SAFE AND EFFECTIVE BREATHING TECHNIQUES DURING PREGNANCY AND BIRTH

Pranayama is an essential part of yoga and there are probably as many pranayama techniques as there are different styles of yoga. What we have to remember in pregnancy is that not all breathing techniques are suitable for expectant mothers. Any pranayama that includes forced exhalation, or controlled retentions beyond the natural rhythm of the breath, are not suitable practices in pregnancy or the postnatal period. These techniques lock the pelvic diaphragm, making the pelvic floor muscles tense. This is counterproductive when it comes to childbirth. In labour, the mother needs to be able to relax the pelvic floor muscles, so that she could deliver the baby to this world by using a minimal amount of pushing and shoving.

Adopting the full and deep breath

Feeling the breath at the back of the lungs.

The most important advice regarding breathing is to “go with the flow”. Whatever the pranayama technique is being used, the most important thing she should feel is the easy flow of her breath. There should be no holding or gasping of the breath. A pregnant woman who has no previous experience on pranayama should start the practice from the basics. Good practices for a pranayama novice involve the simple observation of the natural rhythmic cycle of the breath, and becoming aware of how the breath flows in and out through the nostrils.

It is Important to familiarize yourself with your own breath, and learn to feel when the breath is full and when it is not, and the effects of full and not full breath on your body and mind. After becoming aware of the natural rhythmic cycle of the breath, its focus can be directed to the location within the body where it is felt. This helps to notice whether the breath is superficial or deep. In superficial breathing, the breath stays in the upper lungs and chest whereas deep breath is created by using the whole breathing capacity, expanding the entire rib cage. Only after reaching this state of awareness of the breath, can a person start deepening and lengthening the breath. In the first and second trimesters of pregnancies, the focus of the breath can be the use of diaphragm. Later in the pregnancy, the breath awareness should be directed into breathing at the back of the lungs, ribcage, and belly. It is also good to learn how to notice the small pauses after each inhalation, before the exhalation begins, and after each exhalation before the next inhalation starts again. It is Important that the breath is not being held during these small natural pauses, but just to make a mental note that the pauses exist. This makes the pranayama practice more profound, and takes the breather deeper into their own inner world. This way the breathing becomes very meditative and relaxing. In a hectic life it is very calming to notice the absolute silence that each of these pauses contain. It is mentally important to realise that even if the outerworld is sometimes loud and chaotic, you can just close your eyes, consciously breath, and find your own inner peace and silence.

The Golden Thread Breath

Golden thread breathing to gain a deep relaxation in Shavasana.

The Golden Thread breath is considered to be the most valuable pranayama tool for pregnant women, due to its focus on the exhalation to ease the body into deep rest. This is a way of practising the kind of breath women usually adopt in the first stage of labour. The Golden Thread breathing can be practiced either sitting or lying down. When practiced lying down, you are more likely to fall asleep. In this breathing technique, the inhalations travel through the nostrils and the exhalations through the very small gap between the lips. The gap should be so small that it is barely visible. As the gap between the lips is so small, it takes longer to fully exhale. Should the breather feel that her breath is becoming harsh and difficult, she can make the gap between the lips a little larger, so that the air may travel out faster. The long exhalation, the soft cool breeze of air on the lips, and the image of the golden thread exiting through the lips makes this breathing technique very calming and soothing. Every exhalation takes the mental attention farther and farther away, making it travel completely out of the body. Being able to deliver the mental attention away from the body helps deal with the strong first-stage contractions.

Ujjayi

Getting familiar with the Ujjayi breathing in a comfortable and supported seated position.

Maybe one of the most used and known pranayama practices is called the Ujjayi breathing. In this breathing technique, the breath flows through a narrowed glottis, making a soft and audible sound. Ujjayi effectively slows the breath by helping make the inhalations and exhalations longer. When practiced regularly, these lengthened inhalations and exhalations help reduce high blood pressure. Ujjayi also reduces feelings of anxiety and panic, making it an effective breathing technique also in labour. Ujjayi offers a fast ticket back to tranquillity when fear or anxiety set in during the birthing process. The long and deep Ujjayi breath is also very calming and relaxing not only for the expectant mother, but for the baby in the womb as well. The Ujjayi breath has a calming and quieting effect upon the movements of a restless baby inside the womb. Some women find this breathing technique so enjoyable, that they use it throughout their pregnancies and labours, whereas others find Ujjayi discomfortable. Listening to the audible sound of Ujjayi breathing helps stay more focused on the breath, because the mind has something more concrete on which to focus. The sound makes it more difficult to forget the breath, preventing the mind from wandering. Ujjayi can also be used to help with insomnia. A few rounds of soft and long Ujjayi are already calming and restorative.




