BEING PRESENT — PART ONE

In every spiritual tradition in the world you will find the key to true enlightenment is to “be here now.” That means to be in the present, in the moment, with no thought in your mind about the past, the future, or what is happening anywhere but where you are. A simple teaching, but increasingly difficult to achieve in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by distracting stimuli. But it is only difficult because of the way we are raised and conditioned, not because it goes against the natural flow of who we are.

In older times this teaching was easier to follow because the center of life was relatively small. It must have been more natural to keep your mind in the present if you lived in a village or on a farm with no transportation except a horse or mule and no television or radio or other technology, and in order to survive, you had to move from task to task each day. I noticed this in my travels to India years ago. In the country villages, not much that went on beyond the compound made any difference. Each day was concerned with what was going on at the moment, and plans for the future were limited. Ruminating on the old days was the pastime of the elders, whose memories served as teachings for you. I believe this is one reason I found it so much easier to meditate in these places — the present moment permeated all existence, and the pressure to be somewhere else was not there.

The Girl with the Pot on Her Head

There is a fable I often heard in India, in different versions but with the same ending. A simple, orphaned village girl lived in a hut, and her only possessions were a cow and a jug for its milk. Each day she took the jug full of milk to the market to sell.

One day this girl became possessed by ideas about the future, as she set the jug of milk on her head and began to walk to the village market. In her mind, she began to plan. If she could save half the money from this jug of milk, and so on each day for so many days, she would have enough money to buy a goat. Then if she could make cheese from the goat milk, and take it with her to the market and sell both milk and cheese, she could double her money. She went on like this until, in her mind, she could attract the most handsome and prosperous young man in the village to be her husband, and life for her would be so much easier! At that moment, she felt so much happiness she jumped for joy. The pot on her head clattered to the ground, spilling all the milk and breaking into a thousand pieces.

Being present doesn’t require that we have no dreams or plans for the future, but it does require that we set aside times to make those plans in a way that involves concrete steps with reachable goals, and that we then return our minds to the present moment to experience it. We may also need to set aside appropriate time for reviewing the past in order to learn from it which remembering to return our minds to the present again, for the present is all we really have. The past and the future don’t exist, so if we miss the present moment we are living in a world that doesn’t exist and therefore does not matter and doesn’t nourish our souls.

Process and Goal

Being present allows you to give yourself more to the process rather than the goal. Modern people are very goal oriented; we want machines to do all the processing for us so we can have the result to enjoy right now. You don’t need to build your own car or bake your own bread to be in the present when you enjoy having them. But because much of what we really want is not what we think we want, it is hard for us to enjoy the process of each day’s passing.

We think we want a new car. It will bring us happiness, a feeling of security and accomplishment, and make our lives easier. When we get a new car, our minds are on something else we want for the exact same reasons, and we begin to complain about the car payments and dream about a day when we no longer have to worry about them. But by the time that day comes, we will either have new car payments or something else to worry about. Most of what we worry about never happens, and when we achieve our goals the feeling of satisfaction and joy we get only lasts a limited time, then we must have new goals and achievements to look forward to.

I learned this fairly quickly as a writer and an artist. The published book and the “Best of Show” awards have their moments of true joy, completion, and satisfaction about a job well done. But by the time those moments arrive, my mind was usually well into another project. I realized early on that the doing of the thing is more important than the result.

The process itself is a kind of meditation for me. I learn about timeless things from the concrete work that comes from my mind, heart, and hands; patience, perseverance, faith, flow, and presence. Misery only comes when my limited mind takes the driver’s seat. I begin to worry about selling or showing my work, or I compare my work with that of others, or obsess about how others will judge it. I have many examples of art pieces that I sent to juried or judged shows, and that came back with comments from the judges. On one piece, there are comments about certain aspects “needing work,” while another judge at another show will praise those same things a “excellent, very fine work.” Ideally, I listen to both, see whether the criticism has any learning value, and then put them both away in favor of what I think and feel about the work.

