When used consciously, “anchors” can be really powerful and beneficial tools where we purposefully channel positive thoughts, memories or emotions into sensory stimuli. We can revisit this stimuli at a later date and it will reignite those positive thoughts we have attached. The main focus of this blog is regarding their use during pregnancy and birth, but they can easily be adapted for any aspect in life.
I class myself as quite a sensory person, particularly regarding smells and music. It is not unusual in my house to see my husband roll his eyes as he sees me excitedly sniff a new candle, fabric conditioner or perfume. Certain scents make me feel comforted and calm, and yes, I get a little obsessed but for me it is “my thing”!
The same with music. My dear pregnancy yoga teacher is now prepared for my weekly questioning of…”what was that tune while we were in pigeon pose?” or “…can you send me the link to your playlist please?”. The slower pace of the yoga class allows me to listen mindfully, I suppose. If I liked it and it made me feel calm, then I get a little obsessed about wanting it on my “chill out” play list, especially as I prep myself for birth.
The calmness I gain from listening to a specific song in a particular context (i.e. the context of me lying down with a blanket, nothing to do except from listen to the soothing words of a relaxation script, breathing slowly and calmly) and the aim to repeat this feeling at a later date is, in its basic form, an “anchor”. The best way to explain an anchor is for you to draw upon your own experiences; is there a perfume that suddenly reminds you of someone whom you love, or even dislike? A food that even its very mention makes you feel sick, reminding you of a time you had food poisoning from it? A song that makes you smile as you relive a particular funny night out with your besties? Situations and their stimuli can quickly and easily trigger emotional states.
I gave birth to our first child while listening to a beautiful song (“Devi-Prayer” by Craig Pruess), one I chose to be on my playlist because it was the tune we listened to during the relaxation at the end of the pregnancy yoga sessions I attended. Whenever I heard it I felt calm, relaxed, at ease, focused, physically released, and just so tranquil hence why I wanted it playing at the birth. My poor husband on the other hand never had the privilege of anchoring the song to such comforting emotions – if he hears it now he freezes and anxiety and anticipation spreads across his face! He relates it to experiencing the seriousness of the hours I was in labour and it takes him straight back to that dimly lit room, watching, waiting, feeling like there was not much he could do other than support me as and when needed. Similarly, the song takes me straight back to that room also, but I have much different feelings and memories; ones of empowerment, total calm and overwhelming love and excitement when our child was born. Needless to say, he is a little apprehensive about the same song being on my favourite list for this next birth….
Anchors are a way of linking or “conditioning” a sensory experience to a response, usually eliciting emotions or behaviours (the example of Pavlov’s dog rings a bell, literally!). When I attended a Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) course several years ago, we explored this concept and it resonated with me how powerful and useful they can be. We can create and use them as a tool in situations when we need them the most. There are many opportunities where an anchor could help shift strong uncomfortable emotions for women who are at the fertility, pregnancy and/or birth stages in their life. Anchors are explored when I teach the Wise Hippo Birthing Programme as they are so beneficial to help the birthing mother evoke the sensations and emotions that will support them the most.
Simple ways to create an anchor for birth, for example, could include taking time out each evening (or as often a you can) to listen to the same calming music while burning a favourite fragrance (always better to check the aroma is safe during pregnancy, however) and just doing nothing other than listen, breath slowly, deeply and calmly. The very nature of this breath will send a signal to your brain that all is OK, all is fine. It will help your brain to “switch off” and promote a grounded and relaxed physical and emotional response. So, the stimulus will be the music and the scent – the response will be the calmness your mind experiences which in turn triggers the physical response of producing the hormones needed for birth, e.g. endorphins, oxytocin. Playing this music during birth especially while either burning or inhaling the same scent will trigger those same feelings. We need to practice and create this anchor to allow the mind to connect to it when you want the anchor to work for you.
If you think anchors sound beneficial then it really is easy to create your own…smells, sounds, pictures, visuals, taste; channel positive emotions into them. And above all, enjoy taking the time out to relax and create your anchor; a little self-care can go a long way.
Thanks again, Suzanne, for providing me with the best birthing playlist and anchors – although not sure my husband always agrees!