I spent eight years working as a doula. In that time I attended fifty births, and supported mentee doulas attending dozens of other births. And while every birth was different, there was one constant that helped me get all of my mamas through their big days (or nights), and that was Rhythm, Ritual and Rest.*
But as I moved into more and more coaching work, I realized that this principal holds true in the rest of life as well.
Rhythm comes to us first in our breathing. It comes in slow, deep breaths that give our muscles and minds the oxygen to fuel whatever change we want to bring to life.
In the birth room, breathing gives our muscles the oxygen to work, and our minds the stillness to be present in the face of hard contractions.
In life, breathing helps to ground us in our values – to remind us of what we are trying to achieve, and to give us the clarity of mind to make the hard choices as they come.
Rhythm also comes in movement. Slow, intentional, rhythmic movement. The rhythm of birth – the rhythm of change – is very rarely a rhythm of racing to a finish line. It’s marathon-rhythm, not sprinters-rhythm. And so the movement – the change that we want to move towards – has to happen in this same, slow, intentional way.
Movement in birth might look like swaying or dancing. Like rocking or making circles with our hips. Movement helps to keep our muscles loose, because we know that if we tighten up, then we’ll end up making the process longer, slower and more painful.
Movement in life might look like journaling or yoga or sitting and listening to a beautiful piece of music. It might look like a walk with a friend instead of more time on social media. Movement might involve connecting creating something or hanging out with community or going into nature or taking up a new sport.
Either way, movement involves choosing to show up and to be present in the midst of the transformation – the new life you want to birth.
And our rhythmic breathing and rhythmic movement set the stage for ritual.
Ritual in the birth world is how we deal with each new contraction. It’s the thing we tell ourself and the strategy we use as each contraction begins, as it grows, as it peaks and as it ends.
Rituals remind us that we have done hard things before and that we can do hard things again. They give us ways of remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing and how we’re going to get through it.
In life, these rituals might be an intentional ten minutes sitting with our tea in the morning on the front step before we get the kids up for school. Or it might be the way you lay your coloured pencils out before you journal. It might be the orange juice you pour for your husband as he walks in the door, or it might be the time you spend in your garden every Saturday morning.
Rituals ground us. They centre us on our values. They remind us who we are and what we’re trying to achieve and they reinforce our ability to do the next hard thing.
But without rest, rhythm and ritual will only get us so far.
Rest is more vital to our ability to bring transformation, change and new life into this world than we seem to want to admit. In a society that is all about do-do-do and go-go-go, rest seems counter-productive – counter-intuitive to the process of trying to achieve something.
But rest in the birth room is what makes it possible to get through to the end of the birth. A mama who tries too hard in early labor to ‘make things happen’ will exhaust herself before she’s really even started. A mama who doesn’t find rest for her muscles and her mind between contractions is using energy she’s going to need in the hours to come.
Rest in the birth room involves sipping on water, closing our eyes and letting the tension drain out of our foreheads, our mouths, our shoulders and arms and hands, our legs and feet and toes. It might even involve a quick cat nap. The rest that we take clears the lactic acid from our muscles, helps to flush the body of unnecessary waste and refreshes us to do the job of birthing a baby for as long as it takes.
Rest in life is just as important. If we go-go-go all the time and never rest, then we build up tension and fear inside of us. Without rest, we never have a chance to repair our hurt feelings or refresh ourselves for the journey we’re on.
Rest isn’t just about sleep (though that’s important). For rest to be rest it needs to drain the tension out of our bodies and give us the renewed energy to face the next challenge. As such, rest is different for everybody. It might be a hard workout or it might be a quiet hour doing art. It might be reading a good novel or hanging out with friends at a pub. But we’ll know it’s rest if it leaves us relaxed and energized for whatever comes next.
Rhythm, ritual and rest are not easy things to achieve in a birth room. It usually takes someone other than the mama to get her there, no matter how much she likes the idea ahead of time. They’re also not easy things to achieve in life. If you’re reading this and feeling like you’d really like to move closer to a life of rhythm, ritual and rest, why don’t you get in touch, and we can talk more about what that would look like for you?
*If you’re interested in reading more about this principal in the doula world, please head over to Penny Simkin’s page.