Breath During Pregnancy. Yoga Breathing
During pregnancy your emotions can swing from one extreme to another. The breath reflects your mental state, but it can also anchor and support you. Yoga increases awareness and control of breathing, so if you notice that your breath has become shallow because you are stressed, you can use it to bring yourself back into balance. The breath is something you can’t leave behind, even if you forget your hospital bag. And if labor starts before you’ve had time to pack, you will still have your main tool with you – so use it!
- With each breath l send energy to my baby and the whole of my system.
- I breathe deeply to create more space in my body for my baby.
- My breath influences my state of mind.
- I alone am responsible for how l breathe.
- Breathing deeply, l let go of tension with each exhalation.
The Power of the Breath
Breath is fundamental to life: the first thing we take when we enter this world and the last thing we take when we leave. Developing an easy, flowing breath is the cornerstone of any yoga practice, but during pregnancy it assumes a special significance. Breathing correctly is a wonderful tool that will empower and energize you – by tuning in to the rhythm of the taking in and the letting go of the breath, you can consciously nurture yourself and your baby.
Gently deepening and slowing the breath and keeping it moving calmly through your body will act as a needle, stitching movement to movement, enriching you and your baby’s life-support systems and connecting your physical being with your emotional and spiritual self. Breathing well, and feeling the mind and body responding, can remind us that we are responsible for the way in which we take care of ourselves, but also that we have to let go and trust nature to do the rest.
Learning the simple technique of allowing your breath to flow freely can assist both you and your baby on a number of levels throughout pregnancy as well as during labour and birth. Breathing in a calm, fluid, steady way helps you to move through life in a similar fashion, whereas restricted breath can lead to feelings of being stuck and unable to move forward. The state of your breathing has an impact on and is reflected in every area of life – from your level of confidence and the way you hold yourself to how you relate to others and manage everyday matters.
With yoga we can learn to breathe more deeply, naturally and without effort, and so encourage the vital capacity of the lungs. The quality of our inhalation affects our openness to receive love and joy, to feel fulfilled and to be as comfortable with receiving as with giving. The quality of our exhalation helps us to let go of emotional and physical tensions. We learn to use our breath to tune in to ourselves at a profound level and to find an infinite source of inner support that we can draw on throughout pregnancy and when giving birth.
Inhalation and exhalation can affect your physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual states, as well as your baby’s well-being. At its very basic level, breathing sustains the essential biological functions of you and your baby. With an awareness of your breathing you can also directly influence your state of mind and reduce stress throughout pregnancy and while giving birth. The breath can become a tool for you to draw on in any situation to regain a feeling of equilibrium and nurture yourself and your developing child.
In our frantic modern lives we are bombarded with external stimuli saturating the senses. Coming back to the simplicity of the breath helps to calm the mind and allows you to find your own natural rhythm. During pregnancy and birth your senses and emotions are naturally heightened, allowing you to tune in to the inner world of your mind and body more easily. This gift of awareness is also helpful during labour as you become fully attuned to your contractions and your breath in order to facilitate your baby’s birth. The shift in focus from the frantic concerns of the world to something that is so simple and basic is a relaxing meditation at your disposal whenever you need it.
Birth Story …
“We got to the birth centre just in time. I gave birth very soon afterwards in the birthing pool using gas and air, breathing, and the visualization techniques that I had practised in yoga. I won’t deny that there were difficult periods during the stronger contractions in the second stage of labour, but by using all of the above to try to keep relaxed and let the body do what it is meant to do, everything became surprisingly manageable. I also remembered to recite one of my favourite birth affirmations: ‘With every contraction my baby is coming closer to me.’ That really helped to put everything into perspective at the time.” Kate
Many of us take shallow breaths and rarely expand our lungs to their full capacity; we may even hold our breath when we encounter difficult situations. In this exercise you learn to slow down the breath and breathe deep into the abdomen, helping to reduce the secretion of stress hormones and soothe your baby. Inhaling massages your internal organs as well as your baby; exhaling expels toxins and waste from your system, revitalizing and renewing every cell, and providing energy.
- 1. Sitting with your legs crossed, rest your hands on your abdomen and close your eyes. Every time you breathe in feel your baby moving up toward your hands and notice whether your breath is shallow in your chest or deep in your abdomen. Deepen and lengthen your breath, and release your shoulders away from your ears. PAUSE. Breathing into the abdomen throughout the practice helps to send more oxygen to the baby and makes you feel more centered. Tune in to how you are feeling and notice any stuck or tight areas. Slow down your breathing, direct your breath to those areas of discomfort and notice how your mind and breath can work together to release tension. Sit tall, anchoring down through the hips, lifting up through the spine to create space for your baby. Make sure you aren’t holding any tension in your face; keep your eyes soft by relaxing the muscles around your eyes.
- 2. Place your hands on your ribcage and as you inhale feel your ribcage expand laterally as your fingertips move farther away from each other.
- 3. As you exhale, feel your fingers move back toward each other. PAUSE. Inhale, expand; exhale, soften. Listen to the sound of your breath as it moves in and out of your body and feel the movement of the breath creating space in your ribcage.
- 4. Now bring your fingertips up to rest just beneath your collar bones and breathe into this area, sending the breath into your chest. Make sure your shoulders stay down away from your ears. Send the breath all the way to the top of your lungs as you inhale, and imagine emptying them as you exhale. PAUSE. On the next inhalation imagine the breath moving into the back of your lungs.
- 5. On your last exhalation bring your hands back down to rest on your baby and see whether your breathing feels a little deeper. PAUSE. Notice how you feel now. Do you feel more connected to your baby? Do you feel calmer? Is there a sense of stillness within? You may not feel any different, but just notice without judging yourself. Gently massage around your abdomen in a clockwise direction, imagining a golden circle of light around your baby. Now rest one hand on the heart center and the other on your navel below the belly button and feel the breath moving in your body. PAUSE. With each breath imagine sending positive energy to your baby. Feel a connection from your heart to your baby’s heart, sending love to your baby.
- 6. Now slowly open your eyes again, keeping your gaze soft and your face relaxed.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing helps to balance masculine and feminine energy and calms, relaxes and refreshes all aspects of your mind and body. It can also help with insomnia. Avoid if you have severe nasal congestion.
- 1. Sit cross-legged. With eyes closed, take a deep breath in.
- 2. Close your right nostril with your right thumb, keeping your left nostril open. Inhale through the left nostril, then close it with the ring finger, release the thumb and exhale through the right nostril.
- 3. Inhale through the right nostril, then close it with the thumb, release the ring finger and exhale through the left nostril. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 for 1–2 minutes.
- 4. Keep the breath slow and relaxed, with in-breaths and out-breaths of similar length. Finish by exhaling through the left nostril to activate the feminine, lunar, calming and cooling energy.
PREGNANCY Health YOGA by Tara Lee and Mary Attwood