THE BENEFITS OF DEEP BREATHING DURING PREGNANCY

Yesterday I saw an amazing video on Facebook showing the movement of the diaphragm when breathing. This little video clip demonstrates the range of motions breathing creates, it’s amazing!

“Birthlight yoga practices aim at preserving this wonderful activation of fascia and muscles around the growing baby all the way to full term and if this is achieved postnatal recovery is greatly improved.” – Francoise Freedman from Birthlight.

Breath is the tool that holds body and mind together and brings them to life. Without this magnificent tool we would not be able to live, and yet, we usually take breathing for granted. Breathing, of course, happens even if we don’t pay any attention to it, but after we become conscious of it, and start putting an effort on making it more profound, can we greatly improve the quality of our life.

Babies are experts in the use of the diaphragm, and are known to have a very profound diaphragmatic breathing. Unfortunately, already around the age of three, children lose diaphragmatic breathing, causing their breath to become shallower. This is thought to be caused by increased stress levels associated to starting daycare. In fact, stress is one of the biggest reasons why children and adults have short and shallow breath. When somebody is stressed, their breathing becomes faster, preventing the body from receiving all the oxygen it needs to function properly. When a woman is pregnant, the ability to control her breath becomes even more important, because she is actually breathing for two and is responsible of providing enough oxygen and nutrients for the baby.

Chest and heart center opener in supported supta baddha konasana


She will face many physical and emotional changes. One of biggest physiological changes relating to breathing, during pregnancy, is a blood volume increase, up to fifty percent. This means that there is proportionately less haemoglobin, and that the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is reduced causing breathlessness. Additionally, the heart rate increases so that the body can circulate the increased blood volume. When the expectant mother becomes fully aware of her breathing, she can reverse some of these negative physiological changes in her body. Knowing how to control her breath, she can gently lengthen and deepen it. This slows the heart rate. Even though the capacity to carry oxygen in the blood is reduced, the pregnant woman can still increase the amount of oxygen available to her by practising deep breathing. This increases the gaseous exchanges with the mother’s blood, making oxygen and important nutrients more available to the foetus, which then promotes good foetal growth.

Another big change that occurs later in the pregnancy is a limited movement of the diaphragm, caused by the growing belly. Through yoga, women can learn other ways of breathing and keeping their breath long and deep. One of the best ways to achieve that is to expand the movements of respiration into the sides of the ribcage, and the upper back. To do this, women need first to become conscious of their breathing, so that they may explore the different ways of having a full breath.

Many pregnant women suffer from constipation. This is partly caused by the growing uterus that creates pressure on the digestive organs. Deep breathing gives a nice massage to the digestive organs, helping them function better. Not only does this make the mothers digestion function better, but it also promotes foetal growth.

When women become pregnant, they usually face a wide range of feelings and emotions. They go through feelings from joy to sadness, and from trust to fear. They need to face many physical changes that can cause them discomfort, pain, and uncertainty regarding their pregnancy and the well-being of their baby. They experience hormonal changes which have a direct effect on their mood. It is important to understand that our emotions have a direct effect on our physical well-being. Many of our emotions are being stored in different parts of our body and, if we do not deal with the negative ones early enough, they start manifesting in our body. This is where conscious breathing becomes very important, because it helps us to tackle some of the emotions before they become too big and start causing physical problems as well.

Practicing the birthing breath and preparing the pelvic floor for birth.


Someone has once said:“When you own your breath nobody can steal your peace”. This person has managed to capture one of the most powerful effects of breath control in one phrase. When you breath consciously and deeply, you can reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and turn your senses inwards. Nowadays, stress is a big factor in decreasing the quality of life, and pregnant women are affected by this as well. When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is turned on, telling your body that your are in danger. This, for example, increases the heart rate, releases glucose from the liver, and disturbs the digestion. Stress can also lead to depression, hypertension, and insomnia. If you learn to control your breath, you can tackle the stress in its early state, and prevent many of its negative side effects. Deep breathing inhibits the sympathetic nervous system greatly, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system that promotes healing. Conscious deep breathing slows your heartbeat, lowers your blood pressure, makes your blood flow return to the digestive organs, and relaxes you.

Prenatal shavasana at NiLU Yoga Thalwil.

