Relax and it'll happen ... sound familiar?
So you’ve been told to relax to help you get pregnant. Great, how do I do that you ask yourself. While googling away you stumble on research that meditation can help your Relaxation Response which then helps your fertility. There’s even research on it.
Well that’s great … but I can’t meditate!
Any of this sound familiar?
If this is you then you aren’t alone! If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this I’d be filthy rich. Here’s a few of the reasons I’ve heard over the years:
I can’t empty my mind, or I can’t sit still.
I don’t have time or the space to meditate
I don’t feel good after it and there’s no change after I meditate.
Or … I’m still not pregnant!
The list goes on … and on!
So, let’s unpack a few of the more common themes I hear. Hopefully I can myth-bust some of them for you.
I can’t empty my mind
Yep, you can’t empty mind. No-one can, because our minds are a hive of activity. Your mind is designed to take in information, internally from your body and externally from your environment.
Your brain is processing literally millions of pieces of information and it has the important job of deciding from all this information what’s useful, what needs to be stored in memory, what fits with your values and hopes and – of course – what’s a threat so it can protect you. Let’s not forget all the work it’s doing to keep you breathing and moving … so it’s safe to say it’s not going to empty just because you want to meditate. Sorry.
One of the reasons you’re asked to close your eyes when you meditate is to reduce the external stimuli. This helps your brain to slow down and focus.
During meditation you’ll learn to watch your thoughts rather than engaging with them or removing them because you don’t like them. By watching the thoughts, you slow them down and reduce their connections with other thoughts from the past or worries about the future. When you are meditating you interrupt the thought pathways by bringing attention back to an anchor like your breath so your thoughts don’t have to keep connecting to the next thought and then the next thought. It will take practice and patience. It will take a while to learn not to get sucked into thinking and to focus on your breath. Fact.
Myth buster: you don’t need an empty mind! You are teaching yourself which thoughts to listen to and which ones to let go of and let them drift away.
What does this mean for you on your fertility journey? This is a useful skill to help prevent overwhelm of all the information you’re trying to process and to help you calmly assess what you need to know and what you can let go of. It also helps you to let go – and not get hooked on – the worry, fear and anxiety that comes with infertility. Meditation will help you to see these are only thoughts and emotions. Then you can notice them and let them go.
I can’t sit still
Our bodies are used to being on the go all the time. So, lots of people find sitting to meditate agitating when they first start.
If this is you try by starting with some mindful movement. Huh? A bit like Tai Chi slowing down your movement and synchronising your breath and movement. This will help slow your mind and body, and train your body to slow down so the sitting while you meditate is less of a big jump for you.
Myth buster: Letting your body wriggle a bit during the beginning of your sitting practice is okay. It will settle after a while.
What does this mean for you? Sometimes even I find my foot goes to sleep while I’m meditating. I notice that I want to move my body and pay attention as I move it then go back to being fully focussed on my meditation. So you can practice and get better at sitting still – don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally at first.
I don’t have time to meditate – this old chestnut!
Here’s the truth. Like every other person in the world you only have 24 hours in the day. And, again like every other person in the world, it’s your choice how you spend your time … and what you prioritise.
Myth buster: there’s one big problem with time we all share. We let things and people dictate how we spend our time and before long we don’t have time for the things we actually want to do. We’ve all been there. Here’s a fact though, it’s completely up to you how you choose to spend your time. And if you prioritise meditation you’ll find the time.
What does this mean for you and how do you find the time? Some questions for you to ponder – are you a morning or a night person? If you’re a morning person, then maybe you could get out of bed 10 minutes earlier or find 10 minutes mid-morning for some sitting practice. But, if you’re a night owl, maybe you could turn the TV off or pull yourself away from your device(s) and spend 10 minutes before bed for sitting practice. See, time found.
Remember, if nothing changes, then nothing changes. If you don’t find the time – just 10 minutes – it just won’t happen. Time to consider prioritising your health and wellbeing over the rest of your to-do list. You can do it!
I don’t have a space for meditation
Let me make this really, really, simple. You don’t need a space. You can actually meditate anywhere – at any time – you just need to be prepared for interruptions.
Myth buster: I suggest when you are new to meditation you find a comfortable space that is warm, and preferably without interruptions (think phones, people and pets). This gives you the best chance at the beginning of your practice to listen to a meditation or to be able to get through it without interruptions.
What does this mean for you? Practice makes perfect. While it will be harder at first, after a while you’ll be able to meditate literally anywhere – even in the doctor’s waiting room or in the supermarket! At any time you can stop what you are thinking about, focus on an anchor point – like your breath, your belly, your feet on the floor, or what you are holding – and keep that focus until your name is called.
Remember you are tuning in to your breath/body/senses, not completely tuning out to the world.
I don’t feel good after it and life doesn’t change because I meditate
Have you been ‘sold’ the belief that after you’ve meditated you’ll feel happy and completely relaxed? Or maybe meditating will invite unicorns and rainbows into your life. That’s just not going to happen. Sorry, but it really isn’t.
Myth buster: Meditation wasn’t designed for a specific outcome. Meditation was designed to help you disconnect from distracting thoughts and calm your body.
Often difficult emotions or struggles arise during meditation, and the practice of noticing and letting go, helps you manage those. It helps you observe these as processes in your mind rather than take them on in your body as well.
What does this mean for you? We use mediation for infertility because the science shows us the body is severely impaired by the stress caused by an overactive mind. Let’s face it, infertility causes stress. So meditation, and the relaxation response, is a way of helping you disconnect from distracting thoughts and calm your body so it can build immunity and heal. Magic!
Here’s the caveat
Life will still throw you curve balls – meditation doesn’t stop that.
Your next IVF cycle may not work or that family member will still be intrusive and annoying;
your fertility journey will still be a journey – but you will be able to have some breathing space from it and be calmer when those things get thrown your way.
I remember counselling a young woman and she identified that her frustration and anger around her fertility journey was often triggered by others’ thoughtless comments. She said that if other people minded their own business she wouldn’t be so stressed. So I told her to send everyone in the world who ‘made’ her angry to me and I’d counsel them. She then had a lightbulb moment – people don’t make her angry, she has the power to choose her response to them. The power of choice develops the more you meditate.
Through meditation you’ll start to see how life impacts you and you’ll start to find the space to choose how you respond rather than react to it (or even over-reacting!).
My final thought is that conditions are never ‘perfect’ around you or in your mind. If you approach meditation with acceptance, that what will be will be, you can start to accept that people will be who are they are no matter how much we meditate. But, meditation will help you respond in a more positive way – for them and for you.
Mindfulness and meditation empowers you!