Visualization has always helped me. In one birth I focused on a hike I had taken on a snowy day in Italy - the quiet, the beauty, the cold air... that with controlled breathing really helped. With my youngest child, I imagined I was blowing down a straw (white with blue stripes) and I focused on blowing a spiral of air through its tiny opening. I wasn't aware of much else.
My best friend was the bath tub. the warm water was the most soothing for me. I also visulized my body opening up. I kept saying "I'm going to get HUGE." " Come on down baby" and I did and he would. Learning to breath as in Yoga practices really helped me too. To know how to breath into a contraction like you would an intense pose gave me strength as well. I had back labor with my second and counter pressure and laboring on hands and knees was really great. Also having an A-list support team. Meaning people that where there to empower me, not question my ability to do it. no nurses where allowed to question my choice. If they didn't think I could do it, they weren't welcome. My husband was great, he would tell me there was no one stronger than me, He would remind me of times when I had been strong, He believed I could do it and that made all the difference in the world. (Of course I would give him tips on how to encourage me leading up to delivery day he remembered and it was great.)
Counter pressure was my biggest help in the hardest parts of labor. Some one pushing on the small of my back as hard as possible, essentially pushing as hard as the contraction was pulling. It just helped me keep my mind together. I also moan a lot in my labors. A LOT. Like to the point that I'm hoarse afterwards. Pick a nice low note and stick to it.
Changing positions and moving around to different areas in my room was helpful with both my labors. I used the beautiful Aquadoula tub with my first and was literally in there for hours. It was a touch of heaven when I needed it most. With my second, I did the Hypnobabies homestudy and was studying to get my certs as a doula and childbirth educator so I had even more "tricks" -- based in yoga poses/deep relaxation/self-hypnosis/affirmations written on smooth river rocks in my lovely bubbling candle fountain thingy.
Oh! One great and wonderful thing was the knotted rope given to me at my motherblessing with baby #2 -- My "job" in early labor was to see if I could get it all unknotted before I hit active labor and couldn't concentrate any more. It was the BEST tool I had besides my birth ball (which I was all over in many positions) and Hypnobabies CD's (which spouse called my "HypnoToad" CD's if you're a Futurama fan, you'll get it). Those plus the affirmations got me through until just before folks started arriving (my mom to watch my first child until baby was almost born, then they came into the room, and the midwife)... then it was only a handful of contractions before second stage came along.
One last thing -- picturing the hardest race I ever ran, knowing that the finish line was hiding someplace in the woods where it would likely surprise me.... I tell my clients to think about the most challenging thing they've successfully over come -- MCATs, a competition, a spelling bee was one Penny Simkin mentioned, the first kayak trip of the season was another a client shared with me... Whatever it is, find your inner strength and trust in yourself that you can do it!
going for a 45 minute walk in pouring rain (alone! at 2am), also a birth pool, low lighting (fairy lights!), quiet and unobtrusive attendees. Massage was nice in early active labour but I don't like being touched in the full-on part. I guess you don't know how you'll be until you're doing it.
Visualization and centering w/meditation before and during labor. Positive affirmations and deep belief and trust in my body and the power of a woman to bring life into the world. Early on: movement, massage, and a birthing ball. Later, the tub of warm water. Loving support from my husband--he kept telling me how strong I was, and how proud he was of me and the look on his face matched his words. Close, trusting relationship with my Midwife. The relaxed, intimate atmosphere at my home--complete with flower shaped string lights hung over the tub and candles all around. And accupuncture (I had never done it before but went for it for labor b/c MIL offered to pay to have her accupuncturist come to my house and do it. Was very nervous and not very optimistic. As it turns out I believe strongly that it did work to diminish the sensations of pain during contractions).
I think that vocalization helped me the most through labor. It started out as low moans, with somewhere in the middle sounding like I was really enjoying myself, lol, then ended with more of a yelling sound. If I had had to keep quiet, I don't know how I would have gotten through it. At the end, I was really embarrassed of all the noise I was making, as I was at a birth center during office hours and I was sure lots of women coming in for prenatal appointments could hear me! But I really couldn't help it...I just did what my body wanted me to do and that was how I coped.
Also, I stood a lot and swayed...I was later told that that position was probably comfortable due to position of baby.
I did many things that helped me increase my comfort during my births. But the best answer I can give you is Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis, because that was at the core of everything else I did. Hypnobabies allowed me to be very in-tune with my emotional and physical needs, so I just knew instinctively what would feel best at any moment of the birth, and had the confidence and wisdom to simply do what I needed to do without overthinking it. I know myself well enough to know that without Hypnobabies I would have been relying more on a "plan" and worrying about doing things "right". Hypnobabies allowed me to remove my analytical self from the mix and remain so comfortable that I could easily move around instinctively and do whatever felt right.
For me it was vocalization and rocking in a dark room....I had insane multi-peak contractions before transition... and rocking in my daughter's beautiful room spaced everything out and made it managable!
Reminding myself over and over to relax my shoulders and let go of tension even DURING contractions, and biting on a towel hung over the side of the birth pool were both extremely helpful! I had to squeeze my husband's hands and insist on total quiet during contractions, also.