Here is another of my Pregnancy massage students projects about how pregnancy massage can support connections: Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
Pregnancy massage: Connecting mother, baby and life
by Sophia Vester
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
The work with pregnant women is teaching me such a lot about the interconnectedness of everything – in an even more complex and intense manner than in my current work as a holistic massage.
All that concerns the woman somewhat has an impact on her wellbeing. This, of course, is true for every human being – but during pregnancy, where such profound changings are taking place, like in a burning glass, questionings on the whole life – past, present, future – are likely to come up. The woman is on a journey in an unknown realm, where suddenly she has to handle new sensations and sudden emotions coming up with the deep transformations in their whole organism taking place with pregnancy. She may have to deal with nausea, healthy issues, with questions about life and (sometimes) death; The context of the own life is widening to another being and one might sense for the first time the responsibility to care and to live a healthy life; There will be changings in her professional and often personal life – she has to define herself in a new way.
On one hand, it can be a wonderful time, and there might be an openness like never before for to change things in a healthy way. On the other hand, there can be insecurity, fear, resistance; lack of support, all kinds of stress, grief, material insecurity, health issues, traumas, family secrets, ….
A bodyworker is not a psychotherapist – but through bodywork, we are always somehow working with and touching the whole being.
The four women whom I have accompanied during several months of her pregnancy for my case studies, all have different stories, different “ingredients” that are influencing the way they live their pregnancy. Some of the different layers of their concerns unfolded with growing confidence and could, in part, be integrated, harmonized or overcome.
What is a woman initially mostly coming for?
First – on a symptomatic level: To be released from her tensions or pain that are limiting her wellbeing. To feel better. To let stress and worries go. To relax and regenerate.
More – on a deeper level: To inhabit her body, to fully feel alive, to be connected with herself and with the growing life in her womb. These aspects often may be more unconscious or remain somewhat misty until they reveal themselves naturally to the woman in the moment she can SENSE them. When she is in fluid sensed connection with herself, she may be able to sense the unity she is forming with her baby, too.
Pregnancy is about trusting the transforming processes and life’s rhythms, about connecting with one’s own deep wisdom and power, about let-it-go, let-it-flow. We are part of nature. Rhythms and cycles go through us and let us live and breathe. Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
Water changes shape and even form,
But keeps its essence.
River changes water and even course,
But keeps its essence.
Trust the unchanging in changing.
Be like water and river.
Moving and staying, changing and unchanging
Know and soften
Soften and change
Change and endure
Be like water
Think like river
from the “Tao of Relationship”
The flowing watery YIN state – it can be sensed as a reality through bodywork. As a massage/shiatsu therapist, I see my role in supporting a woman to feel “at home” within herself in this very particular transforming period of her life. “At home” means, ideally, to feel herself a unity, entire, ONE – all parts integrated, deeply sensing, relaxed, connected with herself and with the baby, connected with her deep source of potentials and intuition. Bodywork can also open to a wider conscience and experience: that of being at home in Nature, of sensing the proximity and interconnectedness of every being.
The core means in supporting this complex connecting-process certainly is the massage and shiatsu bodywork itself. Besides, awareness-exercises, specific movements and visualizations can strengthen and deepen this process decisively.
In my present considerations, I would like to unfold some – as I see it: the most – beneficial effects of those different manners and levels of coming-into-connection. It will be based on my own (rather young) experience and the generous feedback I got from my clients, as well as – underlying and supporting – on the marvelously enriching books I have been reading and which will continue to be for me a rich source of information, knowledge and inspiration.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Means to enhance connection
A complete session of massage and shiatsu bodywork is composed of different elements/has different ingredients which, each – and certainly in interrelation to each other – are contributing to the same aim. The wish for a session (the aim, more technically spoken) is clearly in supporting relaxation, energy flow, integration and connection. This already begins with
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life:The Welcome situation
The space where the session is taking place with its atmosphere and the relation to the practitioner very important for an unfolding of confidence, openness and relaxation.
A well prepared, calm warm space within a clear and structured professional setting gives the very important favorable frame where one can feel safe and thus can open, trust and relax. A fine seat and a glass of water, a concentrated meditative atmosphere are signs: It is all prepared for YOU. You are in the right place in the right moment. A valorizing, opening space. The attitude of the practitioner – professional and empathetic, caring and respecting boundaries, in any case: listening with a friendly open heart, never judging – is decisive for to create assurance and the client to get into connection. There has to be information, too:
- About the development of the fetus in that specific state of pregnancy, about the physical changes in the mother’s body and what could be linked to in emotion, moods…
- About the practitioner’s way to work, the participation of the client, empower the woman to be aware of her wellbeing and to interfere whenever she wants to change something.
