Pranayama for Prenatal Yoginis

 

How to Breathe Your Way Through Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond


Whether you are an experienced yogini or are new to yoga, you almost certainly know that breath is central to a yoga practice. And, whether this is your first pregnancy or you are a veteran to all of the changes that pregnancy can bring, you know that breath will become a crucial part of your birth preparations! Maybe you have already begun some birth prep classes with your partner, and have started learning some of the many different breath techniques that are taught to expecting moms. 

In this time of incredible rapid change in your body and mind, the breath can serve as a powerful anchor to yourself: a sense of familiarity, comfort, and steadiness amidst a sea of change. From a yogic standpoint, breath work is a way to harness your inner power and strength and channel it towards a specific objective, and that objective will soon be to bring a baby into this world! Pregnancy is a prime time to enrich your relationship with yourself and cultivate a pranayama (breath work) practice. Yes, you may experience some aches and pains. Yes, you may gain a little weight. Yes, you may feel off-balance physically and emotionally, so what better time is there than now to deepen your self-care practice? 

Below, you will find an guide to two pranayama techniques which are effective during pregnancy, during labor, and after you give birth. These techniques are safe for beginner and advanced level practitioners alike, and can be practiced whenever you want to soothe your nerves, slow your breath, and calm your body- there is really no such thing as doing them too often. In fact, I would advocate dedicating as much time as you can to these breath practices, as they can also be effective meditation tools to help you connect to your baby. Babies can absolutely feel energy, and when you are calm and happy, they are calm and happy. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

1. Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana)

Traditionally, alternate nostril breath is used to clear the mind, reduce stress, and promote a sense of balance in the body/mind. For prenatal yoginis, it can help to ease the pangs of sadness and anxiety that can be a part of being an expectant mother, and it can also soothe tension headaches. 

To practice:

Bring yourself into a comfortable seated position either atop a stack of blankets or cushions, or on a chair. You will be seated for a while, so situate yourself so that you can remain relaxed and not fidget. Close your eyes, and begin to focus on your breath. Watch the breath with your mind's eye, as though you could see it traveling through your body. You do not have to try and manipulate the breath or even make it deeper, but simply observe it. This is an important part of the technique, especially when you are in labor. 

Feel your spine lengthening by envisioning the crown of your head reaching skyward. Next, flip your left palm upwards atop your left knee, and connect your thumb and your first finger (pointer finger) so that they form a loop. This is called Gian Mudra. Then, place the first and second fingers of your right hand (pointer and middle fingers) onto your forehead or third eye point. Then, hover your third finger (ring finger) above your left nostril, and your thumb above your right nostril, but do not touch your nose quite yet. 

Take an exhalation. Then, place your thumb down on your right nostril, and take a long inhale through your left nostril. Cover both nostrils, then lift your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. Then, inhale through your right nostril (your ring finger is still covering your left nostril). Cover both nostrils, then keeping your thumb down, lift your ring finger and exhale through your left nostril. Next, inhale through your left nostril, and repeat this pattern. 

Continue for at least three minutes, or as long as you wish. 

Note: In non-prenatal yoga, we would hold the breath for a few seconds while covering both nostrils, but in prenatal yoga it is important that you do not hold the breath. Simply move seamlessly from one side to the other with the covering of both nostrils simply serving as a transition in between sides, not as a moment to contain the breath. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

2. Yogic Breath (Three Part Breath)

This technique serves to calm the nerves and sustain your energy level throughout the day. This technique also increases the amount of oxygen that your body takes in, and therefore it increases the amount of oxygen that your baby receives! Practicing yogic breath over time will increase your lung capacity, which is helpful during this time when you may feel constantly short of breath. 

To practice: 

As with Nadi Shodana, begin by finding a comfortable seat either on blankets/cushions, or on a chair. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your baby. First, take an exhalation to clear your lungs, and then INHALE into

1) The bottommost part of your abdomen, then

2) Into your middle ribs, then

3) Into your chest. 

Then, EXHALE from

1) The bottommost part of your abdomen, then

2) Into your middle ribs, then

3) Into your chest. 

Essentially, you are filling up with breath in three parts from the bottom to the top, like tea being poured into a cup, then releasing the breath from the bottom to the top. Continue this way, looking to find a sense of expansion in your body when you breathe in, and release when you breathe out. By separating the inhales and exhales into three parts, you are discovering the limits of your breath capacity, and expanding them. 

Continue for at least three minutes, or as long as you wish. 

Above all, use the breath as a tool to open your body and your awareness so that you experience this incredible time in the fullest possible way.

Namaste!