During pregnancy, breath is the life force that carries essential oxygen to the mother as well as the baby growing inside. It also provides the key to relaxation, which many birth professionals know is essential to reducing pain and speeding up labor. In this article, Jacci Reynolds provides mothers and their care givers with two breath practices that release tension, create space and reconnect awareness, all of which are helpful for a pleasant and fulfilling birth experience.
Breathing is the key to how alive we feel on a day to day basis. The breath we breathe not only contains oxygen but the universal life force energy – also known as prana, chi or qi. Yet most of us only use a small portion of our lung capacity.
During pregnancy, a mother’s breath moves through her body to supply oxygen to all of her cells as well as those of her baby. At this time a woman’s lungs become restricted by the force of the growing fetus, thus causing challenges in everyday breathing. Shortness of breath is a common symptom during pregnancy, although mom needs to take in more oxygen during pregnancy than during her non-pregnant state.
Learning the mechanisms of breathing and deliberately modifying the rhythm of the breath can have a great impact on the quality of a woman’s pregnancy and birth. Focusing on the breath can help a pregnant mom increase her oxygen intake (which will ensure an adequate supply of oxygen for her baby), calm her nerves, reduce pain and help her find overall greater relaxation. The following breathing techniques can be done in any position.
Full Yogic Breathing (Dirgha Pranayama)
This breath practice calms the mind, releases tension in the upper chest and abdomen, creates space for mother’s internal organs and opens a doorway to inner gazing.
Sit tall and relax your abdomen.
Place your palms on your belly and breathe into your baby’s home, feel your baby’s home expand into your palms. Repeat several times.
Shift your palms to the sides of your rib cage and notice the sideways expansion of the ribs as they fill the lungs. Repeat several times. Allow the breath to create space for your growing baby and your organs.
Place your fingertips on the front of your chest just below your collarbones. Breathe into the upper part of your chest and feel your hands lifting as the breath moves towards the throat. Repeat several times.
Combine all three in-breaths to make a Dirgha Pranayama inhalation.
Exhale completely, and gently pull your navel towards your baby as if you were giving them a hug.
Repeat this cycle several times, moving your hands to the different parts of your body. Focus on filling and emptying your lungs completely.
Rest your hands in your lap and continue this breathing pattern for several minutes.
Golden Thread Breath
This technique encourages relaxed awareness and acceptance of all that is happening, and focuses on the exhalation. It is useful for labor and birth and can be done in any position.
Sit erect, relax your baby’s home and watch the flow of your breath.
Slowly deepen the breath to the level of Dirgha Pranayama and repeat it several times.
Release the throat and jaw.
Create a small space between the top and bottom teeth and lips, just enough space that would allow a thin piece of paper between them. Try not to purse the lips, let them be relaxed.
Breathe in through the nose.
Breathe out through the mouth.
Allow the out-breath to be thin like a golden thread.
Allow the exhalation to lengthen each time (since the space between the lips is smaller than the nostrils the breath will naturally lengthen)
With each out breath, allow the mind to release and the body soften.
These breath techniques are useful tools during pregnancy, throughout labor and birth, as well as during post-partum. Try practicing either or both techniques for 5-15 minutes a day or when you find yourself short of breath or tense.
Jacci Gruninger Reynolds, MS, ERYT, RPYT, YT is striving to use yoga and all its tenets on and off the mat to be fully awake and alive by seeing the extraordinary in every day. Jacci is a Senior Pranakriya and Kripalu yoga instructor and leads a variety of yoga teacher trainings around the country including: 200 Hour Pranakriya Teacher Training, Prenatal Teacher Training and Restorative Yoga Teacher Training. She attributes the start of her yogic path to her Masters in Health Science program at The George Washington University. Here she was able to devise a program that emphasized wholeness. After graduation, she went on to create and manage wellness programs for The George Washington University and Arlington County Government. Her work introduced her to the practice of yoga and she hasn’t looked back. She continues her studies with her teacher Yoganand Michael Carroll. She completed her Yoga Therapist Certification and also practices Thai Yoga Therapy. Both modalities give her an opportunity to work one-on-one with clients during their healing. Jacci hopes to help students see the reflection of their own possibility by guiding them in compassion, permission, acceptance and patience. Jacci lives with her son in Santa Fe, NM.