Yoga is quite possibly the best preparation an expectant mom can do while pregnant. There are many benefits that come with practicing yoga including the connection one can achieve between mind and body. This connection enables the participant to notice how she holds herself while standing, lying, sitting, and laboring. In turn, one is then able to discover where stress and tension are “being held,” because we all hold stress and tension within the different areas of our bodies and systems.
Twenty years ago, as I sat in a bathtub feeling the first real contractions of my first labor, I stared intently at my belly and tried to deal with the impending event as best I could. Twenty hours later, my beautiful daughter was born. After all these years I still wonder how I managed to get through it without an epidural. I should tell you, my threshold for pain is not very high, but I’m also afraid of needles which actually worked to my advantage in a way. As I think back on what I did during those twenty hours; what I remember most was my breathing. As it turns out, it was my “ujjayi” breathing that got me through my labor, which I’ve since learned about through practicing and teaching yoga.
Over the years, I have talked with many moms about participating in yoga classes because I’ve seen firsthand how it allows women to cope with the intense pain of childbirth. I’ve witnessed (and practiced)breathing techniques learned in yoga that assist laboring moms with blocking out everything around them. In addition to the pain and discomfort moms experience during labor there are other distractions that can take focus away from the task at hand including beeping sounds from machinery and equipment, nearby conversations, poking and prodding, and yes, sometimes even the television. I have many students that come to my classes because their doctors recommended they take yoga in preparation of childbirth.
Yoga encourages us to be “in our bodies.” Meaning, that if we listen to our body, it will tell us when it’s time to slow down or adjust our lifestyle. I know that since I started practicing and teaching yoga, I naturally check in with my body when I get stressed. For example, when I’m driving in bad traffic, or lost on the highways, my shoulders start to scrunch up near my ears, and my breathing gets shallow. Sometimes I even clench my jaw and hold my breath(usually when I’m running late). After a while, I begin to notice how tense I feel and take action with a few deep, cleansing breaths. In no time my shoulders come, and I feel more relaxed. So it is in labor. As a laboring mom hits “transition,” this is when her cervix opens 8-10 centimeters, it becomes harder and harder to stay focused(due to the pain she’s experiencing from contractions). It is vital at this point for the laboring mom to “go back to her breath.” That is to say, she must focus on her breathing instead of focusing on her pain. The more ingrained breathing and relaxation techniques are, the easier it will be to get into a “meditative state” during labor.
So as you can imagine, yoga is beneficial whether you are pregnant or just living your life as best you can. I encourage you to slow down in your life and enjoy it. Have you taken a nice deep breath today?