Medical science has been changing in ways that clearly encourage new directions for childbirth methodology. Between 1993 and 1996, three important educators described changes in the healthcare system necessary for the sake of national health and welfare.
In his book Meaning and Medicine, Larry Dossey, MD, brought widespread attention to the development and potential of a new health care methodology. Dossey’s books and other significant publications of mind-body medicine have increased popular demand for mind-body methods, a demand that influenced both medical and nursing schools to include alternative methods in their curriculums. In 1998 the National Institutes of Health established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to expand medical knowledge and practice.
In brief, Dr. Dossey describes three eras of medicine. Era I Medicine is the scientific (or materialistic) medicine that began developing in the late 19th century and flourished throughout and after World War II. This is still the prevailing methodology, intent on diagnosing, suppressing, or surgically removing physical symptoms.
Era II Medicine emerged in America in the late 1960s and the 1970s with ground-breaking mind-body medicine programs at the Harvard Medical School (HMS), and then at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (UMMC). In both programs meditation was the mind-body intervention used, and it proved to have remarkable biological and psychological benefits, especially for the reduction of stress and anxiety.
The body of contemporary research that has developed studying the application of mind-body methods—and meditation methods in particular—is unprecedented in the history of medicine. More than 50,000 research papers and books have been published on the effects of meditation. Era II medicine implies a new model of the human body and its potential for healing.
Era III Medicine is described by Dr. Dossey as “transpersonal.” It is universal field medicine, including such interventions as intercessory prayer and long distance healing, now supported by a growing body of research. Era III medicine implies an expanded, perhaps complete model of the human body and potential.
THE RELAXATION RESPONSE AND SELF-CARE
Herbert Benson, MD was an important early leader in research and publication concerning meditation and mind-body medicine. Following the renowned work of Walter Cannon, MD, at the HMS, which defined the fight-or-flight response and the stress response, Benson brought widespread attention to the relaxation response, an inherent meditation response preventing people from burning out from anxiety and stress.
In 1996, Dr. Benson published his book Timeless Healing, based on more than 30 years of research and clinical experience in mind-body medicine at Harvard. In the book he describes self-care as the most essential intervention for the emerging medical paradigm, and he says that the most proven mind-body self-care method is meditation.
With self-care at the heart of a revolutionized health care system, said Dr. Benson, drugs and surgery would be used less, and used more appropriately. Health care costs would decline and the standards and quality of our health care system would improve if self-care were our primary mode of care.
A third important description of a needed change in health care was published in 1993 by Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., and Carolyn Myss, Ph.D., in The Creation of Health. They described the needed revolution in health care to be a shift of power from doctor to patient. In the medical system that still prevails, the doctor is most often too powerful and keeps the patient in a position of weakness, which is not good for the patient’s spirit and not good for the doctor.
MEDITATION IMPROVES HEALTH
Meditation is most often empowering. With proper instruction and use it has important health results for most people. The large majority of people who practice meditation properly have experienced significant biological and psychological improvements.
More than 19,000 people, including many medical professionals, have trained in the mindfulness meditation techniques offered at UMMC since 1979. Hospital mind-body medicine programs modeled after UMMC’s are now available throughout North America and Europe.
Meditation’s proven benefits of hormonal balancing, immune system enhancement, symptom reduction, and pain management are increasingly respected world-wide.
DEVELOPMENT OF CALM BIRTH
In 1967 I began to study with teachers trained in profound methods from meditation science traditions. From 1980 to the present I’ve been working with Vajrayana meditation masters who are also doctors. I was trained for many years in a deep breathing method called vase breathing—breathing vital energy—which became the basis of my work in the medical uses of meditation. The method has extraordinary potential for use in childbirth.
More than 100 Calm Birth trainings have been presented it US hospitals. The Calm Birth method has also has been presented at the University of Michigan Medical School and at four world congresses of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). To date more than 12,000 children in 15 countries have been born by the Calm Birth method.
OVERVIEW OF THE PROGRAM
There are three practices in the Calm Birth method:
Practice of Opening is reclining progressive relaxation, using neuromuscular release and mind-body science. It allows the pregnant woman and her partner to experience a remarkable access to the development of the unborn child
Womb Breathing is based on the vase breathing meditation method taught by Tibetan Vajrayana masters. This practice offers a new vision of the body and potential of the pregnant woman. With Womb Breathing women learn to breathe completely, to breathe energy and oxygen, to reach full potential in childbirth, profoundly enriching the child. This practice extends natural labor pain management.
Giving and Receiving is a treasure from ancient wisdom used to bring healing into childbirth.
Variants of all three of these practices have also been developed for women to use in postnatal care.
BENEFITS OF CALM BIRTH
The Calm Birth practices were developed to give women direct ways to raise the quality of health in childbirth, whether or not medical interventions are applied. Calm Birth is complementary medicine; it can be very beneficial if drugs, anesthesia, and surgery are used. Meditation strengthens women psychologically. Childbirth meditation lowers obstetrical costs and risks. It is most beneficial when used as primary care.
Given the controversial status of obstetrical practices today, and given the widespread interest in alternative health care, let us strongly consider the use of noninvasive mind- body methods in childbirth. The availability of such methods is an important chance to raise the quality of childbirth care.
Robert Bruce Newman is the developer of Calm Birth. It’s based on methods he learned and was authorized to teach during his more than 20 years of apprenticeship with Tibetan meditation teachers and doctors. He has presented more than 100 hospital and conference training seminars in the Calm Birth method since 1997. He has taught at the University of Colorado, Naropa University, and the City University of New York. His books include: Calm Birth: New Method for Conscious Childbirth; Childbirth Meditation: The Calm Birth Method; and Empowered Care: Mind-Body Medicine Methods.