Breathing and yoga for labor - my top five..
Updated: May 23
Preparing for labor can be quite a task. With all the guidance we receive from friends, family, midwives, our yoga teachers or with what we learn in birth preparation courses, it may become a bit overwhelming.
Below list is absolutely not a complete one. It did work however for many women I had a chance to work with, so perhaps worth giving it a try..
1. Long exhalation
Why we love it?
In Birthlight yoga deep breathing is called a natural pain killer. During deep breathing, endorphins are released into the bloodstream, helping us to cope with pain but also to reduce fear and anxiety. We use our breath to increase the natural production of endorphins..
In HypnoBirthing breathing technique focusing on long exhalation is called calm breathing. The effect is what the name of the breathing suggests, you calm yourself down. It will help you during labor, but also during pregnancy when you cannot fall asleep at night, or after labor when you have your little baby with you and get anxious for whatever of the 1000 reasons that you will find out you can get anxious about ;)
Start with setting up yourself in a comfortable position for relaxation. It can be either lying on a side with a pillow under your head and one leg resting on another pillow or on a bolster (see pictures above), or in a Supported Reclined bound angle pose (check this article for guidance, #6 on the list)
You can either practice it with counting: inhale to 4, exhale to 8 (if it's 6 it's also ok, preferable over holding your breath to the count of 8).
Or you use visualization instead: focusing on extended exhalation (without counting), you visualize a golden thread unrolling in front of you, like a ribbon or you think of blowing ten candles at once.. Whatever works best..
Until in labor, find a moment in a day when you can practice the long exhalation, e.g. before you go sleep, at the start of savasana after yoga practice, or before practicing deep relaxation
2. Pelvis movements
Why we love it?
Those movements help us tremendously with surges (contractions). In combination with your breath, you are likely to experience surges more as waves, rather than your belly contracting. It will help you to flow with the natural movement of your body, rather than fight it..
There is so many variations (standing up right or against the wall, leaning against the ball / table / bed, sitting on the ball, all fours..) that it allows us for changing the position without getting out of that amniotic state which we want to be in during birthing
Variations when you lean against a wall / ball / bed / table / anything, are additionally beneficial for us in labor – they help with optimal positioning of your baby for birth.
Technique – check this article for details, #1 on the list. Some pictures for inspiration also below..
3. 'Variation' on Ujjayi breathing
Why variation? When we use ujjayi during our ashtanga or vinyasa practice we tend to engage also our pelvic floor and belly muscles. That is not what we are after for labor ;) However, once we learn how to keep our body relaxed, using ujjayi breath at the same time - it has great relieving impact on us during labor..
Why we love it?
One of the elements in Ujjayi breathing technique is that you place the tip of your tongue at the place where your front teeth and palate meet. This naturally keeps your jaw relaxed and free of tension, which is exactly what you want. The connection between our jaw and our vagina may not be known to all, yet it is very strong, and we find out how strong during labor...
Ujjayi breath is also known as loud breath, due to the sound that you are creating with your throat. That sound may be very calming, and relaxing during labor, helping you to stay more inward - what we want for our labor..
Using Ujjayi breath without engaging your pelvic floor muscles or your belly muscles is very similar to birth breathing taught in HypnoBirthing. Birth breathing during the final phase of birthing has multiple benefits for the mother and her baby. Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing, shares the benefits of birth breathing over staff-directed pushing in her teachings, among which we have preventing a tear. Definitely worth a try!
Start with a comfortable sitting position (see guidance in this article, #1 on the list)
Your eyes may remain closed, else keep soft gaze
Place the tip of your tongue at the place where your front teeth and palate meet
Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. It may create a soft sound while breathing
Do not engage your pelvic floor muscles, or your belly muscles - stay fully relaxed
Breath through your nose in and out
Tips for getting the sound of ujjayi breath:
With your mouth open, try exhaling the sound “HAAAAH”—it’s similar to the sound you make when you’re trying to fog up a mirror. Get comfortable with this sound to get the hang of the practice.
Close your mouth and attempt a similar sound, feeling the outflow of air through your nose. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the in-flow breath, gently constricting the back of your throat as you inhale.
The video below is a demonstration for parents to experience the difference between forced pushing and mother directed breathing.
4. Polar bear pose
Why we love it?
It gives you some time to get rest. Labor may be quite an intense experience at times. Finding a comfortable position when you also relieve pressure from the pelvis allows you gather some energy.
It gives baby some space to rearrange himself in the birth path when it’s needed..
From all fours: align your hips above your knees, rest your elbows on the mat (add blanket under for additional comfort).
Then rest your head on your elbows – add a pillow if that helps you relax more
Use deep exhalation for bringing additional feeling of calmness
5. Camel walk
Why we love it?
Release! It helps you release your lower back which may experience quite some pressure during labor
Similar as pelvis movements, it helps with dealing with surges, flowing with them rather than fighting them
It helps your baby to position himself well for birthing
When adding some asymmetry to the movement (one leg placed e.g. on a couch or a block), it can help your baby find the way towards the birth path when needed
Technique – check this article for details, #3 on the list. Also a video with guidance below.