Interview with Shweta Panchal – author of ‘Ditch Your Birth Plan and Have The Birth You Need!’

Hi Shweta!  Thanks so much for sharing your blog post with us!  I feel the birth plan may have had its day by the sounds of it.  Did you write a birth plan? If yes, did anything positive come from it?

No I didn’t but I did have some very strong ideas about how and where I wanted to give birth. When I went into labour with my first son I was well underway to having the homebirth that my husband and I had ‘planned’.  I laboured at home (according to plan) for many hours. When the midwives arrived to assist with the birth they found that my temperature had risen beyond what was considered safe. There was a possibility of infection in my body and I was therefore, much to my dismay, rushed to hospital. When the ambulance arrived, I stood at the top of the stairs in the building of my two bedroom flat, defiant. I refused to be carried down the stairs in a stretcher. I was having a baby not a heart attack! All’s well that ends well and my son was born, in hospital (not my plan!) on my back (definitely not my plan!) healthy and well (definitely my plan). I too was happy. Happy, well and grateful.  Somewhere along the way amongst all the chaos and drama I surrendered. In those moments of labour and birth I believe I started to learn the power of surrender. Not giving up, but learning to let go. I learned the powerful distinction between preparation and planning which I now teach in my pregnancy classes. In planning an event like birth there is an attachment to the process. When one prepares for birth, the actions are aligned with a strong intention but there is no attachment to the process. Only potential and creativity.

Why do you think women feel so guilty when their birth doesn’t go ‘to plan’?

Women feel guilty because they view the failure of the plan as their fault. If the plan fails then they believe they have failed.  I find that the more fixated women are to the way in which they want the birth to be the more chances are that they will feel shame and guilt afterwards if it does not go according to plan.  Preparation is the way forward not planning. Planning can psychologically lock us to a process which may or may not happen.

Through your work as a yoga and meditation teacher, how do you help women prepare for birth?

In the Pregnancy Yoga classes that I teach, we use meditation, breathwork and postures to deepen womens understanding of their bodies, their mind, and their emotions.  Whilst birthing positions and breathing techniques are important parts of the class, women are guided to listen to their bodies and respond to the changing nature of their physical landscape. The classes also emphasize movements which encourage the sense  of opening , letting go and trust with the idea that when it comes to the time of birth women have their breath, mindfulness and use of their instincts to respond to a changing birth situation.  

Finally, is there a quote or saying you live your life by?

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks again Shweta, and thanks also to the Rebelle Society for allowing us to reproduce Shweta’s post on the PANDAS Guest Blog.


Ditch Your Birth Plan And Have The Birth You Need! – by Shweta Panchal

 (as published by Rebelle Society){source}

In the time that I have been a pregnancy Yoga teacher, I have had the privilege of teaching women from many different walks of life.

I am privileged to be witness to the stories they bring to class verbally and through their bodies. Personal histories and personalities are sketched out through breath and movement.

I often witness women push their bodies in a way that I suspect they must push themselves in life: striving to keep control, pushing to achieve, pushing to do more, and pushing to progress.

I hear of meticulously-planned births and witness anguish, guilt and pressure when births don’t go according to plan. I strongly believe in the importance of preparing for labor and birth, but think that the two words plan and birth don’t belong together.

Here’s why, and what you can do instead:

Birth plans encourage unrealistic expectations.

Weddings, birthday parties and IT projects are events that require planning and organization, not labor and birth. The idea itself is unrealistic as there is very little about birth that can be planned.

For a start, you don’t know:

When it will start

How long it will take

How you will feel

How you will respond

The unknown nature of this process can be deeply unsettling, but be cautious about making claims about what you will and will not do to appease any insecurity.

These types of refusals leave you little room to use your instincts to adapt and respond to potentially changing situations, and have the potential to leave you feeling vulnerable if the event does not go according to plan.

In planning an event like birth, there is the risk that you become attached to the process. If, however, you prepare by aligning your actions with strong intentions or preferences, you can more easily let go of the details of how it will happen.