A recent example is when I was giving the keynote speech at an international conference of the International Association of Infant Massage in Spain. I had prepared a speech that I was very excited about. Knowing the importance of visualizing what I want, I did so. When it was time to give my speech, the outer atmosphere was completely different than what I had imagined — the room was a kind of party atmosphere, with no chairs for participants! Speaking to a big group of people standing threw me off completely. I began to speak, and searching the room for friendly faces, I managed to focus on a few people who were solemn and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. As the moments went by, I became stressed, my mouth dried up and I had to drink water every few minutes. I left out a large part of the speech in a desperate attempt to end it. I managed to get across most of what I wanted to — but the moment was almost ruined for me. I’m pretty sure the audience didn’t think it was a disaster, as I did.

I berated myself, what had I done wrong? Isn’t it good to visualize a great outcome? I finally realized it wasn’t completely my fault; the environment wasn’t made suitable, and thus was pretty difficult to overcome; I told the organizers what had happened and requested a different kind of venue if I were to speak again. When I got home, I analyzed it from the point of view of what I had done. It was a lesson for me — to be flexible and try not to be attached to the external. Being able to be present with what is there and still do my best would be my visualization in the future.

The Terrible What-If

Many baby boomers were brought up on the idea of “what-if” because our parents were so profoundly affected by World War II and the Great Depression. The question of “what-if” is based on an assumption of permanence, that if we just get it right, we can achieve a state of permanent peace, harmony, prosperity, security, and happiness, and we can prevent bad things from ever happening. This is a false premise because impermanence is the stuff from which the entire universe is made. Nothing is permanent. So if we wish, we can “what-if” ourselves into the grave.

The fact is, most of our fears never occur. To dwell on and fear what could happen in the future robs us of the enjoyment of the moment. If you string all the present moments together, you have a beautiful, impermanent, constantly moving, growing, changing life. You get to experience it when it’s happening, not as a memory or a false projection of your mind. This doesn’t get us off the hook in terms of taking responsibility to appropriately plan our lives, secure our futures, and tend to our family’s well being. Taking time to do that is part of being an adult, and not taking that responsibility is to insist on never growing up, which is a type of craving.

Craving occurs when the mind becomes the master rather than the servant, and, as master, it blows its power all out of proportion and would have us believe we control or can strive to control just about everything. This causes us to worry, desire, regret, obsess and seek endlessly for pleasure and relief.

With our plans in place and a flexible attitude, we can then enjoy the present moment with all our hearts. With our children it is particularly important to understand craving, because falling into its traps robs us of moments we can never retrieve.

With our Children

When you massage your baby or change his diaper, use the opportunity to be fully present. Empty your mind, just for this short time, of anything else and be in the same space as your baby. Experience life through her eyes. Breathe deeply, relax, and allow your love to communicate through your hands, your eyes, your expression, and how you speak to and handle your baby. Using the “love bucket” concept, this is the time to fill your baby’s chalice to the brim. The stress of daily life, both good and not so good, can drain that chalice. It is your job to continually fill it again to overflowing. In this way you return the favor; your baby teaches you how to be present and you can give him the gift of inner security for life.

Our babies have a rich gift they give to us freely and openly, 24 hours a day. If you have ever longed for or fantasized about going to a far off land to sit at the feet of a spiritual master and receive the teachings that will free your soul to enlightenment, guess what? Your master has decided to come to you, through your own body— indeed, made out of your own body— and she has nothing better to do than offer you her wisdom at any moment you choose to receive it. Remember this when, just as you fill with pride at how cute and good your child is, he bites your new friend’s leg or kicks over her best vase. Remember this as you watch your baby nurse or sleep, with the total surrender of one secure in the now and empty of mental cravings.

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THE EFFECTS OF BABY MASSAGE ON ATTACHMENT BETWEEN MOTHER AND THEIR INFANTS

A study was made from June 2008 to February 2010 in Turkey. There were 57 in the experimental group, 60 in the control group. Between the dates of the study, all healthy mothers giving birth for the first time and their healthy babies were included. Data were collected about their demographic characteristics and by using the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI). All mothers were assessed on the first and the last days of the 38-day study period. In the experimental group, the babies received a 15-minute massage therapy session everyday during the 38 days.

The MAI was developed to measure maternal affectionate attachment. This is the unique, affectionate relationship that develops between a woman and her infant. It persists over time, and is a key element of maternal adaptation (Muller, 1994). The MAI consists of 26 items representing maternal activities and feelings that indicate affection. Before development of the MAI, maternal affectionate attachment had been most frequently determined by observing the rate or pattern of maternal attachment behaviors (Muller). Observational measures, however, are time-consuming and generally difficult to apply in a clinical setting. In addition, there is little agreement that one behavior or group of behaviors constitutes evidence of maternal attachment. By direct measurement of mothers’ feelings through the MAI, these validity concerns in relation to interpreting mothers’ behaviors can be avoided. Although mothers’ feelings about their infants are not sufficient to define the complexity of mother–infant attachment, they are thought to be indicators of the probable presence of attachment.

