by Denise Davis-Gains
Many years ago, during my first pregnancy, I remember being a little arrogant and
wondering what I would learn in a prenatal class at the hospital. This was before I
became a yoga teacher. During that first session the instructor talked about breathing
and exercise, she talked about a lot of things, but breathing seemed to me to be the most
unusual thing to discuss in a prenatal class. Wouldn’t I just breathe normally? Why
would I need to breath in any special way to get through labor and delivery? She talked
about different breathing techniques and I felt rather silly blowing air out of my pursed
lips and preceded to file this class under “LATER” OR “WHATEVER” as my 13 year
old daughter would now say.
That first labor was 24 hours long with 5 hours of pushing and eventually forceps
intervention to help get my very large child out of my apparently somewhat narrow
pelvis. I held my breath and did not have a coach to remind me to breathe and I am sure
now that this slowed down the process much more than was necessary. While I managed
to deliver vaginally, it was an experience that could have been eased by some gentle
coaching with breath and sound.
In the year after the birth of my first child I decided to become a yoga teacher and took
him with me to nurse as I worked through basic yoga teacher training. I learned about
holding the breath and how as I held my breath pain would increase and how when I
released the breath, I could release pain in my body.
Practicing simple breath awareness during pregnancy can help during the labor and
delivery process at the end of the pregnancy and it can also help to make sure that
mom and baby are getting optimal amounts of oxygen during the gestation period.
Remembering that there is a miracle happening in the body. Through the coming
together of a few cells a child is forming. To maximize the growth potential of that child
we want to get as much oxygen as possible as that is one of the foundational building
blocks of a human being.
The Importance Of Breathing And Pregnancy
During my second pregnancy, the midwife nurse exclaimed repeatedly that, “we should
be making a video of your breathing techniques.” I discovered how using breath
awareness alone could help with labor and delivery. It was amazing how just letting
the breath out during the contractions could allow the contraction and gravity to do its
job. I noticed if I held my breath that the contraction was not as productive. Experiment
with this concept by pinching your hand hard and firm, hold the breath, and notice what
happens. Do the same thing and let the breath out long and slow. Notice the difference.
Try it again and let out a long, deep guttural “ahhhh” sound and see how it feels. This is
the foundation of basic benefits of breath awareness and pregnancy.
Benefits of Breath work – Pranayama and Pregnancy
• Decrease in resting heart rate
• Decrease in blood pressure
• Decrease in respiratory rate
• Increased efficiency of cardiovascular & respiratory functions
• Normalized gastrointestinal & hormonal functions
• Increase in endurance and energy level
• Breathing exercises improve sleep and normalize weight
• Increased bodily awareness
• Improved mood and well-being
• Improved sense of self-acceptance
• Increased self-actualization
• Can reduce anxiety, depression and feelings of anger and hostility
• Increased attention span, concentration, memory and learning
The biochemical profile improves, indicating an anti-stress and antioxidant effect. Some changes include a decrease in blood glucose, triglyceride, cholesterol, and stress-
hormones. These are some of the basic benefits of practicing yoga breathing during and after pregnancy.
Some exercises that might help to achieve these benefits include the complete yoga breath, watching the gap and alternate nostril breathing.
The complete yoga breath:
• Sit quietly
• Become aware of the natural rhythm of your breath
• Imagine inhaling from the bottom up, like filling up a pitcher of water.
• Inhale into the belly
• Feel the chest expand
• Fill up right up to the collar, the back of the throat and the nose
• Exhale from the top down
• Collar, chest, abdomen
• Allow the attention to follow the breath all the way in and all the way out.
• Notice if the attention wanders and without judgment or criticism bring the attention back to the breath when you are ready.
• Start with about 1-3 minutes and practice longer as your ability to pay attention increases to about 10-12 minutes
Watching the Gap:
• Repeat this same process as above
• When you have established a regular complete breath rhythm bring the attention to the space between the exhalation and the next arising inhalation
• Notice where the attention goes in that space
• Allow the gap to become wider & deeper without restraining the breath in any way
• Stay with this exercise for 1-3 minutes and build up to 10-12 minutes
We breathe predominantly through one nostril for 60-90 minutes and then the sinus
rhythm changes and we breath from the other nostril for 60-90 minutes, alternating
throughout the day. Take a minute and notice which nostril is dominant right now.
Many things can interfere with the sinus rhythm; allergies; environmental factors; colds;
viruses; pregnancy, and other conditions. One way to re-establish a regular rhythm is to
practice alternate nostril breathing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing:
• Start with the complete breath as above, establish a comfortable rhythm, about 1-2 minutes
• Prepare the right hand by folding the first two fingers into the palm of the hand
• Use the right thumb to open and close the right nostril (just gently lay it on the nose to close the nostril, no pressure necessary)
• Use the right ring finger to open and close the left nostril
• Inhale completely through both nostrils
• Exhale completely through both nostrils
• Close the right nostril
• Inhale through the left (short quick powerful inhalations)
• Close the left
• Exhale through the right (long slow drawn out exhalations)
• Inhale through the right
• Close the right and
• Exhale through the left
• Repeat for 3-10 minutes
It is a good idea to check with your primary health care provider before beginning any
new exercises or practices during pregnancy. It is a good idea to work with a teacher to
ensure that you are getting maximum benefit from these ancient practices.
Focusing on the act of breathing clears the mind of all daily distractions and clears our
energy enabling us to better connect with the Spirit within. ~Author Unknown
Denise Davis-Gains, a yoga teacher since 1993 and trainer of teachers since 1997, lives
and works in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada with her three children. Denise has had the
privilege to assist in the birth story of many of her students. She trains yoga teachers
in the yoga of fertility & bringing children into to the world consciously. You can find
out more about her at www.atlasstudio.com and she can be contacted at 519.240.9642 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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