How Yoga Can Help you to Have an Empowered Birth • Yoga India Foundation

December 11, 2018
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Yoga is a lifestyle and practice that can help any woman have an empowered birth experience. By living a yoga lifestyle, the body and mind are prepared for one of the most important and exciting times in a woman’s life. As a birth worker, I gained an interest in yoga when I learned about prenatal yoga at a local studio. I began my personal yoga practice with a goal to better help my clients and friends with their birthing experiences, and I have found that yoga can be a great tool in achieving a wonderful birth! To understand how yoga can help with an empowered birth, we must first get some understanding about what yoga is. I’m going to give you a very high-level overview of yoga, as full understanding would require you to live it and even then, may take lifetimes, but I think you’ll get some insight into yoga here and I hope it will resonate with you. There are eight limbs of yoga. I’m going to mention and share the benefits of some of these limbs. I would like to begin with a disclaimer that I am not a medical professional, and before beginning any of these practices, you should reach out to your care team to collaborate and make sure this is a good fit for you. Now, let’s dive in!

Yama is the first limb of yoga I’m going to discuss, and I think this is very important as it is all about just being a good person. Essentially, Yama is doing what is universally good. Being a good person in general and trying to do good can be beneficial for your birth experience as it’s going to help you live a more stress-free life. Some of the parts of Yama include practicing non- violence and being honest. Great traits to have in general, but even better when we think about the birthing experience, especially honesty. Being honest with yourself and those around you
when it comes to your wants and needs surrounding labor is important.

Another limb is Niyama, or self-discipline/ritual. Developing a routine or regular practice can help during labor as you can use that practice or routine to keep yourself grounded, present and in control of your birth. Having something familiar to you while going through your labor experience (which is different for every mother, and every child a mother has) can be calming and reassuring. There are five Niyama, you may find one or several to be a good fit for your life, depending on where you are in your personal journey.

The next limb I will discuss is probably the most familiar when we think about yoga, and that is Asanas. Asanas are the postures and poses. Asanas can be especially helpful for preparing the body physically for birth. Strengthening the core, shifting the pelvis, rotating baby and reducing stress on joints are all benefits of Asanas. Additionally, as you develop your practice, you can learn poses and postures that will be good during labor and develop a mindset for meditation or mantras that may help you focus and breath through labor. Joining a local studio for Asana practice is also a great opportunity for some self-care time for you, mom! Setting aside the time and allowing someone to hold space for you to let go of any doubt, fear, or worry and the potential to connect with other women sharing your experience are invaluable.
The last limb that I will discuss is Pranayama. Pranayama is breathing. This part of Yoga can be helpful as the belly grows and the diaphragm is naturally shifted upward in the abdomen to help you find your breath. When the baby is ready to come, there are also several Pranayama practices that can be helpful in labor.
There are a few specific Asanas, Pranayama techniques, and Meditations that you may find helpful that I will share with you.

I will begin by sharing a few postures, the first is Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose). In goddess pose, legs should be spread wider than hips distance, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle, knees bent over the toes and the body lowered down in a squat position with exhaled breath. Arms are raised shoulder height with bent elbows, hands engaged. Chin, arms, and thighs will be parallel to the floor and each other in this pose. This pose helps to strengthen the lower body, strengthen the pelvic floor, stimulates the cardiovascular system, and can help during labor as a position for bearing down and moving baby lower in the birth canal. If you have any hip/knee/leg injuries, this may not be the best pose, and if you have any shoulder/arm/back injuries, this pose should be modified with hands down at hips or place the hands around the belly and send some extra love to your little one. This pose can also be done with the assistance of a chair, rail or birthing ball. Focus should be on grounding the feet and balancing equally.

Next up is a combination of two postures: Marjariasana (Cat Pose) and Bitilasana (Cow Pose). To enter this posture, find yourself on hands and knees on your mat in tabletop position. You should have your knees below hips, hips distance apart. Hands should be below shoulders, shoulder distance apart, fingers pointed ahead. With an inhale, lift the chest and sit bones toward the ceiling, while dropping the belly, this is cow pose. With exhale, tuck the tailbone, round the back and drop the head, this is cat pose. Alternate with breath between cat and cow pose, paying attention to the sensations in the back, chest and pelvis. Variations that may be helpful include
isolating the movements of the chest and pelvis. So, with inhale, you will raise only the chest or pelvis keeping the opposite neutral, and with exhale you will do the same, isolating the chest or pelvis and keeping the other neutral. This position can also be helpful with encouraging a stubborn baby to change positions, even allowing for rotation of a baby to being head down and ready to descend into the birth canal. Laboring on the hands and knees may relieve pressure or discomfort if you are experiencing back labor, and it may also help to relieve any discomfort felt
in the pelvis or hips. Focusing on the breath and the movements of cat/cow can be soothing as well. This position may be uncomfortable for you if you have knee or shoulder injuries, knees may be helped with a folded blanket or extra mat/cushion beneath the knees.