Writing a plan doesn’t mean you’ve prepared for birth.

Writing a birth plan can become a very lengthy process ending in a detailed and precise five-page document. Or it can become an itemized list of things to do sitting between buy buggy, write birth plan, attend scan on 22nd.

Either way, preparation for birth doesn’t end once the details have been drawn out and/or the birth plan has been ticked off the to-do list.

How you can prepare for birth

Preparing for birth can be a deeply introspective process. It goes beyond making the choice between a home birth, hospital birth, drugs and no drugs, learning birthing positions and breathing techniques (all are important and have their place).

To prepare fully requires a deep and potentially uncomfortable self-examination.

What are your thoughts, fears and anxieties about birth? Why do they exist and where do they come from? How might this impact your experience of birth?

What are your thoughts, fears and anxieties about motherhood? How might this impact your experience of birth?

In everyday life, how do you generally respond when things are out of your control? How might this impact how you intend to give birth?

In everyday life, how do you generally respond to physical, emotional and mental intensity/pain? How might this impact how you intend to give birth?

Like life, birth has its own plan. We can try and fight the detours, but ultimately life gives us what we need. Are you okay with the notion that anything can happen to you at any time?

Writing down your preferences, and sharing them with the people who are supporting you, can be important and useful parts of the process.

Whatever way you intend to birth your baby, it’s important that you spend time asking yourself some of these questions. Not only will it help you mentally and emotionally prepare for labor and birth, but it can also help you manage the changes brought about in life by early motherhood.

I urge you to tread the path of self-inquiry, risking whatever it brings up. Once you’ve laid down your preferences, let go of your attachment to the process of birth, and follow your body and your instincts. Let the potential intensity, pain, craziness, chaos and beauty of creation take over.

Prepare to be forced to your extreme. Prepare to be blown away.

A word of warning: you may be opening a can of worms. This type of questioning and self-examination can be a huge undertaking, and ensuring you have the support of family and friends may help you to navigate the process. If you find yourself needing further help and support, please speak to your midwife or to your GP and/or contact a pre/postnatal charity of your choice.

With many thanks to the Rebelle Society for allowing us to share Shweta’s post.

To find out more about Shweta Panchal, please visit her website Minded Yoga.

Emerging into the Light: A History of Postnatal Mental Health by Laura Wood

While I do believe that we are making strides in greater public awareness of perinatal mental ill-health, this is a recent development and, unfortunately, as a result, people sometimes assume that postnatal depression (or anxiety or psychosis) is a new phenomenon. A distressing side effect of this is that people can blame the sufferer, as if everyone was fine after having a baby up until the 1990s and so any problems must be self-inflicted, a result of modern lifestyles or weak character.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Postnatal mental illness has always been around, even though no one necessarily understood it. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the subject around the fourth century BC, proposing that lochial discharge from the uterus could travel to the brain, causing agitation which he termed ‘puerperal fever’. (See Perinatal Mental Health: A Guide for Health Professionals and Users, by Jane Hanley) He is often assumed to be talking about septicaemia or infection, but this could equally be a psychiatric disturbance. Speculative study of postnatal mental ill health continued over the centuries. The best summary I have found is in ‘Sadness and Support.

I would add to that essay, however, the case of Margery Kempe in the fifteenth century. Margery is known as a mystic and a general ‘character’, but she was also a vowess, the author of the first autobiography in English and a sufferer of postnatal psychiatric difficulties. She begins her startling memoir by writing about herself (in the third person) during the time after the birth of her first child, when she was about 21 years old. (All quotations fromThe Book of Margery Kempe, trans. Barry Windeatt (Penguin, 1985, repr. 2004)) She says that “what with the labour-pains she had in childbirth and the sickness that had gone before, she despaired of her life, believing she might not live.” This anxiety led her to seek her confessor, the man to whom she would relate her sins and be prescribed penitential acts in order to receive forgiveness from God. She began to confess that she had not always confessed her sins in the past but instead had dictated her own penance. The confessor interrupted her and began telling her off, so that she failed to finish confessing. She was then caught between the fear of his rebuke and the fear of damnation. She writes that, because of this, she “went out of her mind and was amazingly disturbed and tormented with spirits for half a year, eight weeks and odd days” (a long-winded way of saying around eight months).

