I love Wimbledon. The tradition and etiquette, the green and white, the strawberries and cream - it’s a true sign that summer has arrived. I’m not normally a big watcher of sports but the psychology involved with tennis fascinates me and I’m struck, year after year, by the similarities between Wimbledon and HypnoBirthing... Let me explain:
Choosing a positive approach
As a therapist the CBT approach I trained in is philosophically stoic, it is based around the fact that you cannot always affect what happens to you, but you have freedom in life to choose the attitude you take to the things that happen. An athlete can be supremely physically prepared, but if their mind is not right then they will not perform to the best of their ability. With HypnoBirthing we recognise that we always have a choice as to whether we think positively or negatively. We learn to think, talk and feel positively about birth, this leads to an increased chance of a positive birth experience.
Alexis Castorri, a sports psychologist who has worked with both Lendl and Murray recently said:
‘The mind and body work together, so we devise a system that progressively relaxes and then sharpens the focus in preparation for competing.”
A relaxed body and focussed mind is exactly what a hypnobirthing mother develops. Whilst a lot of the “HypnoBirths” on youtube look like she’s sleeping, a birthing mother is focussing on her breathing, her visualisations, her affirmations, whatever helps her ride each surge whilst allowing the muscles to work in the way in which they’re designed.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Sports psychologist Heaney says positive self-talk, either thoughts or spoken out loud, can aid recovery and performance by helping athletes develop a positive attitude towards recovery and rehabilitation; while athletes need to reduce their arousal levels through relaxation strategies and increase them through ‘psyching-up’ strategies. These, Heaney says, can include controlled breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, vigorous activity or listening to upbeat music.
Sound familiar? Of course it does - all of that’s HypnoBirthing!
Focus and minimise distractions
“When my mind’s clear, I can go on the court and play, not worry about anything else,” Andy Murray has said.
Every player talks about focussing only on themselves, not their opponent. They’re able to block out the crowd when serving for the big points.
A birthing mother naturally tunes out the world around her during an undisturbed birth. Hypnobirthing teaches how to focus your attention and block out distractions. Preparing with your birthing partner means they can act as a buffer between a mother and the outside world, dealing with any questions, providing and protecting your safe space.
Anchoring the positive
The most common anchor you’ll see on court is the fist pump. After every point won a point a player will pump their fist, feeling the moment and anchoring the positive into the body. In our Hypnobirthing classes we discuss anchoring feelings of calmness, control and safety into all of
your senses. It might be visual, auditory or kinaesthetic - your partners touch, be that holding your hand, placing a comforting hand on your shoulder or back or stroking you gently. This becomes an unconscious trigger to help a birthing mother focus and let go.
Staying in the moment
A tennis player plays the game point by point, never dwelling on what went before and not thinking too far into the future. Similarly a birthing mother will find it most helpful to focus on one surge at a time. It’s only with hindsight that we’ll know where we are with birth, here’s a great article shared by one of “my” mums recently about taking birth a wave at a time.
Feeding off the crowd / coaches confidence
Players will often look to their team in the players box for encouragement. The energy from the crowd can focus a player to believe in themselves. Similarly the calm confidence emanating from a mindful birthing partner helps a mother focus and believe in herself. One of the most common things I hear is “I couldn’t have done it without him”. HypnoBirthing teaches a partner how best to support a birthing mother and they have an integral role in helping their baby come into the world safely and calmly.
There can come a point in a match when commentators will talk about a player “battling themselves”. We’ve all done it, got caught up in our self talk (which is more often than not negative and unhelpful), and not performed as well as we’d like. Grounding ourselves in the moment with the breath and using affirmations means we can refocus, bring our nervous system back to balance and make calm, informed decisions if needed.
Yes sometimes the ladies singles matches sound rather rude, and there’s always grunts and groans coming from the men. Similarly a birthing mother can turn to her primal self and the sounds that accompany that. Some are quiet like cats, others roar like tigers. Both are good. The important thing is that a woman feels uninhibited enough to do as she feels.
Defying all the rules
Every year there’s at least one shock in the first week of Wimbledon. An unseeded player will knock out a seed, maybe even one of the top four will be knocked out!
Similarly every Hypnobirthing teacher will have innumerable stories of women whose baby’s birth defies expectations. Two hour labours... a first time mother going from 4 cms to birth in an hour, unassisted births and maybe the most common occurrence I experience and yet is still surprising to a lot of people - first time parents being calm and confident at the birth of their baby; imagine that!!!!
There you go, watch Wimbledon for a lesson in HypnoBirthing... Anyone for strawberries??
Katrina teaches Hypnobirthing in Hackney & across London. Her new book “Why Hypnobirthing Matters”, published by Pinter & Martin is out now.