The inner attitude should be: I welcome her my client with all that is there, visible and invisible, conscious and unconscious. Sense what she has come for, what she might wish and need, and what might trouble her. Get a feeling for her being and for her deep longing. Ask in a respectful open way. Never go “fishing”.
All those favorable aspects already encourage an integrating process. The being-grounded and connectedness of the practitioner may deepen this by resonance.
We listen each other into being.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life:
Body Awareness: Sitting
In my first study-session, observing the very unhealthy way of sitting of my client, I began the bodywork with a sitting-exercise on a gymnastic ball. In the beginning, I felt a little insecure to enhance on such a common aspect, although I was aware of the prime importance of posture. I found a way to guide my client by words, gestures and imagination – and it revealed to be of a great benefit. The woman, as she told me a month later in our second session, had been very happy with her new awareness on sitting, she had bought a ball and since, it was revolutionizing her sitting-posture. In consequence, all her issues were diminishing considerably: neck and shoulder pain, narrowness in her chest and thus difficulties to breathe deeply, as well as her lower back pain. Besides, the active way of sitting being constantly in micro movements, gives a better sensing of one’s pelvis, frees the sacrum and lets the vertebras dance. Thus, with the whole spine lengthening, the head straightens upright, and shoulder and neck muscles can soften – widens the chest and eases the shoulder girdle. Further on, we get connected to Earth and Sky.
Within this rather technical, sober part of the work, we already can introduce other levels of connectedness – depending on what level we sense the woman may be open to: with Nature, the Elements, Space, Energy, the Spiritual.
Body Awareness: Breathing
In this optimized position, one can begin to bring the client’s awareness on breathing. Breathing is always connecting with the present moment. Breathing is a key theme as it is connected with all aspects of our being – breathing is of crucial importance.
(Especially in later pregnancy, deep breathing becomes more difficult, as with the growth of the child the lungs and the front of the body – rib cage, intercostals, diaphragm – tend to become compressed and therefore, breathing rhythm gets shorter and less deep)
- Life-giving energy, nourishment for all our cells
- Connecting to our self
- BEING, right here, right now. Entirely. No thoughts or feelings away from the awareness of body sensation in the very moment in the very place.
- Connecting with the baby – visualization: With each inbreath, my lungs are widening, my diaphragm gently massages my baby in the womb through the protecting amniotic fluid. With each outbreath I let go diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and put a slight tension to my perineum.
- Inbreath – outbreath, filling – emptying, inwards – outwards: Through breathing, we are connecting with the World, we are part of Nature
“By breathing, you confirm your own life connection.” (Peggy Hackney, p. 52)
Visualisation with breathing – that goes further and connects with a greater space: find a good position, optimize your posture. Make your abdomen slightly firm, push your tongue to the roof of your mouth, separate lower teeth from upper teeth. We bring a potency, a constancy, a pressure to our breathing. Find your rhythm. Sense your body, your whole being being moved by your breathing rhythm.
Find a stillpoint to the top of your inbreath – I imagine my whole field expanding upwards to heaven – then, I let that go: I imagine my energy field like a waterfall tumbling down the front of my body, back to my perineum (muladhara, mountain energy). Then I sit in absolute stillness, connecting with mountain. Feel the natural physiological urge to breathe in.
Body Awareness: Movement
I love to integrate movement in my sessions. I deal with it as a joyful, playful element that may encourage the woman to experiment, to eventually find back a delightful feeling of dance, of fluidity, maybe of sensuality.
Normally I begin to show a precise exercise which I practice together with my client: Taking in the ground position we know from Martial Arts, awareness to the center, the Tantien/Hara. I am working with the Taoistic Health Exercises (I practice them in Tai Chi): These are all energizing, harmonizing, meridian-activating (-stretching) exercises which I esteem to be perfect for preparation (and self-empowerment) to our work. At each time, I just show one or two of them that I think appropriate to that woman in that moment. After bodywork, we often remember (repeat) them and they can be integrated at home.
Out of any of those precise structures, continuous movement may develop, as a “freestyle” gentle moving of the basin, a meandering in the space, a private “sacrum dance”.