For the study, massage techniques were a combination of effleurage and petrissage to the baby’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, waist and legs. The effleurage consisted of smooth, long, rhythmic strokes up either side of the spine and out across the shoulders, with both hands working simultaneously, while the petrissage consisted of gentle kneading. Additionally, slow steady pressure was applied intermittently to the shoulders, neck, face, and lower back. All massages were demonstrated by the same trained person and mothers were advised to choose a moment when both she and her child are relaxed and calm; a half hour after the baby had eaten was recommended.

Baby massage education was given twice at the first home visit and the second home visit (15th day). The mother’s application of baby massage was observed at the second home visit and evaluated for correct technique. These babies received 15-minute massage sessions every day of the week for 38 days; the number of massage sessions are a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 38. The researcher followed a detailed visit-by-visit protocol to help women improve their health-related behaviors, the care of their baby, and observed the status of baby massage application. On the last day of the study, the MAI was filled out on the last home visit in the experimental group.

There was no significant difference found in the pretest mean value baseline of the MAI score in both groups. The posttest mean values of the MAI of the experimental group mothers were significantly higher than those of control group. There was a significant difference between groups. The results of the study have shown that baby massage is effective in increasing the mother–infant attachment.

When maternal attachment levels of experimental group mothers applying massage to their babies and control group mothers not applying massage to their babies were compared in posttest measurements, it was found that the maternal attachment of the group applying massage significantly higher. Maternal attachment of the control group also increased in the posttest measurement; however, this increase was very low when compared to the experimental group.

The relative youth of the mothers and the fact that they were undertaking the primary care of their first baby increased compliance with the study and attachment. This may explain the minor increase in maternal attachment behavior of mothers in the control group.

In Turkish culture, children are very precious and important. Women want to have a child as soon as they get married. If a woman does not have a baby, she is exposed to negative reactions from her husband and his family. Being a mother is very important, in particular, to have a male baby is extremely important. For this reason, it is expected that maternal attachment level naturally increases. The aim of this study was to determine how baby massage affects this increase. This result confirms the hypothesis of the study—baby massage strengthens the attachment between mother and baby. Most of the mothers in both groups were 26–35 years of age group, who are graduates of secondary school and not working. Traditionally, these women’s common goal is to get married and give birth to a child in the eastern part of Turkey. However, educated women have more roles than being a partner or a mother.

The first year of life is extremely important in terms of the baby’s psychological development. It is during this period, that the sense of basic trust is formed. The relationship between the mother and the baby has been the subject of several research studies (Muller-Nix et al., 2004; Zeanah, Borris, & Larrieu, 1997). Attachment is an emotional and expected condition between the mother and the baby that begins in the first days of life.

Attachment theory is an assessment of the response to the baby’s physical and emotional needs (Mills-Koonce et al., 2007). According to Mercer, maternal attachment begins during pregnancy and continues with delivery. Maternal attachment is a unique, tender loving relationship that develops between the mother and the baby; its consistency leads to the development of feelings of trust in the infant as a result. Postpartum attachment and care between the mother and the baby is important for the baby to lead a physical, spiritual, and emotional health in life.

Mothers have an important role as the primary caregiver. If the relationship between mother and baby is inadequate, the baby may have severe developmental and psychological problems (Brandt, Andrews, & Kvale, 1998). Attachment is therefore accepted as one of the fundamental processes in order to improve psychological development and to establish the baby’s relationship to the outside world (Wilson et al., 2000).

A healthy attachment is also of great importance in the determination of the baby’s character and habits. The first touches greatly strengthen attachment behavior (Kavlak & Şirin, 2007). The sense of touch is very important in the newborn period and infanthood for perceiving the environment. Proper stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch affects psychosocial development positively.

Massage is one of the easiest and most natural ways of establishing a sense of touch and eye contact which improves attachment between mothers and babies. The early contact between mother and her newborn gives confidence to the mother’s breastfeeding, in addition to developing the mother’s attachment behavior (Matthiesen, Ransjö-Arvidson, Nissen, & Uvnäs-Moberg, 2001).

