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Yoga & Meditation

Pranayama During Pregnancy and Labor

One of the basic tools during pregnancy that has proven to be very useful is the practice of pranayama or yogic breathing practices. Pranayama is the art of breathing freely and efficiently.

Pranayama during pregnancy and labor

One of the basic tools during pregnancy that has proven to be very useful is the practice of pranayama or yogic breathing practices. Pranayama is the art of breathing freely and efficiently.

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is a breathing technique that allows practitioners to become aware of their breathing, which increases mindfulness and improves the overall quality of life. The practice of pranayama helps to saturate the blood with oxygen, which contributes to a calmer mind and relaxed body.

Breathing is the basis of yoga, so the best time to practice pranayama is at the beginning of your yoga practice or first thing in the morning in order to adjust the body to the right rhythms.

Prenatal Pranayama

What are the benefits of pranayama during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your baby depends on your body. When you breathe, your baby breathes. Providing a baby with a sufficient amount of oxygen contributes to its development in the womb, both cognitively and physically.

Pranayama has numerous benefits for pregnant women:

  • Increases breathing capacity Mindful breathing has many benefits for pregnant women before, during and after childbirth. Physically, pranayama increases breathing capacity, making the lungs work more efficiently. Shortness of breath is often observed during pregnancy (especially during the third trimester) due to the uterus volume increase, which leads to the restriction of the diaphragm movements. Full and deep breathing increases oxygen levels for gas exchange, which is necessary to nourish and cleanse the body's cells. Oxygen is necessary for the formation of new cells, the strengthening of the immune system, the production of energy and the detoxification of the blood.
  • Improves digestion The expansion of the diaphragm during deep breathing massages the digestive organs, improving the digestive process, which is fundamental to the growth of the fetus and the nutrients absorption by the expectant mother.
  • Calms the mind Deep breathing lowers the heart rate, signaling the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a more relaxed and calm state of mind. Pranayama practice allows expectant mothers to optimize their ability to focus and access their inner strength.
  • Improves relaxation and sleep Reducing stress and anxiety is extremely valuable for pregnant women. When the mind is calm, the body is able to relax and rest. Deep breathing can help manage exhaustion and restore energy levels that have decreased during the first trimester. This promotes restful sleep and increases vitality. Relaxation also has enormous benefits for the fetus: it prevents low birth weight, improves obstetric and developmental outcomes, and reduces postpartum complications.
  • Helps to establish a connection with the child Pranayama practice is a powerful way to bond with your baby in the womb. Babies recognize the relaxed breathing, rhythm and sound of their mother's breathing, which can be invaluable soon after birth as women and their babies get to know each other.
  • Becomes an important ally during childbirth The deep breathing technique is extremely helpful for dealing with fear of childbirth and pain during labor. Your body produces a lot of adrenaline when you're afraid, which can interfere with the production of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes labor. Deep breathing during labor can help you fight panic when you experience labor pain. By keeping your body relaxed, you can conserve your energy when needed.

Is it safe to practice pranayama for pregnant women?

One question that is often asked is, “Is pranayama safe during pregnancy?” Although pranayamas are safe during pregnancy, there are some limitations and contraindications: it is not recommended to take quick, strong inhales and hold your breath.

It is recommended to consult your doctor or gynecologist when practicing specific pranayama techniques. Each pregnancy is unique and the female body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy, so it is important to monitor the individual changes of each woman.

Additional tips for pranayama practice

Although pranayama is a completely safe practice, pregnant women should not practice it too often or for too long, listen to your body and rest when it’s needed.

I will give here two practices that proved to be the most useful for me during pregnancy and labor: full yogic breathing and the “up breathing” technique from the “hypnobirthing” method.

Full yogic breathing

Full Yogic Breathing is a deeply balancing pranayama (breathing exercise) sometimes called three-part breathing because it works with three different parts of the torso and naturally engages all three parts of the lungs. Full yogic breathing nourishes the whole body with life force. In particular, it is beneficial for vital organs that can become stagnant or squeezed, which can cause emotional and physical tension when we are stressed. Full yogic breathing relieves stress, refreshes the mind, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a calmer, more balanced state overall. It also helps correct an unhealthy breathing pattern. This pranayama can be practiced at any time, but it is especially useful if you start your yoga practice with it.

Preparation:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine.
  • To begin, place one palm on the belly and the other on the chest.
  • Inhale in your belly so that you feel the palm rise.
  • Then breathe only through the chest, the palm on the belly should remain motionless.
  • Next, master collarbones breathing. The palm on the chest moves quite a bit, breathing occurs “through the throat”, and the shoulders rise a little bit.

Full yogic breathing:

  • Close your eyes, and concentrate on breathing.
  • Start inhaling in your belly, then expand your chest, and lastly, take a small inhale with your collarbones.
  • Exhale in the reverse order: lower the shoulders and collarbones, empty the chest, and then the belly (no need to create unnecessary tension).
  • Repeat until you feel relaxation and a change in focus from outside to inside.
Up Breathing

Up Breathing (from the Hypnobirthing method)

HypnoBirthing is a method that includes relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques aimed for helping a woman cope with any fear and anxiety during natural childbirth. The idea is that when the body and mind are in a completely relaxed state, labor can happen more quickly and painlessly because the body is not fighting the natural process.

One of the main techniques of HypnoBirthing is “Up Breathing”

This breathing technique is useful not only during labor but also in everyday life. It will help you immediately feel calm and relaxed, no matter what situation you find yourself in. Let’s talk about what it is, how it works and why it is used during labor.

This technique helps to slow down the heart rate, relaxing the body. This is what we want during labor – to be relaxed. The more relaxed we are, the easier the birth will be.

Technique: You simply inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 8.

By lengthening your exhalation, you are telling your body and mind that you are calm and safe (even if you don’t feel it at the moment!). This tells your nervous system to stop producing adrenaline.

Your body produces adrenaline when you’re afraid, which can interfere with the production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes labor. Deep breathing during labor can help you fight panic when you experience surge pain. By keeping your body relaxed, you can conserve your energy when needed.

Avoid holding your breath after inhaling or exhaling, as it is common in yoga practice, the transition from inhale to exhale should be smooth and almost imperceptible.

Practicing these two pranayamas during pregnancy allows you to master these techniques on a subconscious level and when the contractions begin, you can use them effectively for relaxation and pain relief. They also allow you to conserve strength and recover faster after childbirth.

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