If you would like to learn how to breath properly during pregnancy and birth, experience the effects breathing has on the baby, and feel the amazing benefits of deep breathing in your own body then I warmly welcome you to my prenatal classes at the beautiful NiLU Yoga in Thalwil. Classes start on the 26th of February and run weekly every Tuesday evening at 18:30-19:45. Get in touch to reserve your spot!

I’m a certified Birthlight prenatal yoga teacher and my pregnancy yoga classes draw from the Birthlight practices, methods, knowledge, and deep understanding of the physiological and psychological challenges expectant mother’s go through during the pregnancy. I include dynamic meditation, guided relaxation, and careful alignment of the asanas that I have embodied during my alignment based yoga teacher training organized by the Purna Yoga College.

Stay tuned for my next post about different breathing methods during pregnancy, how to incorporate breathing in the physical practice of yoga, and what breathing exercises are best for deep relaxation and birth.

Pregnancy Yoga with a Beautiful Feeling

 

Sunny Sunday with a feeling of fall in the air. Kids were out with their dad and I got to enjoy few hours of precious yoga time in total peace and silence. It’s a rare luxury these days to have some hours just for me. But you know what, I appreciate these moments a lot more than I used to when I had more time to work and practice just by myself. I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more efficient nowadays. When you have only few hours in a day to do what you have to do, you become more creative and productive. When I have too much time on my hands, I tend to procrastinate a bit too much wasting time on useless things.

Today I used these two hours by combining work and yoga practice. I planned next week’s prenatal yoga class by doing the practice myself as well. For me, it’s important to feel in my own body all the asanas, meditation and breathing practices that I teach. Only in that way, I can truly transmit the effect the yoga practice has on the student’s body, mind and soul. This is one of the reasons I also do a prenatal yoga practice even though I’m not pregnant myself. Another reason is that since I was introduced to the prenatal yoga for the first time, I’ve simply loved the flowing, breath driven, and delicate Prenatal Yoga. Third reason is my favourite one: It’s the possibility to go back in time and reconnect with my pregnancies and with those little unborn souls. Going thru all the spectrums of feelings I experienced during those times is extremely healing and empowering. It’s like reading and rewriting the story about my journey into motherhood. A story that has changed me more than anything else, and the one that will continue changing and enriching me for the rest of my life.

vrksana with Elisabetta
Practicing Yoga together with my two year old daughter one month before her little brother was born ❤

Even though I don’t have a little baby growing inside me, I just need to use my imagination, and in a fraction of a second, I can recall those beautiful months when I was pregnant myself. It’s like reliving those times all over again. The meditation at the beginning of the practice and the relaxation and breathing exercise done at the end of the practice are emotionally the most powerful ones. During those moments, while sitting or lying with my eyes closed, I can connect with the memories of both my pregnancies and the miracles of birth.

pregnant 2012 ballerina
Me in 2012 at my friend’s bachelorette party. Pregnant with my daughter ❤

During a prenatal class, I ask my students to connect with the baby growing inside them, but in my personal practice, I ask myself to go back in time and really connect with the moments when:

  • The baby was kicking and punching so hard that it felt like he/she was going to break his/hers way out through the belly.
  • The baby was having so strong hiccups that my whole belly was dancing.
  • It felt like the baby was practicing somersaults in my womb.
  • I was sleeping together with a little soul resting together with me.
  • I was caressing my belly just to get a little signal from inside to know that my baby was ok.

gravidanza copy
Me in December 2014 pregnant with my son ❤ Modelling for Susanna Iovene Fotografia.

Often, whether I’m teaching prenatal, postnatal, or “normal” yoga class, I ask my students to connect with a beautiful feeling. That gives them a positive mindset for the practice. We all have different methods, memories, and preferences about what it is that gives us beautiful feelings. For me, the most beautiful feeling is the moment right after my babies have been born, and being able to hold them, skin on skin. Holding, hugging, smelling, caressing, and feeding that little and delicate beautiful soul that I have been given the privilege to take care of. It always brings tears to my eyes, tears of true happiness, joy, gratitude, and unconditional love. It opens my heart and flushes away any negative feeling or stress I might have had before that. Simple and small, but yet very affective way of shifting your mood. Focusing on the beautiful feeling is a powerful way of reminding yourself that no matter what the outer circumstances are, you can always find beauty from the inside. So, the next time you feel dark clouds swarming over you, close your eyes and dive deep into the archives of your memory, or use the power of your imagination, and allow beautiful feelings to blow the dark clouds away and give room to the inner beauty we all carry in our hearts.

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” – Audre Lord