This for my sense is a very good means for a woman to connect with herself joyfully and to get to feel what her body needs and wishes to express. Maybe there are strong emotions to express themselves or more hidden aspects that come to light through movement/ a smooth dance, maybe music can help and invite to free stiffness.
Through moving we ARE, we express ourselves, we come into connection with ourselves, with others, with the space surrounding us. In any way, it has strong empowering qualities.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life through: Massage and Shiatsu
Such well prepared, in a confident fluidity of breath that is assuring her to be in the present moment, the woman is likely to dive into a very fine relaxing and wellbeing time. With the means of our deep massage and shiatsu tool bag -broad fluid effleurages, kneading, circling, holding, deep thumb contacts, tapotement, squeezing; alterning flow and static, punctual and overall – all the layers, fluids, energies are concerned, get to be relaxed, calmed or vivified, interrelated – connected. The senses are lively, the whole skin is breathing; thoughts and worries are far away, all parts of the body become integrated.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Bonding is not a concept. One has to feel it. The Unity, the entire aliveness, based on a freed and connected body. The connection to oneself is the center of all connections. Being. Right here, right now. Just breathing through all senses. In the present moment, there is no judgment, no fear. Just breathing, heart rhythm, fulfilment, being. One may feel the deep all-connecting source of love, kindness, strength, self-confidence, empathy, understanding.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Visualization
At that state of being, a visualization is likely to be of deep intensity. In complete security and openness, with her awareness and her sensing, guided by the words of the practitioner, the woman may deeply experience the symbiotic flowing connection with her baby; she may REALLY SENSE that she is the center of life, life-giving, a source of energy and light for herself and for the new life. More: she might sense her being part of all: Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green
and encourages blossoms to flourish
with ripening fruits
I feed the purest streams
I am the rain coming from the dew that causes
the grasses to laugh with the joy of life
I call forth holy works
I am the longing for good
Hildegard von Bingen
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life with resting
After bodywork and visualization, remaining some minutes in the fulfilment of that allover-conscience reveals to be very precious. Sensing what is living, let it settle and grow in the body-mind-soul-unity. It is a reality. It is at the same time a very personal reality, a connecting-reality of mother and child – and a world-connecting reality.
This reaches what David Abram names “the matrix of earthly life in which we ourselves are embedded”: “As we return to our senses, we gradually discover our sensory perceptions to be simply our part of a vast, interpenetrating webwork of perceptions and sensations borne by countless other bodies – supported, that is, not just by ourselves, but by icy streams tumbling down granit slopes, by owl wings and lichens, and by the unseen, imperturbable wind. (David Abrams, The spell of the sensuous, p. 65)
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Homework
To me, it makes sense giving some inspiring suggestions for home. Not many, just three or four at each time, easy to remember, to applicate and integrate. It is always about awareness, about sensing. About thankfulness, too. All about belonging – CONNECTING. Awareness on posture, breathing, movement – always. But especially: It is about integrating this all-over-feeling of wholeness and spreading it out in daily life. Making it part of myself. Letting shine the brightness of the integrating experience in our current body awareness, melting away old routine patterns where they imprison us. Making a full life of our life. Letting return the Mystery and the Sacred back into our life. Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
I like to emphasize on the magic and the potential of morning freshness: morning exercise, morning meditation. Breathing. Always breathing. Sensing. Getting aware of how my body fills with air and is moved by. Awareness. Being. When one still is in an in-between, “before the mind”. The precious of taking private time for sensing, before daily activities are rushing – before we get into any functional situation. Completely off-line. Caring for oneself, sensing what is here today, will change our way to be during the day.
The morning wind spreads its fresh smell
We must get up and take that in
That wind that lets us live
Breathe before it is gone
Jallal al’Din Rumi
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: exercises
I have listed up some exercise-suggestions for daily BEING-awareness: as a day-to-day-empowerment, for to remember and confirm oneself as a connected being.
- Still in bed, stretch, unwind, follow the impulses of your body, feel the connectedness of all parts of your body
- Drink a glass of water you already have prepared beside your bed
- Give space for your dreams to come up: Is there a feeling, a glance, an image, a message, a colour striking you? – Notice it.
