At a time when we are ruing the increasing disconnect from the natural world in almost every aspect of our lives - from the time we wake up to the alarm rather than the rising sun to the time we go to bed with the eerie white light from our iPhone confusing our biorhythms even more - what could be more alarming that the relentless medicalisation of the most powerful and fulfilling experience known to a woman - natural childbirth?
It seems that a staggering 90% of mothers in Australia no longer experience a totally natural childbirth. In fact, 37% of births today are by caesarean (a thought provoking increase of 74% in 20 years), while another third have an epidural or, if induced, painkillers and augmentation.
Of course, some women need the intervention to safeguard the health of themselves and their baby, but for so many others the choice to birth naturally is discouraged by their doctor or their own misgivings as they so rarely meet a woman who has gone the natural route!
Into this maelstrom, Meditation for Motherhood - Gentle Zen Meditation for Conception, Pregnancy and Birth by Yogi Brahmasamhara (Brahm) is an offering of peace and stillness and quiet empowerment for any woman planning pregnancy or already expecting. Even for those of us well past our childbearing years, and for men too, it is a gem of meditation wisdom drawing on Brahm's 37 years’ experience practising and teaching Zen.
Brahm tells us that the idea that meditation may have profound benefits for expectant mothers dawned on him after comments made to him by students. One told him her baby had become completely still in the womb after one particularly peaceful session. Alarmed after three days of unaccustomed stillness, she saw her doctor who reassured her the baby was fine and "just meditating, too". Another even managed to fall asleep between contractions and was blessed with a contentedly calm baby.
It looks like the benefits of meditation are being increasingly recognised around the world to reduce stress levels in IVF, with rising infertility rates another manifestation of our world gone awry. The good news is that success rates are also rising, bringing hope to millions of young couples.
Meditation for Motherhood is divided into two sections; the first Zen Meditation: Preparing and Practices has a wealth of advice for us all, even experienced meditators, with its emphasis on mastering the Three Essences - letting go tension, natural breathing for calmness and wellbeing and calming the unquiet mind. I found the section on Hara breathing - drawing breath into the area below the belly button, the tan t'ien - particularly helpful for my own meditation practice. In this context, Brahm has some interesting comments on the effectiveness of panting during labour so often extolled in TV shows!
The second section is devoted to Putting Your Meditation into Practice for Motherhood, with a month by month guide to meditation practices most suitable and effective for each stage of pregnancy. Each month in turn is broken into Motherwatch and Babywatch with helpful advice and, from time to time, personal anecdotes from new mothers who've followed the approach and experienced deeply fulfilling births.
What stands out for me in this rather lovely book is Brahm's compassion for today’s young women who he so often finds experience anxiety, confusion and even deep distress over conflicting “expert” opinions on childbirth. Set against this prevailing noise, Meditation for Motherhood sets out to restore a woman's confidence in herself that she can experience the miracle of childbirth just as her mother and grandmothers and great grandmothers experienced before her.
Margaret Evans has a background in teaching, journalism and publishing. She is the editor of NOVA Holistic Journal.