During pregnancy yoga, we do several exercises to stretch the sides of your body to give more space for your lungs. We also practise using the breath to help focus the mind and body in labour. This regulates our breathing rate and ensure we are getting enough oxygen to your lungs and to your baby. Focusing on the breath helps to calm the mind and helps with labour. It will also help when it comes to crowning so that you can minimise tearing of the perineum or vaginal tract.
Using your breath to focus your mind and body in labour
Generally, the breathing techniques that I teach places emphasis on your exhale. I do this by getting you to visualise a white feather floating in front of your face or a golden thread coming out of your slightly-parted lips. The aim is to blow away the white feather or gold thread further and further away from you during a contraction/surge/wave.
The Sphincter theory
Perhaps you have heard of Ina May Gaskin and her sphincter theory. She explains how the more the jaw is relaxed the more the cervix can dilate. Therefore, by keeping your focus on your exhale and making it longer than your inhale you can help to speed up your labour progress.
Whistling or an audible breath helps to focus the mind in labour
This reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my friends. She commented on how her labour was helped by whistling throughout her contractions. I thought that was fascinating at the time and did some research. I found that some hypnobirthing techniques encourage women to make a noise during the exhale which could be a “sshhh” noise or a deep exhale. Indeed, my friend used a whistling technique. I think that having this added sound can help you to focus your mind on something other than the intensity of the labour sensations. Making a noise during the exhale can also work to lengthen it and relax the muscles in the face and jaw.
Ujjayi breathing or Ocean breath
If you are a practiced yogi you may find it useful to use your Ujjayi breathing. This is another way to create sound during the exhale. This breathing technique is sometimes called “the ocean breath”. It works by slightly narrowing the back of the throat which constricts the passage of air.
It’s important never to hold your breath during labour (or in pregnancy) as your body and your baby needs oxygenated blood.
Another breathing technique to lengthen the out breath is by counting. Inhale to the count of 3 and exhale to the count of 3 initially, but then gradually lengthen the exhale to the count of 5. You can count in your head or get your birth partner to help you count out loud. Alternatively, instead of counting perhaps focus on the sensation of cold air coming in through the nostrils and warm air leaving your nose and mouth.
See my video on a relaxing breathing exercise to calm the mind and body: Video depicting the 3 part calming breath.
Come join my classes and Yoga for Labour and Birth workshop to learn how to use your breath to focus your mind and body in labour.