- Sometimes take a fine warm bath. Feel the watery state which is yours, too
- Sense the shower-water sprinkling on your skin, surrounding you smoothly
- The frictions with the towel, awakening your skin, bloodflow till the edges of your limbs
- Spread out bodymilk with loving massaging strokes on your skin
- Open the window/door to garden, terrace, balcony, breathe the morning air, hear the noises and melodies of this morning, see the coulor of the sky
- Move and meander, stretch and whirl, give space to your articulations, dance, let it dance within you
- Sing and let your arms express their heart energy
- Some exercises: taoistic health exercises, feet well grounded, open to fresh air and thankfulness
- Sitting in meditation position, feel the ground energy, be aware of your posture, let your breathflow – outer world, inner world… feel the rhythm of your life functions
… further more, for to be daily connected:
Dance, sing, be together, tell stories, go for a walk, feel the earth supporting you firmly, sense the wind in your hair and the warming sun in your face. Feel you being part of it all. Be aware of how you move your whole body. Allow yourself moving your hips, let your sacrum and your vertebras dance their dance.
Sleep well and enough. Avoid discussions and reason-apelling things late in the evening – rather meditate, sing, hear music, have near moments with your partner. Drink enough water.
Take time – just a few minutes – every morning and every evening, to open your heart to the mystery of growing life within your womb. How am I – right her, right now? And what would I need to feel better? How is my baby – right here, right now? What would she/he wish? – More rest? More serenity? Deeper respiration? Less stress? More harmony?
Take time every day for a nap. For silence, emptiness, day-dreaming
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: rhythms and cycles
When we mean Connection, we always mean Rhythm, too. The fundamental principle of Life: the endlessly floating interconnectedness of YIN and YAN Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
As we are part of nature, like all life, we are organized by rhythms that assure our ground functions of life: heart beat – systole/ diastole, breathing – inbreath/ outbreath, the cranial wave – extension/ repliance.
There is rhythmic and cyclic everywhere in nature: Day and night, the moon cycles, the seasons; the seasonal cycle of gestation, outspread, growth, ripening, fall – inwards, outwards.
Through breathing, awareness, moving, relaxing, I can get aware of my being part of it. Connecting with myself. My body as an entire universe – my fluids – my energy field – my baby – my potential. Connecting with All. Being part of – earth, sky, growing nature, travelling clouds, all beings.
The more I go inside, the more the inner space opens and deepens. The more I feel connected, the more I AM, the more I am part of a WHOLE, the more I have confidence in life: I am in the right body in the right situation with the right people in the right moment in the right place. Because: I AM. Doubts and fears are leaving. Wellbeing, thankfulness and a loving feeling come up strongly.
Now you know the sacred is everywhere.
Now you know the miniature is inside you.
You find the essence if you can find
The gift moment that has all of it inside –
A deeply felt, fully breathed life
Thich Nhat Hanh
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Linear versus Cyclic
Pregnancy and motherhood lead us women into another quality and movement of life. Until then, many of us will have been living their lives in a more “linear” way: Studies, work, maybe an ambitious carrier; besides that, a dense program of social, cultural, fitness activities – bref, a life straight ahead, a matter of will and energy, fitting to the rules of the system – strongly YANG-orientated.
We now are asked by Nature to be patient, to let go, to be receptive, to adapt our lives to a higher principle that is the growth of a new life within and through us – a much more inwards, YIN-orientated state of being.
This often creates inner conflicts and tensions: The woman, still in her working patterns, may feel less competitive, she senses that she already is engaged in something of a different nature, that is changing her and that she can neither control nor dominate with her will. The former life-style doesn’t fit any longer, but the connection to what is happening might not yet be present. This can cause feelings of fear, anger, even reject. The growing baby can be seen as a disturbing factor, as a “stranger”, who is interfering in her world. As long as possible, the woman may insist in continuing as “normal” and, despite of her tiredness and other physical signs, neglecting the wisdom of her inner voice, her needs for rest and self-care. Instead of going-with-the-flow, she tries to swim against the stream.
This, of course, is deeply touching our social structures with its rules and its judgements. The conflict of women between her professional career and motherhood, the poor valorization of pregnancy and childbirth in our society, somehow is taking place in all of us.
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Preparation for birth
Two of the women have witnessed a fully medicalized birth.
R who normally will give birth within six weeks is sceptic: Everything is going on well, but the only imponderable is the birth situation. I don’t know the staff, and who knows what they will tell me to do. I cannot influence it, that makes me feel rather insecure.
N had been fully medicalized though she had never understood why and has had four midwives in her labour-time.
The arbitrary of the clinical situation is seen as destabilizing.