Ferber et al. (2005) determined that mothers who applied massage to their premature infants achieved an easier interaction. Lee (2006) also reported that baby massage encourages the interaction between mother and baby. Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant affects the infants’ health, decreases their crying, and increases the mother–infant interaction. Onozawa, Glover, Adams, Modi, and Kumar (2001) reported that the mother–infant interaction was increased among those mothers who had performed massage on their infants.

In 2009, Kavlak and Şirin studied healthy babies and mothers to evaluate and determine validity and reliability of the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI) scale for the Turkish population. Moreover, Bal Yilmaz and Conk (2009) studied mothers who had 15-day-old healthy babies to investigate the effect of four months of massage application on sleep duration, growth and development of babies, and mothers’ anxiety levels. Bal Yılmaz and Conk reported that infants’ sleep duration was increased when their mothers spent more time with them and massaged them. In a study conducted with mothers who recently delivered healthy babies, İnal and Yıldız (2005) investigated the effect of massage applied for 6 months on the babies’ growth and mental-motor development. Inal and Yildiz found statistically significant results that infants who received massage gained more weight and increased their mental–motor development. In a study conducted with premature and low birthweight babies and their mothers, Sarıkaya Karabudak and Öztürk (2008) reported that regularly applied baby massage positively affected weight gain and the mental–motor development of babies.

Massage is one of the oldest forms of treatment in the world, having first been described in China during the second century B.C. and soon after in India and Egypt. Maternal attachment depends on two important factors; (a) interaction between mother and her baby and (b) sensual contact between them. Baby massage is the simplest and easiest way of communication, that makes contact between mother and her baby. In eastern Anatolia, Turkey, the families have many children. The mothers who live in this region generally avoid touching their babies. The main reasons are cold weather conditions, socioeconomic conditions, and swaddling. In addition, there is no work regarding the effects of massage on mother-infant attachment in Turkey up to now. For this reason, this work has been carried out to determine the applicability of baby massage in Turkish families and its effects on the level of maternal attachment. It is of note that the Turkish edition of Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents (Vimala McClure, Bantam/Random House, NY) has been in production in 2018.

Infant massage for primary caregivers and high-risk babies is now used more often. It is reported that massage regulates the baby’s sleep, respiration and urinary requirements; decreases colic and stress; and affects mother–infant interaction in a positive way. Studies have determined that mothers giving massage to premature babies have more interaction with their babies. In their studies, Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby in the early period affected the health status of baby, decreased crying and increased mother–infant interaction.

Infant massage is a simple, cheap and effective technique supporting infant development. It is accepted as a new practice that is gradually gaining popularity by being applicable to both the babies and their mothers; it can be performed independently. However, many mothers do not know that they can communicate with their babies by touch as they think that they may easily hurt their babies. Those mothers should be instructed by using various interactive methods such as tactile, visual, auditory contact. For those families who cannot have direct early contact with their baby for various reasons, nurses should advise them that this situation would not directly cause a problem. Their concerns should be alleviated because although early contact is a factor that strengthens attachment development, it is not an essential prerequisite.

The effects of massage in terms of mother–infant attachment and other general benefits for baby health should be considered; all medical personnel, especially nurses, should encourage mothers to apply massage to their babies. Encouraging the use of massage provides an important contribution to healthy babies. In the literature, the effects of baby massage on the maternal attachment levels in mothers with healthy infants and weight gain of preterm infants have been investigated. Mothers with babies who were born prematurely or had some defects or illness, have more risk of attachment deprivation. Accordingly, it might be suggested that nurses include baby massage among the routines of mother and baby care in both healthy and ill babies, and that facilitating baby massage and mother–infant attachment should be included in the internal training given to neonatal nurses as well as providing counseling to the mothers in this regard.

MOTHERS MAY EMIT ODORS THAT TEACH THEIR INFANTS WHAT TO BE AFRAID OF

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that mothers may emit odors that teach their infants what to be afraid of, even if the fearful experience is one that the baby has never been exposed to.
The research may help explain a phenomenon that has perplexed scientists for generations: Children may have intense trauma reactions to events that they never experienced, but that their parents did. For example, children of Holocaust survivors often exhibited nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance behaviors associated with their parents’ experiences, even if those happened before the children were born.