Margery’s description is what she suffered is vivid, terrifying and sadly familiar to some of us. “She saw, as she thought, devils opening their mouths all alight with burning flames of fire, as if they would have swallowed her in, sometimes pawing at her, sometimes threatening her, sometimes pulling her and hauling her about both night and day…” These devils called upon her to renounce her faith, her family, her friends and all goodness. This she did. “She slandered her husband, her friends, and her own self.” She became suicidal and self-harmed: “She would have killed herself many a time as they stirred her to…. she bit her own hand so violently that the mark could be seen for the rest of her life. And also she pitilessly tore the skin on her body near her heart with her nails, for she had no other implement, and she would have done something worse, except that she was tied up and forcibly restrained…” After months of this, she called on Jesus and was instantly delivered. Margery’s understanding of her experience was completely entrenched in her religious beliefs, which may seem bizarre to us, but probably would have seemed reasonable to her contemporaries. She went on to have another thirteen children before eventually convincing her husband to take a vow of chastity so that she could do the same.

Postnatal psychiatric difficulties are too common to have escaped the notice of medical professionals or laypeople. My great-aunt described to me how, as a new mother in the 1950s, she kept the windows closed for fear that she would throw her baby out of a window. And my mother has written here about her experience of postnatal depression in the late 1980s. ‘Sadness and Support’ details how a handful of medical professionals grappled with the problem over the centuries. The DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) nodded briefly to it in 1968 but even the latest version, published in 2013, fails to accept the widely-known fact that it need not commence in the early weeks after delivery. The UK equivalent on the DSM, the ICD (The International Classification of Diseases) is similar in this.

In summary, then, postnatal mental illness is not a new phenomenon and it is not newly-recognised. It is, I fear, simply that few people have been genuinely interested in the well-being of mothers and have recognised the potential consequences. The media and the internet have empowered more mothers (and fathers) to tell their stories, and hopefully people are finally beginning to listen. There is still a lot of stigma and ignorance flying about but I believe we are making strides. And, rest assured, that this illness, exacerbated as it may be by circumstances or by social isolation or by the shock of becoming a parent, is as old as time. It is not weakness or a reflection upon the sufferer as a person. The sooner everyone catches up with that, the better.

If you would like to read more from Laura, please visit her blog at Keeping It Eclectic.


Alfred James was born in London, England, in 1978. He is a mindfulness coach, author and founder of the globally popular

James teaches mindfulness as a pathway to self-acceptance and inner peace, a pathway that helps release the attachment, aversion and desire responsible for the day-to-day suffering of mind that prevents us from discovering true contentment in life.

We have asked Alfred James some questions about his journey into mindfulness.

 What inspired you to teach mindfulness?

I didn’t really set out to teach but rather just share my experiences and tips to help others deal with life’s obstacles. So I started as a little corner of the web where I hoped my posts would resonate with a few people and help them find more happiness and contentment in their lives. Since that time the reach of the blog has grown beyond anything I initially imagined, I’ve written two books and connected with lots of wonderful people.

 Do you use your mindfulness techniques yourself regularly?

I use mindfulness techniques all the time, and not always on purpose either. That’s the beauty of learning to understand the mind; you naturally become more present and mindful in everyday interactions. It becomes second nature to accept what is and release yourself from the negative cycles of stress, fear and anger. But sure, whenever I sense/feel the need to find mental spaciousness, I’ll take action. This could be taking a long walk, putting on some soothing music, immersing myself in a simple game with my daughter, writing down my thoughts on paper or taking time to to meditate.

 What benefits have you found from doing them?

The benefits can be summarised quite simply as a more contented life, which to me equates to being less stressed, less fearful, having fewer insecurities, improved personal relationships and  being a generally happier, more accepting and compassionate person. Of course, like anyone else, I have bad days and I’m as imperfect as the next man or woman, but mindfulness equips you with a better understanding of the way the mind works, and in turn gives you the tools to better deal with the challenges life throws at you.

