Step 4: Release
Clearing the Way
Just as the rhythms of labor gradually create space in the body for the baby to move through, the rhythm of the nervous system that you start to notice in this exercise will start to make room for the release of excessive sympathetic charge that has built up in the system. As you keep your attention on the rhythm as it builds momentum, following the swing between the pleasant and unpleasant sensations, you also will notice how the body naturally wants to release pent up stress.
Releasing through sensations, images, behaviors, emotions
The body has many different ways to release excessive sympathetic charge.
Sensations: As you do this exercise, you might find that you suddenly feel a rush of tingling down one of your extremities or that there is suddenly extra space in your lungs to take a deep breath. Perhaps you sense the melting of a sensation in your heart that a moment ago felt hard and cold like ice. Maybe the tightness in your gut meets up with a warm sense of safety in your solar plexis and starts to break up into molecules that can spread down through your legs. This type of release is exemplified in the laboring person who suddenly has a satisfying release through a full body shiver and then a deep breath as she moves from contraction to rest.
The nervous system also releases excessive sympathetic charge when the legs automatically shake uncontrollably immediate postpartum (this is very similar to how animals release trauma in the wild through full body shaking).
Images: As you tune into the nervous system's rhythm building momentum, you might notice that certain images come to you. These might be disturbing memories from your past, hopeful images of the future, images of things that are helpful and resourcing for you, images that are terrifying to you, or even dreamlike images that don't necessarily make sense. Pay particular attention to these and follow their lead, as they are often the nervous system's road map to release.
I started noticing early in my midwifery career how this type of imagery can be a valuable tool to clients as they labor. As an important part of childbirth education, I have taught people to tune into imagery during labor as a tool. I've noticed that the imagery that emerges is always entirely unique to the individual's particular nervous system needs for release. Naoli Vinaver, the Mexican midwife in the short documentary Birth Day, explains how when she was in labor she felt like the sun was bursting out of her belly. This image was a powerful resource for her as she labored but she noticed it only felt like a strength when she was moving her body forward while staring into her husband's eyes. By noticing the image and following its lead, she was able to maintain a healthy labor pattern.
Behaviors/ Movements: A laboring person who is tuned into their body knows when to squat, when to walk, and the subtle nuances of what muscles to stretch and relax at what point in the labor. Likewise, we will find that by tuning into the rhythms of our nervous system, we also know what behaviors and movements are appropriately offering support to its process. Sometimes the impulses that are begging for release are as simple as a need to stretch or yawn while at other times they might be as urgent as a need to run or as violent as a need to punch or yell. Whatever the impulse, it is important to notice it without judgement. If we are in a position to be able to act on the impulse, it can be very helpful to slow the behavior down and reduce it to micro-movements; for example, punch the air as slowly as is possible, noticing how each micro-movement creates release in other parts of the body. Sometimes it is enough to imagine what it would feel like to yell or to run and then find awareness of how that creates the release. The more we practice, the less we need to actually do the act and the more we can rely on our sense of the impulse to take care of itself by meeting its counter vortex within our nervous system.
Emotions: We've all seen how a good cry or a venting of anger can help a laboring person get unstuck. As we do these exercises, we will inevitably have some strong emotions surface. Perhaps you find that as soon as you shed a few tears, you feel a sudden release from deep within your body that allows your heart rate to relax, makes room for you to breath more deeply and eliminates that pressure that was building in your forehead. It might be that tuning into the emotion is exactly what you need at first. But as this practice takes root and you learn also to hone in on the sensations behind the emotions (for example, what does it feel like to want to lash out in anger?), the more you will find that those sensation are naturally countered by resourcing sensations that give you the strength to channel the emotion in more productive ways than by lashing out in anger or collapsing into a puddle of tears!