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Yoga Breathing Techniques for Birth

Pregnancy brings a lot of joy and a lot of worry. Though the majority of the preparation for your little one to arrive is filled with excitement, the anticipation of labor is often associated with nervousness and fear. As a prenatal yoga instructor, I have seen many women use the techniques of yoga to make their birth experience one of empowerment instead of apprehension.

Pranayama—the formal practice of controlling the breath in yoga—is something that every mom-to-be (yogi or not) can use to prepare for and use during labor. It is important to be mindful of your breath throughout the phases of labor and when contractions intensify. Knowing how to adjust your breathing will guide you to a peaceful, calm and empowered labor experience. The following yoga breathing techniques and inspiring mantras will help you go into the process as a graceful warrior.

Ujjayi Breathing

Use During: The first phase of the labor. It sets the tone for a calm body and a calm mind and allows you to take on the next stage of labor with courage.

Deep ujjayi breathing can be done with a mantra like “om,” the sound of the universe, a vibration of peace. You can repeat this mantra—or use one of your own—as you exhale. (Take a look at a few examples of yoga mantras below).

To begin, inhale through the nostrils. As you exhale, open the mouth to let the air out as though you were fogging a mirror. Repeat a few rounds of this to feel the vibration and openness in the back of the throat. Inhale through the nostrils again. As you exhale, close the lips, still feeling that sensation in the back of the throat and hearing the oceanic sound of the breath. Continue to breathe through the nostrils.

Dirga (Three-Part Breath)

Use During: The active stage of labor. It continues to keep mind and body focused and calm.

The three parts of the dirga breath involve the abdomen, the diaphragm and the chest. It is slow, long and deep. Inhale into the base of the belly, moving up to fill the base of the lungs, upper lungs, chest and throat. As you exhale, feel everything release and drop downward. Repeat.

Kapalbhati (Modified Breath of Fire)

Use During: Transition, which is the final part of active labor and is normally quite intense.

Inhale deeply through the nostrils and exhale three to four times out of the mouth. At this stage of labor breath can become lost and breathing through the mouth becomes a natural reaction. It is important to stay mindful: Pushing air in and out quickly through the mouth—without control—can exhaust your energy.

Sukha Purvaka Breath

Use During: Pushing.

Inhale through the nostrils for six counts, hold for six counts, exhale for six counts and pause for six counts. Repeat. Focus on lengthening and stretching the breath.

Yoga Mantras to Try

A mantra is created from an inspiring word, group of words or syllables that you can repeat easily. Here are a few:

  • I am ready to be a mom.
  • My body is strong and ready to give birth.
  • I trust my body.
  • My baby and I are a team.
  • Yes, I can.

Naomi Edwards

Naomi Edwards grew up in San Diego, California, where she was first introduced to yoga. She naturally gravitated toward the practice since she has a background in dance and competitive sports. She completed her prenatal training in New York City, which then led her to India, where she continued her 500-hour training in yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. Her teaching style is inspired by a deep appreciation for alignment and encourages students to find their yogic path through joy, lightness and compassion. She runs a yoga and wellness concierge service called Give Me Yoga and teaches classes at Yoga 216 in NYC. In addition to teaching, she specializes in essential-oils therapy.


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