The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga Part 2: Because Contractions
By: Jessica Watts
Two weeks ago, I wrote the first part of this series called “The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Beyond Boot-Camp,” explaining how prenatal yoga is more than exercise. It’s about connecting to your body, mind, spirit, and baby. If you haven’t read it already, please check it out.
Preparing for your birth goes beyond exercise, taking birthing classes, and picking your care provider. Like it or not, contractions are a REAL part of birth. A huge part of being prepared for labor is about learning how to work through contractions, and how to think about contractions. Prenatal yoga teaches many tools for how to calmly cope with and even enjoy contractions.
Free movement during labor is a key way to reduce pain and assist the body in opening and releasing for birth. Lying on your back without moving is a sure-fire way to increase pain and discourage natural progress of labor. Now, I realize this a paradigm shift from how mainstream culture thinks about birth. Movies and TV shows picture laboring women on their backs screaming with pain and in total panic. It’s a full emergency! Luckily, when women are empowered to listen to their bodies, that’s not how physiological birth really is. Our modern culture has forgotten that the female body is built to birth using full range of motion of the hips. Getting up and moving with the contractions is empowering and reduces pain.
During prenatal yoga, we practice poses and movements that are practical not only for pregnancy, but also for birth. Hip opening poses like Child’s pose, Garland pose (squat), one legged squats, and deep lunges can accelerate labor and ease the nervous system. Practicing these poses daily will help to make space within the body, stretch and tone the pelvic floor, and rebalance the psoas (hip flexor). By moving in labor, you work with the body to open up. Staying connected to the body is essential for an easeful birth.
To simulate contractions, and practice coping tools, we move into intense poses–deep stretching or strengthening. Poses like Pigeon Pose, Goddess Pose, and Frog Pose are big hip openers that stimulate powerful sensation. It takes great focus, concentration, and lots of deep breaths to release into the pose instead of resisting it. This is practice for the big day. While in an intentional yoga pose, ask yourself: Where does my mind go? Do I have a mantra running that is negative? Where am I holding tension in my body? Where am I resisting? Does fear come up? Yoga gives us the opportunity to observe ourselves in tough spots. How do you react physically, mentally, emotionally? Guess what? That all comes up during a contraction. The labor and the nervous system are intimately connected. The more relaxed you can make yourself, the less pain you will feel. By taking deep breaths, or “labor breaths” as I explained in my last post, to cope and even control those sensations, you practice the art of enjoying contractions. Now you are allowing the contractions to take you on a sensory journey. What comes up can be incredible.
Ok, is your mind blown? Are you scratching your head in disbelief. I speak from experience here. I used the power of prenatal yoga to experience an amazing labor with both of my births. One of my favorite memories from my birth with second born Luna was when I asked my best friend/doula to blow in my face. With extreme heightened sensation, I felt actual pleasure with her breath tickling my face. The rolling contractions sent me to another universe of birth bliss.
Before my births, I learned about the possibility of enjoying contractions from the classic birth book, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and the documentary movie, Orgasmic Birth. Here’s a great quote defining what they call an orgasmic birth from the Orgasmic Birth website:
Orgasmic Birth can be the blissful waves in between contractions. One can enter this altered state and ride the waves of sensation, expanding into the pleasure and increasing sexual energy and the hormones consuming one’s being. Riding the wave creates a peaceful, total body sensation that lingers as energy is exchanged between you, your baby and your partner. Birthing in love is a state of filling your entire body and being with oxytocin, the love hormone, and surrendering to the power within. Dr. Sarah Buckley writes in Ecstatic Birth: The Hormonal Blueprint of Labor “Such high levels (of beta-endorphins) help the laboring woman to transmute pain and enter the altered state of consciousness that characterizes an undisturbed birth.
I believe it is every woman’s human right to have a pleasurable birth. It all comes down to how you define it.”
After my first birth with my son, Nico, I could feel the oxytocin rushing through me for days. Four days after Nico was born, I rushed back to my prenatal yoga class to tell them all about my birth experience! Women need to know birth is not all pain and suffering. I don’t mean to idealize birth. Birth can also be traumatic and scary. But everyone already knows that part. That’s what we’ve been raised to think birth is. The wonderful parts about birth have been stripped away from us and hidden … until you come to prenatal yoga!
I mentioned before poses that are useful during pregnancy and labor. We also use poses to strengthen the body in preparation for labor. Labor is often long and very physically challenging. Physical and mental endurance is required to birth a baby. Certain poses that strengthen the body can also help you when it comes time to push a baby out. Chair Pose and Goddess Pose are very strengthening for the glute muscles. Cat Pose, and all pelvic tilts engage the transverse abdominals. These muscles are key for the pushing stage. Moving into a squat in the beginning of the pushing stage can be a great way to move the baby down. However, I recommend Tabletop Pose when it comes to the actual crowning and birth of the baby. Tabletop Pose decreases the chance of tearing and brings less stress to the pelvic floor.
I’m truly grateful to the practice of prenatal yoga and all of its teachings. When you know the true benefits of prenatal yoga it can change not only how you birth, but also how you think about birth. Using the tools of deep breathing and releasing into intense yoga poses prepares and teaches us to cope–maybe even enjoy–contractions.
Have I convinced you yet? Click here to practice prenatal yoga with me!