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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 54 Alex Tower Ewers & Patrick Ewers PArents, MIll VAlleY, CAlIfornIA “I wish every pregnant woman had the opportunity to take this class.” when Alex tower ewers was in her second trimester, she and her husband Patrick ewers began a course on mindfulness- based childbirth and parenting, which met one evening a week for two months. sessions included formal meditation, group discussion, and partner work. “I wish every pregnant woman had the opportunity to take this class,” tower ewers says. “whether you’re at home or in the hospital, having a caesarian or are doing natural childbirth, it’s enabling to know how to be present and be okay with whatever your circumstance is.” our minds usually dwell in the past and the future. In the birthing room, this can mean that a woman gets wrapped up in fear of the next round of contractions instead of resting or gathering her energy between them. And it can lead to her part- ner, who sees her pain, to feel helpless and to spin into panic mode. “Panic mode is something I avoided by staying in the present moment,” Patrick ewers says. “every once in a while I would slip into future-thinking, but through practice I was able to pull myself back and think what’s important is what can I do for my wife right now.” one practice the couple learned, which they found particularly useful, involved dealing with pain. the instructor provided par- ticipants with bowls of ice water and they took turns submerging their hands for a minute. It was painfully cold, says tower ewers, and “each time we did it, we had to use a different way of coping. the first time the instructor let us do whatever we would instinc- tively do. Most of us yelled and screamed and said every cuss word you could think of. then we tried several other techniques.” one was to focus on the breath. Another was to choose a word or sound, such as Om, and focus on that. the instructor encour- aged participants to experiment with diving into the pain—to experience it as deeply as they could—and also to experiment with distracting themselves from the pain, perhaps by thinking about being on a beach in Hawaii. experimentation was the key, and participants were encouraged to devise their own coping Toni Bernhard forMer lAw Professor, DAVIs, CAlIfornIA “When I breathe out compassion, I feel a powerful connection to the millions of people suffering from chronic conditions.” to celebrate her twentieth year as a law professor, toni Bern- hard and her husband took a vacation in Paris. But from the beginning of that trip in 2001, Bernhard was so sick that she was stuck in bed and barely got to have a glimpse of the eiffel tower. According to several doctors, it was probably during the flight on the way over that she contracted the virus from which she has never recovered. At the point when Bernhard got sick, she’d been attending Buddhist meditation retreats for ten years and had an estab- lished sitting practice. she sat for forty-five minutes every day, never skipping, not even on her children’s wedding days. But after becoming ill, her physical discomfort made meditation