 Where do you get your inspiration from to produce new mindful exercises?

My inspiration for new mindfulness techniques comes from my own life experiences and ways I have learnt to understand and temper my mind when it begins to cause me stress, anxiety and general suffering. The mindfulness exercises you’ll find in my book of the same name are my personal creations, with of course some influence from traditional practices and past teachers.

 To those who are sceptic about the benefits of mindfulness, what would you say?

I’d say to them to look no further than the hundreds of studies and articles that have come out over the past two years supporting the positive benefits of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness works wonders for those suffering with stress-related illnesses, anxiety problems, anger-management issues, low confidence and self-esteem and more. From a personal point of view, I’d say to skeptics that the mind is extremely powerful, and if we don’t understand the way it works then it has the potential to delude and mislead us, and for some people this causes lots of unhappiness, fear, insecurity and disappointment. There’s no denying this, as it’s something we all experience to some degree in everyday life. Helping people understand the way they think and feel, and teaching them how to manage their thoughts and feelings to create a happier life, can only ever be a positive thing.

 What is your favourite mindful exercise and why?

That’s a hard question to answer, because the type of exercise depends on my feeling at the time. But I really love being outside among nature, especially by the sea. I think we all do, and mindfulness really leads you back to that innate connection we have with the natural world. So I’d have to say that my favourite mindfulness exercise is walking along a beach, starring out at the vast sea and losing myself in its wonder. I just love being near the sea, there’s something so liberating about it that puts life into perspective.

 How would you like to see mindfulness being used in the future?

I’d like it to see mindfulness being used to help people reconnect intimately with the world. While I think computer technology has made wonderful advancements and continues to bring so many benefits to our lives, I think it has the potential to negatively impact our social interactions and cause us to become somewhat isolated and detached. So I’d like to encourage people, kids especially, to get outside and start playing, sharing, discovering and connecting with the natural world and all other sentient beings. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this post:

 For someone who is new to mindfulness, what advice would you give them on initial exercises and locations to do them and when should they start to experience benefits from doing them?

There’s a list of 6 easy exercises listed here that you can try: These are simple starting points that will help you understand what it means to be truly present for a while and not have your mind constantly scattered by thoughts of the past and anticipation of the future. In terms of benefits, while there will be plenty in time, I encourage people not to start out with any expectations of benefits or rapid change. Mindfulness is about accepting how you feel and letting go of the grasping and desire that causes us to feel anxious, stressed, insecure and fearful. If we anticipate all the time, if we expect and desire, strive and grasp, we will experience disappointment at what isn’t rather than seeing the beauty and potential in what is. Accept what is here now, let go of what has been and what might be, unchain yourself from the expectations of yourself and others, and be present to enjoy the moment and its possibilities.

 Do you have any new ideas for pocket that you can share with us?

I’m currently working on a mindfulness meditation audio series which I hope to finish in the next two months. There’s also a couple of new books in the pipeline. Apart from that, I will carry on penning posts when I feel inspired and interacting with all the wonderful people that email me and message me through Twitter and Facebook. If you haven’t done so already, I’d like to encourage you to sign up for my Mindful Bites newsletter, which is easily done by visiting:

Headspace: How To Deal With Anxiety (part 3)

How To Deal With Anxiety – part 3

June 02, 2014

How To Deal With Anxiety - part 3

In the final part of our anxiety blog, we look at how meditation can show us more clearly our habitual patterns of mind and, ultimately, even free us from those very same habits.

As many of us will have experienced sometime in life, anxiety can have an incredibly negative impact on the lives of those it affects directly, as well as those around them. In our previous two blogs we examined how to deal with anxiety using two different approaches – one rational and one investigative, both of which use mindfulness to help to reduce levels of anxiety.

And while using one, or both of these can have significant effect on how much anxiety we feel, by taking that final step, the Vulnerable Approach, we start to see howmeditation for anxiety can allow us to achieve even greater results.



