Certified Hypnotherapist & Meditation Expert Amy Budden's Top Relaxation Tips for Moms

Having kids is no doubt rewarding, but even the most patient parent will tell you that the joy of children also comes hand-in-hand with off-the-chart stress levels. A self-professed Type A, LA-based mother of two Amy Budden is all too familiar with the drive to overachieve. The former film editor never envisioned becoming a certified hypnotherapist and meditation teacher — or that motherhood would inspire her to use her new skill set to guide other women through pregnancy, for that matter. [Editor's note: I still use her Peaceful Pregnancy Hypno-Meditation to help me sleep!]

Overworked, exhausted, and — unbeknownst to her at the time — suffering from adrenal fatigue and autoimmune issues, Budden began meditating and discovered that the practice gave her more energy and that she had fewer migraines and panic attacks and less anxiety.

"I came very reluctantly to this; I never saw myself having anything other than a marketable skill as a film editor," admits Budden. "When I had kids, I really just wanted to drive carpool, thank you very much! I wasn’t really interested in studying neurolinguistic programming, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, all of these hacks into the subconscious mind. But I was so completely obsessed with gathering the proof as a skeptic because I could not reconcile how completely effective these techniques were."

Fast-forward to today: In addition to teaching classes at LA's Unplug Meditation, Budden is also a Reiki practitioner and uses her hypnotherapy talents to empower people to live healthier lives with less stress and illness — including mothers-to-be. In fact, she used her techniques to give birth sans epidural to both her daughters, who are now 10 and 14. "It was not pain-free exactly, just fear free," she explains. "You retrain your association of pain to be pressure and eliminate the fear. When you relax into it as a directive of the body it can be empowering rather than draining."

Since then, she's tested the power of hypnotherapy at the dentist, particularly during one visit when drilling and a filling at the root was required. "The dentist was sweating but I was fine," she reveals.

Intrigued? We sat down with Budden to learn about how serious health scares inspired her to delve deeper into meditation, how motherhood pushed her to use her talents to help other women, how busy moms can take a moment to truly relax (yes, it's totally possible!), and more. Read on below, learn more about Budden here, and download her guided meditations here.

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In a nutshell, can you tell us how meditation helps us heal?

Now of course, we know there’s a whole world of science behind it, that meditation changes the brain, and the body really does follow the mind’s direction. When we meditate and visualize, our body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined so in this way you can activate healing.

How did you transition from film editor to what you do now?

About 15 years ago I was really tired, I had been working I think it was five years straight; film editors hours, sometimes as much as 20 hours a day, no joke... Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was in the first stages of adrenal fatigue and then I had an autoimmune issue which I didn’t uncover until many years later. 

I started to do the same Brian Weiss recording, which I did for about five years. I was classic Type A: I had been very, very driven in the film industry and sort of adrenalized some of the time. I started to notice that I had more energy; over time, after a year or so, I started to notice that I wasn’t getting migraines the same way... I no longer had anxiety and panic attacks.

I didn’t really understand it, nor was there any literature out there in those days. The neuroscience hadn’t really come out yet and meditation wasn’t very accessible so I just kept on adding to my practice. About 10 years ago, I met a spiritual teacher who taught me holotropic breathwork [which] regulates the mood by releasing any kind of emotions that are stuck in the body, so I did that for about 10 years.

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How did meditation help you during motherhood?

Shortly after I found meditation I had a series of eight miscarriages, largely due to, I believe now, the autoimmune condition. So I started to notice that guided meditation was really really helping me through it and stay positive and not go into an anxiety response when I would go into the fertility clinic.

When I became a mother, [mediation] helped me to rest at a very deep level, so there was more in store for me because I believe we are squeezed in the direction that we are meant to be squeezed in and it was through experience could I learn how to help others with these techniques. So after those miscarriages I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, my second. She became very very sick a year later, with an immunological condition that was so extreme that her lungs would fill rapidly with fluid in the middle of the night like anaphylaxis and she was very ill. It was a life or death situation when it would happen so suddenly. She was on so much medication that when I took [it], I shook — [and] she was 18 months old. It was very extreme and so then I started meditating, adding more to my practice because I needed to be extremely balanced emotionally regulated if she had an attack because it was very severe and very sudden, because it was usually in the middle of the night.

I started using guided visualization on her and not for any other reason other than instinct. I believe that when you are pushed in such as way as a mother, you instinctually know what is best for your child. What I did was the start of hypnosis or neurolinguistic programming or mind/body programming that [neuroscientist and author] Dr. Joe Dispenza has revealed to be really effective, that the body follows the mind’s direction.

So essentially what we did was a lot of imagery around her healing… The moral of the story [and] the happy ending is she’s completely healthy today and she is in fact healed. I had my own personal experiences with it as well with my health.

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The science behind meditation is fascinating. Can you tell us more about how it works and the benefits during pregnancy?

