A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

Source: A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

John Bowlby’s theory of human attachment has become widely applied across disciplines and across the stages of human development. This discussion explores the evolution of an application of Bowlby’s theory to the experience of pregnancy, from both maternal and paternal perspectives. Although the theoretical construct of maternal-fetal attachment (MFA) requires continued theoretically-driven research, existing studies have associated this proposed construct with health behaviors, marital relationship, depressive symptoms, and the postpartum mother-infant relationship, pointing toward its relevance for academicians and clinicians devoted to the service of women and infants. This is a scientific article on Bowlby’s theory of attachment. Click on the title and it will take you there.

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.

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.

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 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.

Bring Nurturing Touch Back to Our Families

by JoAnn Lewis

Touch is our first language in life. It is the most developed sense at birth and the last to leave us when we die. We identify ourselves, each other and our world by touching.

Massage as positive touch with respect and permission is among the most powerful forms of communication. Historically, massage has been handed down from family to family in village cultures in some form of daily tradition. In many cultures, this was and remains a standard practice as normal as bathing, sleeping, eating and greeting each other with a handshake, hug or nose rub.

So why have we lost this traditional element to basic health and happiness? And what has this lack of connection done to our society? From old cultures of hourly, daily interaction to our industrialized go-to-a-job and don’t touch anyone culture, attitudes have changed. How do we bring positive interaction back to common sense? We all know we need it. We all know it means love, security and health. Often our fondest memories are of nurturing touches.

Imagine for a moment our children and grandchildren learning and playing in cooperative circle games on the playground. Or are they standing in line, pushing each other over? We can redo the beginnings of negative or even violent reactions by teaching how to touch carefully with gentle strength, permission and respect. Let’s see how we can do this to the best of our ability.

First, ask permission. Sounds simple, yes? When we put our own hands together and rub them to become warm, showing that warmth to each other and asking if we can do massage with someone, similar to shaking an outstretched hand in greeting, it starts the unspoken language of respect and care. Patiently, persistently, we find the way to be together in touch, especially at birth.

Research studies show us that massage for babies (and adults) will calm the nervous system, increasing the myelination (coating) on the nerves and increase IQ, motor skills, hand-eye and right-left coordination. As body-mind connections increase, so does bonding and attachment, social skills with trust and respect to lessen anxiety. As massage regulates digestion to relieve gas, constipation and waste elimination, it builds stronger, toned muscles and ligaments. It stimulates hormones for better growth and immunity, eliciting caring responses of soothing, nurturing behavior, reducing violence and negative reactions. Who wants a healthier, stronger, smarter baby?

Massage reduces pain, relieves aches and soreness, and is the fastest way to reduce inflammation, decrease blood pressure and tone the skin and muscles. To experience this pleasurable, one-to-one interaction of the highest quality of touch builds trust, self-esteem and confidence.

This is life at its best! This is what we can give with just our own two relaxed hands with proper body mechanics (no force) with ease and calm, gentle, playful communication.

Let’s pass massage on and build strong family and community bonds and traditions for generations to come. You and your family deserve massage, to learn it well, and to live truly well-adjusted, healthy, happy lives through the art and science of nurturing touch.

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.

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.

 

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

 

INFANT MASSAGE: A HANDBOOK FOR LOVING PARENTS – NEW EDITION!

I am happy to announce that the new updated, expanded edition of Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents has been released by Random House. It is available on Amazon.com and from most bookstores.

CHAPTERS:

  1. Why Massage Your Baby?

  2. Your Baby’s Sensory World

  3. The Importance of Skin Stimulation

  4. Stress and Relaxation

  5. Bonding, Attachment, and Infant Massage

  6. The Elements of Bonding

  7. Attachment and the Benefits of Infant Massage

  8. Especially for Fathers

  9. Helping your Baby (and you) Learn to Relax

  10. Your Baby’s Brain

  11. Music and Massage

  12. Getting Ready

  13. How to Massage Your Baby

  14. Crying, Fussing, and Other Baby Language (including cues, reflexes and behavioral states

  15. Minor Illness and Colic

  16. Your Premature Baby

  17. Your Baby with Special Needs

  18. Your Growing Child and Sibling Bonding through Infant Massage

  19. Your Adopted or Foster Children

  20. A Note to Teen Parents

BACK MATTER INCLUDES:

References and Recommendations

Resources

Author Bio