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Is Trying to Relax Stressing You Out?
a blog by Tami Quinn, Pulling Down the Moon, November 5, 2010
You’re getting sleepy, very, very sleepy ...
Before you know it, a sense of peace settles in, and your whole body falls into deep relaxation. So, what is it? What do you call that technique that helps you get there — the method that makes you feel as though you have drifted a million miles away and are nothing but a limp noodle on your sofa?
There is a lot of buzz out there in the fertility world about the impact of stress and its effect on our ability to conceive. Psychologists and yoga teachers have long touted the benefits of relaxation methods for everyday well-being but it seems that now even the fertility doctors (reproductive endocrinologists) are getting on board as they see how advanced infertility treatments such as IVF can take their emotional toll on patients.
While walking, gentle yoga and even recreational biking can all be good stress relievers for the patient undergoing fertility treatment, many are also trying hypnosis, visualization and meditation as a way to relax. The one thing that always strikes me, as a yoga swami, is how few people really understand the difference between these various methods. So, here’s a quick primer that should help set the record straight. While each can be effective, there is a certain hierarchy I like to give these methods, which come in time for the committed practitioner.
Level 1— Hypnosis
When you hear the word hypnosis, you might be thinking about a stage performer who swings his pocket watch back and forth and induces his subjects into a trance-like state only to manipulate them for the entertainment of his audience. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not an unconscious state resembling sleep. In fact, the subject is in a wakeful state and is asked to heighten her attention by focusing on a particular suggestion or theme.
Hypnotic suggestion can, indeed, be relaxing if the subject is able to focus on a single thought or suggestion in her mind, thus shutting out all other thoughts or distractions that might cause anxiety or restlessness. Hypnotherapy is often used as a way to help modify one's behavior, thinking, anxieties, pain, dysfunctional thinking, etc. Hypnosis can be effective for many people if given the proper suggestion and guided by a skillful therapist.
Level 2 — Visualization/Guided Imagery
Visualization is like hypnosis in that the subject is given a suggestion, and the practitioner is then guided through a series of mental images that help keep the subject’s mind focused and on task.
As human beings, much of what we experience in life is processed through our senses. If I tell you to visualize sucking on a very juicy, sour lemon, chances are you will start to salivate and even “taste” the bitterness in your mouth. You see, our recollection of biting into a lemon stirs a memory and a corresponding reaction in our body; in this case the mouth waters.
Similarly, true practitioners believe that the mind/body connection is so powerful that if you visualize an event, location or image in your mind, you begin to manifest change in the physical body. So, one could make the argument that if you visualize being pregnant, you are helping manifest it into the physical world; however, yogis believe that while visualizations can be very useful in reducing stress and anxiety, each of us are limited by a number of factors, mainly our karma.
The karma of timing and body, for instance, play a big factor. A 60-year-old woman, or even a man, can visualize a pregnant belly, but it is unlikely they have the karma to manifest it.
Visualizations can become less empowering if we start to expect too much and then don’t get what we want. We start to wonder what’s wrong with our practice. Did we not envision the sperm meeting the egg in just the right manner? Did our minds wander off at the moment we were meant to envision ovulation? If you come to the practice of guided imagery expecting anything more than a wonderful few moments of peace and relaxation, this might not be the right practice for you.
There are many lovely mind/body visualizations on the market these days recorded specifically for fertility such as those produced by Circle + Bloom and Anjionline. Give them a try and let us know what you think. Then, when you are ready, think about graduating to Level 3 in your practice.
Level 3 —Yoga Nidra/Integrative Restoration (IRest)
IRest is like guided imagery on steroids. The practice begins by setting an intention in the present tense as if the object of your desire has already manifested. Next, you will be instructed to call to mind a “safe place” in case those things that begin to “bubble up” become too intense. The practice next moves to body scanning, allowing the subject to simply feel sensation in every part of the body. There is no judgment placed on what this scanning process should feel like. You are not instructed to feel heavy or light, just to feel and welcome all aspects of this process.
Next, you will be instructed to play with opposites. Understanding how happiness and sadness are both within you, as are peace and anxiety. You will begin to see how the pendulum of the mind can swing from one to the other and learn how to become detached from the emotions surrounding these feelings. Again, it is okay to feel them and welcome them but not to attach to them.
For the devoted IRest practitioner, you will see over time how much of the anxiety and stress in your life is self-created. While the intention of your practice might be “to have a baby,” the underlying goal of IRest is to be happy, content and at peace despite the difficulties one might be having in trying to manifest this heartfelt desire. There is no performance pressure, and the practice is meant to meet you wherever you are, ultimately hoping to lead you to your own guru within.
Level 4 — Meditation
Meditation is perhaps the most powerful tool in our mind/body arsenal and the least understood by the general public. Why? Because meditation is about absolutely nothing (Jerry Seinfeld might like that).
By definition, meditation is cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. The reason why so many mind/body techniques feel so good is because they help us stop the incessant thinking that goes on in our brains. It feels good when we are given permission to think nothing at all. That is the goal of meditation — to simply watch our thoughts go by like clouds in the sky. We become an observer and feel no attachment, no stress and no anxiety.
Most often, hypnotism, guided imagery and even IRest (in some cases) are done with the intention of getting something ... even if it’s peace. Meditation is done to get rid of things, most importantly to get rid of desire. So, in an authentic meditative practice, we do not meditate to get a baby, we meditate to get rid of the desire to have a baby or we meditate on why having a baby is so important.
I realize this sounds rather harsh, which is why most people don’t meditate ... it’s really harsh and hard work. We let all of these thoughts come into our mind and then we just let them go without judgment, without attachment and without guilt. When we are thinking of nothing, it is pure bliss and a completely elevating state of consciousness.
Common misperception is that meditation leads to psychic ability, levitation and transportation into other realms of existence. While many can cite examples of such, most folks experience absolutely nothing.
So, how do you know if you are doing it right? There are some telltale markers. First, you will just start to feel better and be more at peace, and, secondly, your personality will start to soften.
We would love to hear about your experiences with these various techniques and how you have used them in your fertility journey. Comment on this blog, and let’s get the dialogue going. We’re happy to answer your questions too.