Yoga: The Perfect Support to Labor and Delivery
YOGA: THE PERFECT SUPPORT TO LABOR AND DELIVERY
September 8, 2017
Bry Baldrige Kring
Yoga is a practice that helps us to cultivate relationship with the language of sensation that is innate to the human body. If done in an intentional way, yoga is an intimate practice of inward awareness to the intricacies of the deep layers of the body. Through Yoga one can build deep relationship with the breath. Watching the breath, engaging in mindful and patterned breathing, and simply witnessing the movement of breath help the yogi to intimately yoke the mind, body, breath and essence.
Labor—easily the most physically demanding undertaking that the human body can endure—absolutely requires breath awareness, throughout the entire process. In addition to intentional breath work, labor requires patience, and really, quite a bit of strength. The process of bringing a life into this world means accessing a place of strength within the body that touches into a most deep, primal state of power reserved only for this one, powerful experience. There is no other strength like that of labor.
Yoga begins the conversation between all parts of the human body and sensory system (body and mind; body and essence; mind and essence). If we look at the two together, yoga and labor, we can see the authentic support that yoga lends to labor, in the deepest roots of the practice.
As I took a walk with Amy Harris—a beautiful mother to a 15-month-old, an incredible yoga teacher, and an embodied, honest, authentic woman—she shared with me some of her thoughts on labor, from a yogi’s perspective (paraphrased),
“I wish someone had told me what labor was really going to be like. We don’t talk about it enough, or in an open enough way. We don’t talk about the genuine aspects of labor and delivery and what is required of the body. I wish someone had put it in yoga-terms. When I think about what a contraction really felt like, now that I’ve gone through it, I would describe it as a similar tension and muscular usage as holding a extended side angle for a really really long time. If someone had put it like that as I was preparing for labor, I would have had a better idea of what to expect. Because, as a yogi, the sensation in extended side angle is something that I can relate to. But we don’t talk about labor in honest and relatable terms for women to be able to really understand. Perhaps why we don’t talk about labor and delivery genuinely and truthfully is because as a culture we simply do not have the language for it. But yoga is something that helps to aid us in building relationship with sensations of the body; yoga gives us language to be able to understand and talk about even the most intense sensations that we feel, in a more eloquent and relatable way.
Yoga teaches a practice of patterned, conscious breathing. According the American Pregnancy Association, cultivating a practice of patterned breathing helps the mother to “manage pain throughout the entire labor, keep from pushing too early, remain relaxed during the entire labor process, provides a sense of control and well-being, sustain energy levels (for mom and baby) by maintaining healthy oxygen levels, and makes contractions more productive” (2015)*.
Yoga, as a practice of breath, strength, and awareness, greatly compliments labor. Just as yoga teaches the yogi empowered presence through awareness, groundedness, and authentic expression, labor requires these aspects completely of the woman. Labor and birth have the opportunity to be one of the most empowering experiences a woman can go through. However, to be so requires action on the mother’s part: to do her work beforehand, challenge her body and mind in breath presence and awareness, to talk about it all, even the parts that are scary. Diving into labor in a way that is embodied, strong, and courageous enough to be in the present moment, even through discomfort, provides the mother a chance to tap into the deepest reserves of her divine power and feel totally empowered. Because the two are breath practices, using yoga as a tool for labor makes so much sense. Yoga and labor are both threaded upon the same foundation: breath and strength.
Advice for pregnant mothers:
Use yoga as a beautiful complementary tool that can prepare you, physically, mentally, and spiritually for the process of labor and delivery. To physically prepare the body, it is important to work on strengthening the body, especially the legs (Amy would suggest 100 squats a day!)** And also, use yoga for its deeper, meditative benefits of body awareness and language for the sensory system. Cultivate a deeper, internal yoga practice. Build relationship with patterned/mindful breath and how it journeys you through exploring sensation, not shying away from it. Get on your mat, even if you just lie on your left side and breath, that is ok, just get on your mat. Journey inward with mindful breath, and explore the incredible sensations of your beautiful body that is creating life.
* Information taken from http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/patterned-breathing/
**Please email Bry.Kring@yogapod.com for a document that highlights yoga “do’s and don’t’s” and general tips for prenatal yoga if you have any questions about staying safe in your yoga practice while pregnant.