Updated: Oct 19, 2020
What is visualisation?
Visualisation is mentally rehearsing an action to get a better outcome with that action in the future. The more we train in seeing ourselves doing that action, the more our mind will see that action as natural and the more we will believe it can happen the way we want it to.
Wayne Dyer, a very famous name in the personal growth world says “you’ll believe it when you see it”. What that means is that first we have to see something happening and then once we see it happening we will start to believe that it can actually happen. So if we can’t see it in real life, we need to start by seeing it in our imagination. Either way, the brain doesn’t understand the difference. The neural pathways in the brain for that action happening are created either way, through visualising it or actually seeing it. We just need to believe that we have the power and ability to do that action. Each time we visualise the action, we rehearse it, thus making those neural pathways stronger. Keep in mind though that we can visualise for negative or positive benefit. So we can imagine what we want to happen or we can choose to focus on and imagine what we don’t want to happen and see that play out. But one big hint, imagining or visualising what we actually want is always better in terms of what will happen in the end.
By repeatedly visualising an action we want to happen, our mind understands it as if we have already done that action many times before in the way we have imagined. This means that when it comes to the actual situation it is much easier for us to do, like a habit where we don’t even have to think about how to do it, nor waste valuable energy on thinking how to do it. Our energy can just go into doing the action. We also become comfortable doing it, as well as more confident, because our mind has seen it happen before. The mind instructs the body in how to act. The mind is in control, the body is a robot and follows the mind’s instructions.
High level successful athletes visualise playing their game and winning all the time. It is something they are taught from the beginning of their sports journey. They visualise the whole process, each action before every game, even to the extent of going to the venue to see themselves playing the game successfully there. And this is what can happen in birth.
It is true that, like life, we can’t always control what happens in birth, and we don’t always get the birth that we want. It may be a mismatch with our choice of caregiver or the place we choose to give birth, or it maybe a lack of preparation or not even knowing how to prepare properly or just thinking that the caregivers are experts looking out for our best interests and so we might put too much trust in them. Sometimes it might be other circumstances beyond our control. But to prepare for the birth that we want, visualisation is one of the most useful tools that can help create a better birth outcome.
Visualising involves imagining a scene in your mind as if it were actually happening. You see the scene, the smells, the sounds, you feel it with all your senses, you also see who is there with you, you see yourself going through each stage and what you are doing in each stage. Visualisation can enhance motivation, self-confidence and ability.
Does visualisation really work?
Research supports that visualisation does work. Studies show that visualising a sporting action can be as or almost as useful as physical training for that sport. Other studies have been conducted with many different populations, including cancer patients, patients with rheumatism and fibromyalgia successfully controlling their pain levels with visualisation. While other studies have also shown that visualisation can decrease anxiety before surgical procedures as well as pain post surgically.
There are also studies with pregnancy, birth and visualisation. Many studies show how self-hypnosis (visualisation) decreased fear and anxiety around childbirth compared to the control group. In studies done on self-hypnosis in labour, many show that there is a reduction in the use of pain medication. Studies also often show that that the groups who used self-hypnosis in birth have a better childbirth experience compared to the control group including delivery outcomes and sometimes less complicated births. There are also studies to support that using visualisation can decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and heart rate and increases the feeling of relaxation and well-being.
Visualisations and HypnoBirthing
Visualisation uses the mind-body connection (thoughts & behaviour) so that a relaxed mind equals a relaxed body, which can mean less pain and a less complicated birth. HypnoBirthing uses visualisations to make the body more comfortable and relaxed and open up during birth. There are a few different visualisations taught in HypnoBirthing. Some are for relaxation. For example, the silver glove relaxation where you can make parts of the body go numb, or the sensory gate control valve, where you can ‘turn parts of your body off and on’ to facilitate relaxation and comfort, or the depthometer with relaxing fluid running through your body to bring your body into a deeper state of relaxation. All of these function to make you feel more comfortable during birth and to go deeper and deeper into relaxation. The rainbow relaxation is the repetition of images to train your mind and your body to become more relaxed. Then there are two visualisations for birth, the blue satin ribbons to help the cervix open and the opening blossom visualisation to help facilitate the unfolding of the perineum.
The point of using guided imagery or visualisation in birth is to increase the relaxation response and decrease the stress response. The stress response is known as the 'emergency room', which is not conducive to birth, whereas the relaxation response is known as the 'healing room' which is a fantastic place to be during birth as the nervous system is relaxed, allowing the body to work just as it should. It helps the attention shift away from pain and it allows the body to relax which helps it to open up. The body can’t give birth when it doesn’t feel safe, that is when it is in a stress response.
Fear in birth is often related to not only lack of control but disbelief that the body can give birth safely. So if we can visualise to help the mind and body rehearse for birth, we can also overcome our fear of birth by visualising our body giving birth. By doing this, the mind can then believe that our body is able to give birth.
In part 2, I will be going through what is needed to create your own birth visualisation.
The next HypnoBirthing class starts in Kensington, Melbourne October 29th, 2020. Email Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org. for more information.