For women who are getting pregnant or who have gotten pregnant, what happens is when you can create comfort and calm in your body, that deep rest is a hospitable place for a baby and it’s a hospitable place to heal. When we meditate, we activate healing in the body by inducing deep rest, we are reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system. When we rest, we heal and it is said that meditation of a Theta brain wave state is four to five times more restful than sleep.  It is said that 20 minutes can be as effective as three hours of REM sleep. 

So if we’re in an anxiety response, we are operating out of the amygdala, the most primitive part of the brain. And this primitive part we can’t get out of, it’s on a spin cycle, it defies any rationality. But when we meditate, we move into the prefrontal cortex and that is the place of higher learning [and] of rationality. If we live in an anxiety response, there’s all kinds of chemicals flooding our system: cortisol, adrenaline, [which are] not hospitable for health nor is it hospitable for pregnancy. So when my clients learn how to regulate their emotional set points — meaning, relax at a deep level — this stress response no longer happens and you reduce inflammation in the body.

When you are in a stress response, your body thinks you are running from a saber-tooth tiger [for example]. A number of things happen: Your digestive system goes on the back burner because you don’t need to be digesting lunch, so [it] floods your body with hydrochloric acid… You become literally acidic, and we know the body when it’s healthy needs to be alkaline. When you’re acidic, you wouldn’t be fun to taste, your blood coagulates, your inflammation [and] your heart rate goes up. So [in] a lot of everyday life, people experience this stress response just driving to the grocery store.

What's been a recent success story that you're proud of?

The most miraculous and rewarding thing has been if I can simply teach my clients to relax, they start to get pregnant and they start having these miracle babies. My latest client — this is remarkable — she was told to get a surrogate. Within two sessions she was pregnant; she was on a five-year [fertility] journey. [Women] get so programmed to believe that their body can’t do it or their body is damaged or they’re sick, or whatever. The first stage is to learn how to relax and then upregulate the emotional state to reprogram the body to hardwire the belief that it is possible and then let go of the outcome and see what happens. When you’re holding on so tightly… The resistance is still there.

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In your experience as a mother, how can meditation help parents?

I’ll tell you a really interesting study, I think Daniel Pink wrote about it… Basically, we need flow states in order to be mentally healthy [and] resilient; they’re when we feel fulfilled and happy and centered. You can cultivate a flow state by going into meditation. Now, the average person in one week has more stimulation than our ancestors had in one year, so it’s as if all your tabs are open in your brain, right? What meditation does is it allows you to get to clear space.

As mothers [we hear] “Ma, ma, ma, mama, mom, ma,” constantly being pulled out of the flow state. It’s almost impossible to get uninterrupted time; when they’re really young it’s like, “Oh my gosh, they’re going for the outlet.” So it’s deep rest is what it is and it allows you to be more present. It upregulates your emotional state, it helps you to remain calm, it mitigates your anxiety response.

But as a mother, it’s kind of a like a magic nap because not only is meditation five times more powerful than sleep if you get into a state of theta brain waves — so you can rest — but also you kind of clean your brain. [But back to] Daniel Pink’s  study... They had a control group of let’s say 40 people [and] they wanted to see what would happen if they kept pulling them out of flow... We get it [as] mothers every day.

In the control group they were getting into a flow state; they were beginning to read a book and get into it, and they would pull them out of it. [The subjects were] constantly being interrupted and what happened after only 24 hours, they had to shut the study down because people felt like they were losing their minds. They should talk to a mother, right?

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Is there a particular meditation that you recommend for mothers?

It’s called coherence technique, and it’s basically focusing on an elevated emotion. It’s really simple, but it’s really hard to remember to do so I tell people to do it when they’re driving carpool, brushing their teeth. [It focuses on] heart rate variability... Your heart is really regulating your health, so this means the electromagnetic field of the heart is actually 4,000 times more powerful than the brain. How you send a signal to your body that all is well is you focus on an elevated emotion like gratitude, so you imagine breathing it in and out of the heart… And you actually activate the neurons in the heart [which are] connected to the neurons in your brain and it creates a neurochemical cascade. So it creates dopamine, serotonin — you have all the “good feels.”

For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain more about how all of that works?

When you regulate in this way it sends a message to your body and you start to feel better. You imagine it as an energy that flows in and out of your body, this feeling of gratitude; you start to see and sense and feel this feeling of gratitude, and all of those moments you’re grateful for. You start to really feel all of the good things in your life. It changes your perspective and it up regulates your emotional state and it actually changes your physiology.

Happiness or an elevated emotion on a heart rate variability monitor would look like an undulating wave: It would look coherent [and] symmetrical, and it’s sort of what it feels like when we’re calm and comfortable and happy. Anxiety on a heart rate variability monitor looks jagged and asynchronous and incongruent and all over the place and that’s sort of what it feels like when we’re in a stress response. So the exercise is not just about focusing on the positive, it’s about seeing and sensing and feeling an elevated emotion and breathing it through the heart.