The last posture I will discuss is Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose). Many pregnant women experience tight hips, round ligament pain, sciatica, etc. This posture is great for stretching some of those trouble areas and providing some relief. Start in a seated pose, back straight, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, grab a pillow or bolster and sit on that instead. Once you have found a comfortable position with a straight back, exhale and pull your feet in towards your groin with knees bent out, in the shape of a butterfly. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position, back straight, and grab the feet or ankles. Gently bend forward and/or move the knees up and down like flapping wings. If you are unable to reach the feet or ankles, a strap can be used here. During early labor, this can be a good position to sit in while reciting mantras or meditating, alternating between sitting with no movement and the light “flapping” of the knees.

A Pranayama technique that you may find helpful during labor is called Bhastrika (Bellows Breath). It should be noted; this technique should not be practiced during the first trimester of pregnancy. For this practice, you should sit in a comfortable seated position, maybe with your legs crossed in front of you, feet close to the pelvis, back straight. Hands can be placed on the knees. The point of this practice is to make the breath match. With a forceful exhalation, expel all the breath, you can count while doing this starting with a count of four and gradually
increasing, and you will draw the breath back in for the same number of counts. Exhale

forcefully for four counts, inhale for four counts. Try to use abdominal breathing, but do not do anything that brings discomfort or strain to baby’s space. The belly should move in and out. Try to continue to increase to 10 counts. You may find this helpful with increasing your breath as baby begins to take up more of the space where your diaphragm sits. As this practice continues and increases, you can use this to help during labor. While forcefully exhaling, you can bear down and push. You can also do this practice with a partner to prepare for labor. This practice provides many benefits, including increased oxygen in the blood, reduced inflammation, strengthens the nervous system and flushes out toxins. If you have blood pressure issues, begin to feel faint or ill, or heart issues, you should not use this practice and instead try a gentler Pranayama.

Meditations and mantras can be amazing for grounding and centering during labor. I would recommend practicing several different meditations and having a few mantras on hand to be able to switch it up and find what works best for you as you transition through the different stages of labor, but I think the following meditation would be nice to have in your collection. The meditation is a Chakra Balancing Meditation and requires some chanting. This will not only help with focus and centering, but also provide soothing vibrations to the body. Begin by sitting in a comfortable meditative posture, spine straight, hands rested on the knees. You will begin by focusing on the Mudahara (Root) chakra, bringing awareness to this space on your body. You can envision the color red while doing so. Once you have brought all awareness to this space, begin to chant “lam” with an emphasis on the “m” with each exhale. Imagine that your breath is light, and you see this light going in your body, traveling down your spine, and arriving at your root chakra. Repeat the chant 10 counts and move your focus to the next chakra. The Swahdithana (Sacral) chakra is next, the focus color is orange, and the chant is “vam”. Repeat with this chakra, and the rest as follows, bringing awareness to that area, focusing on the color, seeing the inhale of light and chanting 10 times: Manipoora (Solar Plexus) chakra – yellow- “ram”, Anahata (Heart) chakra – green – “yam”, Vishudhi (Throat) chakra – blue – “ham”, Ajna (Third Eye) chakra – indigo – “Om”, and Sahasrara (Crown) chakra – white/violet – “aum”. Once you have completed chanting for all seven chakras, imagine yourself surrounded by a white light. You can close this round of meditation with additional “aum” chanting should you
wish. Yoga is a rich and beautiful practice and lifestyle, and far more faceted than I could explain through this text. I hope the small pool of yoga shared here is something that you find beneficial and useful in your life, and perhaps in your long-term yoga practice. Every limb of yoga is important and serves the others, but you should take what feels good for you and grow from that. Acknowledge, respect and appreciate any questions that arise from your practice. May you find love and light in your journey. Namaste.