Researcher Dr. Jacek Debiec, who has studied grown children of Holocaust survivors, says these reactions seem too deeply rooted to be the result of simply having heard stories about the frightening events.
“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” Dr. Debiec said. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”

In the study, non-pregnant rats were exposed to an unpleasant electric shock whenever they smelled peppermint. After the rats became pregnant and gave birth, the researchers again exposed the mother rats to peppermint smell, this time in the presence of their newborns. The mothers exhibited physical symptoms of fear.

When the newborns grew to maturity, they were again exposed to the odor of peppermint. Though these rats had never been shocked when exposed to this smell, their levels of stress hormones rose in its presence, indicating fear. This reaction is particularly notable given that their prior exposure to peppermint had been when they were too young to see or otherwise observe their environments.

“During the early days of an infant rat’s life,” Dr. Debiec said, “they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories.”

Although the study was conducted in rats, the researchers believe that a similar mechanism may explain how parents (including fathers, if they are regular caretakers) transmit some fear to their children, such as fear of the dentist or extreme shyness. Other studies have already shown that babies can be calmed by the scent of their mother; perhaps they can absorb her fear, as well.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CALMING A BABY

Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.

Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan says, “From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother.”

Being held in a mother’s arms is the safest place for a baby to be, and the mother can have peace of mind knowing her baby is happy, content, and relaxed. The fact that babies are neurobiologically wired to stop crying when carried is a part of our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive.

This study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations that is an evolutionarily preserved aspect of mother-infant interactions. It also helps to have a scientific explanation for the frustration many new parents struggle with — a calm and relaxed infant will often begin crying immediately when he or she is put down.

With my babies, swaddling them created a compact posture and a sense of security that triggered a relaxation response when they were put back down. After massaging them every day for a few weeks, using “Touch Relaxation” (a conditioned response), massage time was another way they relaxed, and their sleep was sooner and more deeply than before.

Kuroda and colleagues determined that the calming response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum (Latin: little brain). The researchers found that the calming response was dependent on tactile inputs and proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to sense and understand body movements and keep track of your body’s position in space. They also found that the parasympathetic nervous system helped lower heart rate as part of mediating the coordinated response to being carried.

Both human and mouse babies usually calm down and stop moving after they are carried, and mouse pups stop emitting ultrasonic cries.

The idea that the familiar calming dynamic was also playing out in mice occurred to Kuroda one day when she was cleaning the cages of her mouse colony in the laboratory. She says, “When I picked the pups up at the back skin very softly and swiftly as mouse mothers did, they immediately stopped moving and became compact. They appeared relaxed, but not totally floppy, and kept the limbs flexed. This calming response in mice appeared similar to me to soothing by carrying in human babies.”

The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’ by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Scientists have known for years that the cerebellum is directly linked to a feedback loop with the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure. As adults, we can calm ourselves by practicing mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation which puts the cerebellum at peace and creates a parasympathetic response of well being. This appears to be the same response that occurs in infants when they are being carried.

The only time during the day that the cerebellum is allowed to let down its guard and go offline is during REM sleep when your body is paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. It makes sense that being picked up and carried would send automatic signals that allow the cerebellum to relax and create healthy vagal tone which would lower heart rates in infants.

The researchers believe that these findings could have broad implications for parenting and contribute to preventing child abuse. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant,” explains Kuroda. She goes on to say, “Such proper understanding of infants would reduce the frustration of parents and be beneficial because unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse.”

“A scientific understanding of this infant response will save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents, as some parenting theories—such as the ‘cry it out’ type of strategy—suggest,” Kuroda says. “Rather, this phenomenon should be interpreted as a natural consequence of the infant sensorimotor systems.” If parents understand that properly, perhaps they will be less frustrated by the crying, Kuroda says. And that puts those children at lower risk of abuse.

 

THE MAGIC THAT FUELS UNIVERSAL LOVE AND CREATIVITY AND IS IMPORTANT TO CHILDBIRTH AND PARENTING

Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues in the penis and clitoris. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.

The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. It is the physical manifestation of vital power, called prana or chi. It is even what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.

Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.

Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. You can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.

Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.

There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered back in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.

Anandamide both reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa, South America, and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.

High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.