What I can do: strengthen the woman in her empowerment. As I did for all of them (except Wiebke) in the last session before the birth date: Visualize the rushes coming up, go with the waves, go with the tsunami, relax in-between; roar, sing and scream as you want to, believe in your power and in baby’s and your connection – you are going through it together!
As my ears are wide open now for all that concerns pregnancy and birth-giving, I hear about so many – to me staring – experiences. Some women feel completely overcome by the medical interventions, until feeling having been private off her own birth-giving; others seem to take it as normal and don’t question it; and many, as it seems, want /are calculating with a labour-accelerating medicine and a peridural anaesthesia because feeling pain is out of the acceptable. When Ariane told the other 16 women in her birth preparation course that she was looking forward to her hopefully natural birthgiving, and that she felt the power to go through it of her own (with her baby), the others remained incredulate. Why feeling all this pain if there is relief? –
I never would have imagined – and I am very startled about – that medicalized birth is so widespread and seemingly does have such a big acceptance in society.
A lots of work is to be done. To appreciate this life time, to sensibilize for the utmost importance of the most favorable circumstances possible for each birth, for support and comfort women. Most of all: support women to connect with themselves. Empower them to connect with her sources and primitive life energy. Support the connection with the unborn child. Give a space where there can be exchange, telling, listening to whatever concerns may appear. We have to stick together and create an empowering environment for the women. Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
I feel so lucky to practice under the same roof as two independent midwives. Networking and crossover-ideas are spreading out:
Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life: Ideas for a wider concept
First of all, supporting a woman during her pregnancy is a work with an individual. But always, too, there are systemic concerns (partner, family, origin family, ancestors) as well as social or traditional aspects (role of a woman/mother in society, esteem of homework and childcare, definition of work, etc.). As a massage/shiatsu therapist we evidently cannot cover all these themes – nevertheless, we are always dealing with the Whole. I can respond on an energetic level to themes I may sense, support the client mentally and energetically while doing my attentive bodywork. And: give space for them to get aware of what is there. Out of that may surge a lot of questions and needs.
During these last six months, being in touch with pregnant women, reading books that relate to, listening and asking and being attentive all around, I have become aware that need is everywhere.
A lot of ideas are spreading out and developing what would be precious to integrate in a wider concept of accompanying not only pregnant women.
Regular evenings could be organized:
- Information, exercises, meditation, visualization, exchange, singing, dancing
- Healthy food
- Walks in nature together
- Talking, singing
- Making connections – circles of women of different ages
- Partner massage
- Season celebrations, for to strengthen connection with nature
I feel very grateful about all this apprenticeship. I am learning and integrating a lots of new techniques, and at the same time, with each woman who comes to see me, I am deepening my listening, my intuition – and mostly, too, my understanding.Pregnancy massage: connecting mother, baby and life
What I discovered through the experience I had with the women that came to me until yet is, that the relation, the connection that I can establish with my client is as important as the technique I could apply.
ABRAM, David, The Spell of the Sensuous
DAVIS, Elizabeth, LEONARD, Carol, The circle of Life. Thirteen Archetypes for Every Woman, 2002 – German translation: Im Kreis des Lebens. Die dreizehn Archetypen der Frauen
GASKIN, Ina May, Spiritual Midwifery, 3rd edition, Summertown, 1990
HACKNEY, Peggy, Making Connections – Total Body Integration through Bartenieff Fundamentals, New York, 2005
MILNE, Hugh, The Heart of Listening, A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work, I and II, Berkeley, 1995 – German translation: Aus der Mitte des Herzens lauschen. Eine visionäre Annäherung an die Craniosacralarbeit, Bd. I und II
NORTHRUP, Christiane, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, New York, 1998 – German translation: FrauenKörper FrauenWeisheit, Wie Frauen ihre ursprüngliche Fähigkeit zur Selbstheilung wiederentdecken können, München, 2001
ODENT, Michel, The Farmer and the Obstetrician, London, 2002 – German translation: Im Einklang mit der Natur. Neue Ansätze der sanften Geburt, Düsseldorf, 2004
ODENT, Michel, the Nature of Birth and Breastfeeding, London, 1992 – German translation: Geburt und Stillen. Über die Natur elementarer Erfahrungen, München, 2000
ODENT, Michel, The Scientification of Love, London, 1999 – German translation: Die Wurzeln der Liebe. Wie unsere wichtigste Emotion entsteht, Düsseldorf, 2006
YATES, Suzanne, Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2010