What is energy hygiene and why do you need it as a birthworker?
Please don’t let the “woo” undertone of this title put you off and read on because I am going to try and explain it in a way that is hopefully both meaningful and helpful for those of you who aren’t used to dealing with energy work.
Let me start by making an analogy. As a doula (and I’m sure you do the same whether you are a doula, a midwife, an antenatal or postpartum educator or a therapist who work with expectant, birthing and postnatal families), I naturally use a certain level of physical hygiene. Before interacting with a family, I make sure I’m clean. For example, I wash my hands before touching a newborn or before entering a ward in the hospital. So this is the part of the hygiene where I make sure that I protect the families I look after against any germs I may be carrying.
During the actual process, during birth for example, most of the time I do not feel the need to apply extra hygiene measures, however I may choose to wear gloves whilst cleaning bodily fluids, or give my hands an extra thorough wash after dipping them in birthing pool water. By doing this, I protect myself again germs that may be carried by the people I look after.
Finally, when I get home from a birth, or from visiting the hospital or a new family, I also clean myself appropriately. After a long hospital birth, for example I always put all my clothes straight in the wash and usually have a shower or bath. This is about my own comfort and well being, as well as protecting myself and my family (i.e. trying to limit bringing hospital germs back into my home for example).
Of course, all of these practises are something I do without even thinking about it, and they are also adapted to the levels of risk and vulnerability of the clients I am supporting, both in the way I protect them (disclosing to clients that one of my children or another client’s child has come down with an illness for example), and the way I protect myself (choosing to wear gloves to clean up).
I bet you do it too, especially if you are a health professional or therapist. These basic hygiene measures will have been drilled into you. And you don’t even think about it anymore.
For a long time I thought of energy hygiene as a long and complex task that I just couldn’t do (a bit like I used that I couldn’t do meditation because I thought this required to think of nothing (if you still believe this watch this fantastic animation about it)
But various experiences made me dabble more and more into techniques of energy hygiene, and I finally had a light bulb moment after a conversation with my friend Jo Gough, who is a doula and healer. Jo she reminded me that the basics where to use GCP (Grounding, Cleansing and Protection).
For some reason this finally made me realise that good energy hygiene didn’t have to be complicated, because intention is key and the principles are the same as with physical hygiene.
But before I go into this, let me explain about bit about what I mean about energy, and energy work.
The human body (and all living things) emits an electromagnetic energy field. This can be measured scientifically with electrodes for example. But the field produces energy that also goes beyond the physical body. Traditional medicines like the Chinese and Indian medicine have a deep understanding of these energetic systems and how they affect health and wellbeing.
The organ that produces the biggest, most measurable electromagnetic field is our heart, and its electromagnetic field can be used to communicate between people. The institute of HeartMath has some cool science on this.
The tricky bit for us Westerners is our current medical view of the human body doesn’t acknowledge the existence of such an energy field, so it can be difficult to understand, or to believe in.
Yet, everything in our world is made of particles and energy. A friend once told me “if you believe in quantum physics, you believe in Reiki”.
Interestingly, even the most skeptical among us have felt energy. We have all felt stuff like the gaze of someone behind us, feeling really good or really uneasy somewhere for no apparent reason, or that when someone walked into a room, the room instantly felt uplifted, or the opposite, the room felt suddenly heavy and uncomfortable.
Energy work can simply be summarised by saying that everytime we interact with someone, we exchange energy. Whether we are mindful of it or not.
So coming back to the physical hygiene analogy, we bring our own energy to the table, and so do everybody we interact with.
Therefore the same rules of cleansing and protection apply on both sides.
As birthworkers, we need to make sure we’re as clean as possible, that we protect our clients and ourselves, and clean ourselves again when the work is done.
When we get that close to people, especially in the birth space, where massive energetic shifts are taking place, then energy hygiene is essential, for the same reasons as physical hygiene is essential.
So whether you teach a class, do massage, attend births or support postnatal families, basically anything that involves getting close to other people who are in a state of flux energetically and also in a vulnerable state, then you need to apply the same principles.
First, keep your own energy clean. Don’t bring your own shit to the table. As a doula, if I have some personal challenge going on, I choose not to mention it to my clients. Similarly, I try to leave my own energetic crap at the door. Grounding yourself will help with this (more about that later). So be mindful about protecting the people you work with, and make sure you’re as clean as possible.
Second, protect yourself. Everybody you interact with will bring their own energetic state to the space, and like for physical hygiene, some people are clean and full of positive energy and some people aren’t. You don’t want to catch the energy issues of others.
Third, when the work is done, be sure to cleanse yourself again.
So how can you do this?
It’s quite easy really, because it is all about the power of visualisation and intention.
Grounding is the earthing of our own energy to the energy field of the Earth. Again some cool science behind earthing-we know that earthing helps people heal a lot faster, having measurable effects on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
One of my two favourite ways to ground myself are the tree meditation, and walking barefoot on the grass. Super simple an quick, and they work!
The tree meditation goes like this: stand up, close your eyes, give your body and mind a quick scan (how do you feel etc). Then imagine that you are a tree. Visualise the tree in as many details as you can. Then, with each out breath, imagine that you are growing your roots deep into the earth. That’s it! do this for a couple of minutes, then scan yourself again. Be prepared to be amazed at the difference!
Protecting yourself is a simple as visualising some kind of protection system around you. Find something that work for you, because in my experience if the visualisation isn’t your bag it’s harder to visualise. Some people picture a bubble (including one with a reflective surface), some see some kind of suit or cloak, or shield, etc . As you visualise your protection recite in your head what you want it to do (for example, to stop any negative energy from coming in but letting positive energy circulate both in and out).
If the idea of the bubble appeals to you-you could try listening to this guided meditation.
Again it’s interesting to experiment how you might feel before and after a protection visualisation!
Cleansing can be done by grounding yourself again, whilst visualising all unwanted energies flowing into the earth works well. Walking barefoot on the grass/the earth is a quick and powerful way to ground and cleanse. You can also try and visualise whatever works for you as a way to sever the energetic links you will have made with all the people encountered that day and that you no longer need. It could be just visualising something like a shower or waterfall cleaning you, seeing the energies flow down into the earth, visualising scissors or other cutting implements actively cutting the ties you no longer need. Again intention is key, and so is finding a visual tool that speaks to you.
Another nice way to cleanse your energy is to smudge yourself with sacred herbs (sage is a classic, and there are many other. I personally love Palo Santo) or an essential oil spray made with cleansing intention (or you can buy a ready made one).
There are many many other ways to practise these energy hygiene techniques, and like the physical hygiene techniques, you may feel drawn to activate some of them depending on your circumstances and what you feel the need to do in a particular situation.
I for example, feel the need to add a layer of protection to myself on crowded public transport like the Subway in London. Similarly I may feel the need to ground myself more than usual after teaching a bit group, after providing a healing session, or to cleanse my house
If you’re a Reiki practitioner, then there are all sorts of ways you can use the Reiki energy for grounding, protection and cleansing, depending on your intention (and specifically, if you’re trained at level 2 you can use the Chokurei Symbol for both empowerment, protection and clearing negative energies). (and if you’d like to learn to use Reiki- I run Reiki workshops for birthworkers)
So in a nutshell, energy hygiene is healthy and necessary, and actually simple and easy to do!
Give it a try and see what difference it makes to your life.