Three NICU-Specific Mindfulness Practices for Anyone to Try

I am a big believer in meditation and mindfulness as a way to find calm and peace regardless of what life is dealing you. In the earlier article "Mindfulness in the NICU" I shared a brief introduction to what mindfulness is and why it might help you on your NICU journey. 

In this article, I want to share three practices I've found particularly helpful in the NICU.

NICU Noises Meditation

Find a place to sit comfortably within the NICU. Sit quietly, and take 5-10 deep breaths, focusing on breathing out all your tension.

When you feel ready, turn all of your attention to the noises in the room around you.  Most likely, there are many. Alarms. Ventilators. Staff conversations. Other babies crying. Other parents talking. More alarms. Background hospital noises. 

Try your best to just sit, and listen. As long as you can, just sit and listen. Now, notice how these noises make you feel.  Tense? Angry? Annoyed? Worried? Hopeless?

Try not to judge yourself for having these feelings, just notice them.  Be kind with yourself - it's totally understandable for these noises to upset you. 

But during this mindfulness practice, try to let go of your feelings about these sounds and just hear them.  Just...... hear...... the sounds.

When you notice the feelings associated with the noises, try labeling the feeling ("I'm angry" or "I'm so annoyed") and then let go of the feeling, just go back to hearing. 

Notice the quiet times. Notice how you feel during those quiet times, and again let go of any judgement about the way you feel.

When you notice your mind wandering, let the next noise bring you back to being mindful of only the noises.  Notice what it feels like to just be present with all the noises, see if you can use the noises to keep bringing you back to just listening, not getting distracted by other thoughts.

Baby & Me NICU Meditation

This is my favorite one, and it can take up a good long time, so it's great for when you have a bit more time to do some mindfulness practice. 

If you've ever had anyone talk you through a toe-to-head relaxation, you get the idea. Here's what to do:

Get comfy, in a place where you can see your baby.

We'll begin from your baby's toes and work your way up to the head.... 

Focus your attention on your baby's toes, just see baby's toes, allow your attention to pause there. Now, bring your attention to your own toes.

Notice how your own toes feel, notice if you end up wiggling them as you think of them.  Try to keep your attention just on your toes and your baby's toes. See how they're similar. Imagine how they feel. Stay with focusing your attention on toes for as long as you comfortably can.

Now, I don't mean just look at the toes while your mind is thinking about a million different things. I mean bring all your attention to just toes, yours and your baby's. That's hard to do, and when you get distracted, just go back to the toes. Try to kindly, non-judgementally notice and then let go of any distracting thoughts.

Then when you're ready, begin moving your attention up your body - notice your ankles. How do they feel? Notice your baby's ankles, notice any feelings that come up. Continue in this manner, going as slowly or as quickly up the body as you like.... next the calves, knees, thighs....hips, belly, lower back, upper back.... shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, fingers....neck, face, mouth, scalp.....

Naturally you may have difficulty at certain places. Your baby may have an IV in a foot, or a tube in her mouth, or in her chest.  Your baby may be placed in what looks like an uncomfortable position. 

When you notice discomfort rising in your mind when you focus on a particular area, be kind with yourself and let yourself feel whatever comes up. 

But recognize it as just a feeling, know it will pass. Label it, and without attachment place that thought aside and re-focus on whatever body part you're on. When you're ready, move on to the next body part. 

Because noticing what arises in your mind, and then observing it with kindness and letting it go are all great practices in mindfulness training.

After you've completed as much as you can from head to toe, close the session with a few deep breaths and a pat on the back for a job well done, no matter how well you think you did. Even if you were totally distracted throughout the entire time, you are trying, it's not easy, and you deserve kudos for taking care of your self in this way.

Tonglen NICU Meditation

Tonglen is a Buddhist practice that somewhat resembles prayer. If you have a hard time with the previous mindfulness practices, try this practice. Pema Chodron explains it so well:

We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child happiness, joy or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the practice: breathing in other's pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness. [1]

I love this for preemies at any stage of life. If your little one is suffering in any way, you can spend 5 or 10 minutes just quietly breathing while concentrating on these healing, positive wishes.

I hope these mindfulness practices can bring you some comfort, and a sense of purpose. I hope you gain some relief and some empowerment by actively encouraging your own health and well-being during this difficult time.

Three NICU-Specific Mindfulness Practices for Anyone to Try

Trish Ringley is the founder and CEO of Every Tiny Thing. She has been a NICU nurse since 1997, and she's been creating the products and accessories that NICU parents love since 2014. When she's not at work caring for NICU families, she's raising her two teenage kids, gardening, and raising service dog puppies for Canine Companions for Independence.

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