparing ourselves harshly to others who somehow appear to be « coping with it all better. »
The benefits of loving kindness are endless, and the good news is : it’s VERY simply to practice.
We simply repeat these 4 phrases below first towards your baby, and then towards ourselves.
It’s helpful if you can begin by establishing yourself in a meditation position, connecting with the rythm and flow of your breath to first settle and focus yourself into a state of ‘awareness.’
(If you are new to meditation I would recommend listening to free guided meditation MP3 that you can get online such as those from Peter Renner***, or using one of the many mindfulness meditation apps you can get on your mobile phone, to get started…)
You may find that an image of your baby or yourself arises during your loving kindness practice and that you can direct your words towards this image. Alternatively, a felt sense or awareness of your babies presence may become apparent to you.
This is all fine, and as with all mindfulness practice, the important thing is that you simply observe what is occuring, your reaction to it, and any feelings or emotions that arise….Whatever they are, good or bad, they are all welcome.
REPEAT the following 4 phrases to your baby, then to yourself
May you be safe and protected
May you be healthy in body and mind
May you be happy
May you live with ease and in peace
Que tu sois à l’abris et en securité, preservé de tout mal interieur ou exterieure
Que tu sois heureux et satisfait
Que tu sois aussi sain et complet que possible
Que tu connaisse le confort et la douceur du bien-être
There are hundreds of variations of this practice, therefore feel free to adapt the phrases to suit your own sentiments and what feels natural to you.
As a result of the tendancies of self-criticisim and suffering described at the beggining of this blog, it can be very normal to feel some resistance to these words when you begin to direct the phrases of loving kindness towards yourself. Again, simply notice these reactions and try to meet them with the same spirit of care and acceptance. Remember, everything is welcome, in mindfulness practice we are not trying to be anything ‘other’ than that whihc we are, or change anything, we simply observe and accept things as they are, seeing if we can gradually meet them with compassion and understanding. The mindful birthing queen herself, Nancy Bardacke suggests that it you continue to encounter resistance towards your own positive self-regard it may be helpful to imagine yourself as a baby or child, who once was loved and cared for by your own mothers, and begin to direct these phrases towards your own inner child who too is worthy of this same love and acceptance.
Extending the practice
When you feel ready, you can move the practice away from your baby and yourself and experiment with directing the phrases of loving kindness towards friends, family and/or teachers/mentors that may have inspired you. You can also try out sending these sentiments towards more neutral figures or even strangers that you might pass on the street, on the tube/metro etc.
It’s best not to start with people whom you have more difficult or complex relationships with in the beggining of your practice, first get used to cultivating loving kindness to those who you easily feel a warm positive regard towards, and then move onto more difficult relationships.
You can equally extend the practice to other non-human ‘beings,’ plants and animals if you wish…
What generally results from extending this practice is a compassion towards and sense of connectedness with, all other being. An appreciation that each one of us is struggling in some way on our own journey, that we are in fact all in need of the same essential loving kindness and acceptance.
Simply listen, then see what come next…
Doula Paris Recommends…
***Peter Renner has lots of great (and FREE !) meditations online including a loving kindness meditation (it’s not adapted for pregnancy but you can tweak it) on his website here :
Tara Brach’s online guided meditations and talks have a WHOLE LOTTA HEART and often include themes of loving awareness and self-compassion. Check them out here :
Nancy Bardacke’s book « Mindful Birthing » included exercises of loving kindness and other mindfullness exercises for birth. My yoga teacher Ayala Gill recommended it to me a couple of years ago and it’s become one of my staple recommendations to EVERYONE in the birth world.
Jack Cornfield’s book, « A path with heart. » touches on many themes of putting our hearts into our mindfulness practice, and why it all begins there…
Anything written by Thich Nhat Hahn. Anything…