How many times have we been told to take better care of ourselves, in order to take care of someone else? Yet how many of us actually know where to begin? Add to that the immense changes that come with bringing a child into the world, and the question becomes how do we navigate self-care when our bodies and identities don’t feel like our own?
Reiki, a Japanese form of healing that uses light touch to promote system balance, can be a good starting point. In our culture of busy-ness, it can be difficult not only to find time to quiet our bodies and minds, but also to find the right head-space. Reiki can aid with both, by promoting relaxation, stress relief and also pain relief. Any woman who has carried a child can attest, relaxation and pain relief during pregnancy are precious commodities!
One thing that is often overlooked in modern medicine is that our bodies cannot cope with stress and pain and heal from stress and pain simultaneously. Coping and healing are two very different things. Our sympathetic nervous system, our coping system, is the dominant system in our waking body. In order to truly heal from the stress and pain we encounter on a daily basis, we must allow our parasympathetic nervous system to take over. This usually happens during deep sleep, but when we are not sleeping or relaxing properly this cannot happen. (Deep sleep during pregnancy is almost a laughable concept.) Therefore we end up carrying weeks, months, or even years worth of stress with us! Reiki can aid the switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system dominance, thereby engaging the body’s natural healing abilities.
During pregnancy, our bodies and our emotions are changing daily. Reiki can help ease stress and anxiety brought on by hormone changes. Two of the main hormones in flux during pregnancy – human chorionic gonadotripin (hCG) and estrogen – both cause gastrointestinal distress. Reiki can balance these hormones to promote healthy digestion by relaxing the intestinal walls. It can provide relief from pains such as lower back pain, round ligament pain, nerve-based pain such as sciatica and carpel-tunnel syndrome, and even nausea.
During labor, Reiki can bring enormous benefits to the mother, by easing pain and providing comfort from anxiety. It is non-invasive and soothing. This can help the mother enjoy a centered, empowered birth.
And the benefits of Reiki during a mother’s post-partum time cannot be overstressed! An unfortunate side effect of our busy culture is that we focus almost solely on the baby once it is earth-side, and very little on the mother. In other cultures, such as certain Asian countries, new mothers are cared for by a team of helpers, usually other women in the family or village. New moms are swaddled with their babies and even fed and carried around by the helpers! This helps the mother’s parasympathetic nervous system stay dominant for a long period of time, allowing healing of both the body and the mind. Cases of post-partum depression are almost non-existent among these cared-for mothers.
Conversely, our society expects new moms to “do it all”, and many times do it all alone. By taking time to receive Reiki, new mothers – as well as their babies and new dads too! – can alleviate some of the stress, anxiety and depression that come with adjusting to body changes and parenthood. It promotes relaxation at a time when any relaxation seems like a distant memory, and in doing so can help new parents sleep better when they are able to get some sleep. The sleep, despite being short-lived, can be more restorative as the body’s parasympathetic nervous system has an easier time taking over. Reiki can speed physical healing, after both vaginal or Cesarean deliveries.
Reiki honors the mother and the important work she is doing before, during and after labor. Scheduling a session of Reiki is a great first step a mother can take to empower her own self-care at a time when she is being called on to care for many.