In the two previous approaches, we reassessed our view of anxiety and looked into its nature. Now we’re ready to move onto the most rewarding part of the journey.

The Vulnerable Approach requires a more formal meditation technique. For it to be effective, we need to let down our guard and learn to allow anything and everything to arise in the mind. It can be both frightening and exciting in equal measure. But most of all, it’s incredibly liberating.

And of course this what we are training in every time we sit and do a Headspace meditation. We are learning to witness the mind, to witness both thoughts and feelings from a place of neutrality or objectivity. Essentially, we are allowing the mind to rest in the present moment, no longer swayed or overwhelmed by anxious thoughts or feelings.

So, when an anxious thought comes, we see it, we let it go. Another thought comes, perhaps connected, perhaps not, we acknowledge it, and we let it go. Next, a feeling or sensation may arise; we feel it, we welcome it, and again, we let it go. But no matter what the thought or feeling is, however we feel about it, we don’t block it, we allow it to arise, embrace it and then it passes away. It may feel like it comes back again very quickly, but even if it is the same message, it is a new thought and should be treated in just the same way.

And the way that this helps with our anxiety levels is this: once we’ve mastered this technique (simply meaning when we have practiced it often enough and are confident to apply it), we can see that everything is always changing. Sure, sometimes it feels that anxiety is with us all of the time, but in fact, if we witness the mind often enough, we see there are times when it is, and times when it isn’t.

We’ll also see that it’s not just our own mind that behaves like this – in fact all minds do. And we start to see this more clearly. Sure, maybe not everyone experiences anxiety in that way and we are all on a scale. But equally for others, anger, sadness, loneliness or something else might be just as challenging. And so as we see these patterns in our own mind we start to get a sense of how they impact others too. The knock-on affect of this is that we no longer feel isolated and alone. Instead we feel a sense of it being very normal and nothing to fear.

Finally, the vulnerable approach allows the mind to soften a little. We see that thoughts are just thoughts, a feeling is just a feeling – nothing more, nothing less. This takes nothing from the wonder of human life, nor does it add to our confusion. It simply allows the mind to be free, open, and ready to experience life exactly as it is, and to welcome that experience.


This is the most courageous approach of all, requiring us to let down our guard and welcome everything and anything into our experience. It takes both time and patience, but be brave, the rewards are beyond anything we might imagine.

Andy Puddicombe

To see this article in full, please visit:

Headspace: How To Deal With Anxiety (part 2)

Welcoming and studying anxiety

Andy Puddicombe May 23, 2014

Welcoming and studying anxiety

Missed part one? Read it here

In the second part of our blog, we use mindfulness to examine anxiety more closely. If you missed the first part, check it out here — In our previous blog on how to deal with anxiety, we talked about approaching the emotion in a logical way using the Rational Approach.

So now we should have a feel of where anxiety comes from, and why it can be hard to shake. If the Rational Approach alone has allowed you to step away from your pattern of anxiety, that’s fantastic. You could choose to stop the journey here. But if you’re not quite there yet, or you’d like to go a little further into reducing, or simply understanding anxiety, in our next step, we need to turn detective.

Step Two – The Investigative Approach. Welcoming and studying anxiety 

Having already worked through the Rational Approach to anxiety, we should have a good idea of its mechanics – how it builds and perpetuates. Now, we can investigate it.

The Investigative Approach requires us to witness our anxiety in a very particular way. Instead of thinking about ‘you’ or ‘me’, we just need to observe our anxiety as it is – a natural phenomenon.

What is it?
Where does it come from?
Where do I feel it?
What does it feel like?

We need to discover the answers to these questions, but hurrying or forcing them in a rush to put the mind at ease will only cause more thinking, and that’s not helpful in this exercise. So, firstly, it’s crucial we have a genuine interest in discovering the answers, simply for the sake of knowing.

Only by approaching with this curious attitude will we create a true and long-lasting shift in perspective over anxiety, and that’s just what we’re looking for. Secondly, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves and avoid being biased in our investigation.