MEDITATION FOR CAREGIVERS WHO ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR CRYING BABIES

I just read a wonderful article published by the Natural Parents’ Network, called Grounding for Babies; Calming Babies with Caregiver Meditation by Amy Phoenix.
She starts by pointing out that babies feel what their mothers feel, both in and out of the womb. She goes on with what caring for a crying baby can elicit in the baby’s mother or caregiver, and asks the question, What if these trying moments are actually an invitation?” An invitation for us to ground ourselves by using a simple meditation technique; bringing attention to this moment, bringing attention deeply into your body, letting yourself feel like a tree that is deeply rooted in the ground.
“Grounding meditation can help us calm ourselves so we can listen more deeply to the crying and sense whether it is due to needs not being met or a need for emotional release.” I was so inspired, reading these words. I’ve never heard them from anyone but me, and Infant Massage Instructors trained by my organization.
For 38 years, this has been a part of our instructor training; learning to ground yourself and truly listen to your baby. Allowing your baby to cry in your arms to release stress. As Amy says, “Some babies may need to cry for awhile to release stress. Holding a crying baby in loving arms is totally different from leaving a baby alone to cry it out.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. There is a chapter on this in my book, first published in 1978, and released in a new edition in 2017, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents.
When I began talking about this, it was a foreign concept. Finally, now many other sources have picked up on this idea and are teaching parents how to ground, meditate, and breathe through their crying baby’s episodes. Of course, first we find out if there is something that is causing the crying besides stress — hunger, diaper needing changing, chaotic environment, etc. When it becomes clear that the baby is releasing pent-up emotional stress, grounding meditation, rhythmic bouncing and patting, singing, and even crying WITH your baby, helps he/she to know you are empathic and that your baby doesn’t feel alone.’

GROUNDING MEDITATION FOR NEW PARENTS

If your infant is crying and you feel overwhelmed, put the baby in a safe place, saying, “I am going to calm myself. I’ll be back.” Know that it’s okay for your baby to cry for a few minutes. Go to a place where the crying isn’t so loud for you. You can also do this meditation any time—when your baby is with another caregiver or asleep.
Sit comfortably and relax as much as you can. Breath in gently, breathe out slowly, three times. Now, repeat these phrases:

Breathe in—I am

Breathe out—peace

Breathe in—I am

Breathe out—love

Breathe in—I am

Breathe out—light

Continue this way for at least three rounds.

MUSIC AND INFANT MASSAGE

Your voice can be an important part of your baby’s massage. By talking softly, humming, or singing, you create an atmosphere of calm. This verbal communication also helps you keep your mind in the present and your attention on your baby.

Singing is a wonderful way to relax. Sing to your baby anytime–while changing diapers, feeding, rocking, or walking. You will discover there are some songs your baby loves to hear again and again. His sense of musical discrimination will astound you.

Familiar lullabies from your own childhood would fit in beautifully here. Think of your grandmother’s music box that played a Brahms lullaby or the wonderful, lilting “Alouette” you learned in elementary school. Recall how your own mother sang “Go to Sleep, My Baby” to your younger siblings, and do likewise with your baby.

In one study, parents were asked to sing a song of their choice in two ways. First they were asked to sing as they would to their baby, even though the baby was not present. Then the parent would sing the same song to the baby herself. When other adults were asked to listen to these recordings, they could nearly always identify the song that was sung directly to the infant; these versions tended to be sung at a higher pitch, with much more emotional engagement, elongation of vowel sounds, and more slowly. Interestingly, the fathers sang more slowly to their babies than did the mothers.

This study helps confirm my earlier discussion of how babies respond to their parents’ vocalization, when parents unconsciously make it easier for their babies to understand by elongating vowel sounds. So babies actually affect the way parents vocalize; there is a synchrony of interaction that is part of the dance of bonding. Singing is a wonderful way to soothe your baby and capture her attention.

In my book, INFANT MASSAGE: A HANDBOOK FOR LOVING PARENTS, I include some folk lullabies from around the world. I’ve also included a list of books and music that will help you utilize this wonderful tool in your practice of infant massage. In additioin, the International Association of Infant Massage and its American chapter, Infant Massage USA, has an online store in which you can purchase several different renditions of our lullaby, “Ami Tomake Bhalobashi Baby.” See InfantMassageWarehouse.com and AmiTomake.com