Have you ever tuned in to a daytime soap opera just at the dramatic moment of one of the characters in childbirth? Teeth clenched, neck veins bulging, face contorted and, oh, that high-pitched scream. I tell my prenatal yoga students: Good for ratings, bad for babies; we are here to learn the opposite of that.
So let’s redirect our soap opera actress. First lesson: Ease in the body creates ease in the mind. Most new moms have a fear of the unknown — “Will I be able to handle the contractions? What will they feel like? How will I know what to do?”
Trust body wisdom. Yoga teaches you to tune in and respond to your body’s needs. This is especially meaningful in pregnancy, when one body is doing the work for two. The practice of prenatal yoga cultivates courage and poise, giving birthing moms techniques to stay in the present moment, centered and calm. This means that whatever occurs, the mom will be able to make choices from a place of confidence and strength.
I have a photograph of an ancient statue of the goddess Kali giving birth to the universe. I point out to my students that she has one eye open and one eye closed. Through our practice, we are preparing ourselves, like Kali, to be equally aware of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves at the same time.
Lesson two: Ease in the breath creates ease in the body. There is an energetic connection between the throat and the birth canal (a cranial-sacral connection). In prenatal yoga, we practice vocal toning. Releasing long, low tones with a soft, open throat. We tone all our vowels, and yes, even sometimes “Y.” It’s amazing how well those low vibrations create space inside the body. Perhaps not so amazing, though, when you realize that our bodies are 70 percent fluid, and during pregnancy blood circulates faster, expanding in volume 40-60 percent. Essentially, our bodies are vibrating crystals, and in prenatal yoga one of our goals is to create more space inside the body in every way we can.
I interviewed some of my prenatal students and asked them what benefits they have received from their practice.
“All I know is that Thursday night was the only night of the week I ever got a good night’s sleep,” was one response I heard. I also heard a lot about “me time,” especially from moms who already had other children at home. They also said words such as “sanctuary” and “relaxation,” describing my studio as a place that was uniquely free from distractions, a place where they could learn to easily focus and let go.
It has been said that giving birth is nothing more than a profound letting go. The practice helps my students to step out of the way, letting their innate body wisdom guide them to identify and ask for what they need. Attentive to the present moment, they strengthen body and spirit while deepening the bond with their baby. All these tools help them to cope with the new and intense experiences that pregnancy brings.
Sandy Cyrus received her certification in prenatal yoga in 2004 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. She teaches prenatal classes at her Orono studio and can be reached at email@example.com or by visiting MaineKripaluYoga.com.