Because, if we’re only investigating in the hope that our anxiety will stop – we’re not truly investigating, in fact we’re resisting. The difference is really subtle and it’s very easy for us to deceive ourselves. Being open, honest and genuinely interested in what we find out is the key here, no matter whether this brings us more, less or the same level of anxiety. It’s the process that’s more important than the result. You could say the process is the result. Just remember, when you’re investigating something as delicate as the mind, you must be gentle.

However much you want to discover answers, don’t apply too much pressure or effort. Instead, aim to welcome the feeling of anxiety, because the more we can welcome it, the easier it will be to investigate. And that’s what’s most beautiful about the Investigative Approach, because by welcoming anxiety, it moves from something to resist, to something we can embrace.

A Word of Caution

This approach is very effective. However, it’s easy to too get caught up in more thought. Combining it with step three, the Vulnerable Approach – featured in our final Anxiety blog – is extremely effective and completes our journey to reducing anxiety.

Andy Puddicombe

To view this article in full, please visit:

Headspace: How To Deal With Anxiety by Andy Puddicombe (founder of Headspace)

How To Deal With Anxiety

May 12, 2014

How To Deal With Anxiety

This month at Headspace we’re focusing on how to deal with anxiety. Most of us have suffered from anxiety, or know someone close who has. And while anxiety can be rational and useful – like when we need to make the right decision in a life-threatening situation, the anxiety we’re more familiar with is usually a little less helpful.

The problem with anxiety is that it inhibits our ability to deal with the issue that’s caused it in the first place. It makes our capacity for rational thought dip, while it, itself, begins to spiral out of control. This makes it harder to address the issue and causes genuine misery to ourselves and those around us.

So what can we do about anxiety?

Finding how to deal with anxiety can sometimes feel like an impossible task. Fortunately, from a meditation or mindfulness point of view, there are a few options to help, either on their own, or together. In fact, meditation for anxiety is proven to have a positive impact.

A bit like steps, we can tackle them all to achieve the greatest results, but even taking one or two can still have a real impact on how we feel. Further tips on how to deal with anxiety are provided below…

Step one 

The Rational Approach – understanding our anxiety

A great place to start on our journey to reduce anxiety is to understand the processes at work. We know that anxiety can feel irrational and illogical, but by approaching it logically, we gain a sense of where it comes from and why it’s hard to stop.

Our individual conditioning determines how anxiety arises in the mind. But forget trying to trace this back – there are too many factors involved. Anxiety is a natural response; we can’t control when it arises (aside from trying to suppress it, which is extremely unhelpful in the long-term) but we can change how we relate to it. And this is the key.

Breaking the cycle

Think about the times when anxiety hits. We resist the feeling with an emotion like frustration, sadness, or ironically, more anxiety. We’ve immediately created a cycle where we believe it’s bad to feel anxious, so we look for a way to get rid of the feeling, and we apply significant energy to try and avoid or eliminate it.

We then make matters worse by noticing the physical sensations that anxiety brings. The mind feels anxious, the chest tightens, and the mind associates this physical feeling as a sign of anxiety, and so becomes more anxious…

It feels like an inescapable pattern, but with practise, we can learn to step out of the loop.

Like any other emotion, anxiety is neither good nor bad. It begins as nothing more than a passing thought. From here, it’s up to us what we choose to do with it, how much importance we give it, and how long we hold onto it for.

Anxiety is a really strong habit, so at first, it won’t feel this simple. But this is the potential.

The same applies when that starting thought becomes a feeling or sensation. If we think about the sensation and why it’s happening, we exacerbate the situation. But by simply noticing the sensation; being present with it, rather than its connotations, the cycle is interrupted.

Taking this from theory to experience takes practice, but by understanding what’s going on, we can begin to set the mind free.

A word of caution

As thinking got us into this mess, it’s risky to rely on thinking alone to get us out of it. Consider following this method with step two, the Investigative Approach, featured in our next blog.

Andy Puddicombe

To view the article in full, please visit: