Prenatal Yoga Delivers
Imagine being in labor. For months in yoga class you have been practicing deep abdominal breathing – rocking the baby forward on each inhale and hugging your child close with each exhale. Now, in the labor room, your mind wants to run away from the pain of contractions in your belly, yet over the months you have disciplined yourself to stay with the sensations. Now, internally bonded with your soon-to-be-born child, you send a "welcome to the outer world, farewell to the inner world" message to your child. You may draw a circle of golden light around your baby on the inhale, then send light through your baby like nectar through a sieve on the exhale. This is the inherent power of yoga: to witness, to be with even the most painful of situations.
The practice of yoga during pregnancy is perhaps the most helpful exercise a woman with child can undertake. It is slow, strong and gentle. It prepares the woman's body and breath to open as it will need to open during labor and childbirth. Yogic techniques of breath, movement, sound, and visualization provide a confident basis for smooth passage through this most powerful of life experiences.
Prenatal yoga is similar to some forms of athletic exercise in ways which are especially beneficial to pregnant women. High performance athletes develop focus, mastery of breath, and strong kinesthetic awareness. These three factors are also addressed through the practice of hatha yoga, and help to ease the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth.
Yoga differs from athletics in that it also cultivates deepened states of spiritual awareness, intuition, receptivity, and calm. The physical practices of yoga have the potential to serve as a gateway to transcendent states of union. The mother-to-be can also experience an increase in psychic ability, which is the capacity to feel deeply. As each woman prepares for her own unique journey through the birth process, they accompany one another, rather than compete, as in an athletic competition.
In a culture which values multi-task orientation, Westerners often exercise their bodies with little or no awareness of their state of mind. This enables us to juggle a multitide of priorities, giving a little bit of our attention to many things at the same time. This can be contrasted with experiences of focused awareness, which is characterized by deep relaxation and expansiveness. When we are absorbed in something that we truly enjoy, we lose sense of chronological time and enter into an experience of timelessness, openness, and deep peace. Focused awareness is a manifestation of bliss, and a variation of love. Prenatal yoga students are choosing to set aside time in their lives to cultivate a connection between their consciousness and the lives of their soon-to-be-born children. The mother-to-be prepares herself with yoga exercises and breathing to endure contractions, to exert in pushing and to relax. The ability to relax between contractions is a saving grace. Rest in between keeps strength and focus at the ready for when she needs it the most.
Most prenatal yoga classes have a relaxation period that cultivates calm. Here, visualization techniques help to acquaint her with the growing child within. For example she may practice a color meditation, traveling the colors of the spectrum from red to purple then white. Starting at the base of the spine and moving up to the crown at the head, each color rests along a specified location on the spine. In yoga, these locations are called chakras from the Sanskrit word "wheel" and are associated with distinct sensations or states of consciousness. A mother-to-be may note that her baby attunes to a particular color during this experiece by feeling the baby's movement within her or sensing the baby's emotional response.
There are both colors and sounds associated with each chakra location. Perhaps in a grounded, open-pelvis squat, the practicing mother may invert the process. She may sound tones down along the chakras, descending from the crown of the head to the base. Beginning with the sound "om" at the forehead to "ham" at the throat, "yam" at the heart, "ram" at the midsection, "vam" at the lower belly, she finally arrives at "lam", the sound place where the baby's head will first emerge into father, grandmother, doulah, midwife or doctor's receiving hands, then onto mother's breast to hear that loving heart beat once again. These sounds and colors of the chakras may be used to relax and open the body progressively to release the baby out.
Delivery itself is described by Janice Clairfield, a leading yoga educator in Canada, as a process of profound letting go. The letting go in delivery of a baby is a metaphor for releasing the ego. A woman who has had an opportunity to align and harmonize with herself, rather than driving against her nature, has more skill in aligning with the needs of her own children. Compassionate self-awareness and inner integrity build a gateway to empathy and understanding of another.
In India it used to be said (and perhaps still is) that the mother could sense the baby's sex by the third month of pregnancy. The practice of yoga encourages the mother to trust her intuitions, to acknowledge and release her fears, to express through her body what words cannot say. She may, during moments of deep relaxation after an invigorating yoga session feel her baby communicate with her, reassure her, share the untold bliss that only a fully supported being in an edgeless womb of a universe can experience – with her. For even a pre-verbal love is a two-way street.
Teachers of prenatal yoga speak lovingly of their "darma", or calling, to support the arrival of the next generation being birthed onto the planet. An experienced yoga teacher will generally be able to exercise good discrimination during class to adjust the yoga postures as per their pregnant students' needs.
Steffi Shapiro, of the Well Street Station in Watertown, is a veteran teacher who has served pre-natal students for over 17 years. As a yoga teacher and a practicing psychotherapist, she kept hearing stories from clients whose mothers had "not been available to them". She became committed to teaching prenatal yoga as a way of helping women to connect to their role as a nurturing presence in the life of a child. In addition to being physically present and caring for the practical concerns of the child, mothers become aware of the role of their consciousness itself. They prepare to be physically and emotionally available to their children, as they learn to nurture themselves. Steffi has mothers in her practice who have come to her through the births of 2nd and 3rd children, who felt that yoga made a tremendous difference in their lives.
Carol Flagg, teaching in Marlboro and Lowell, finds that many students can more easily rationalize taking the time to care for themselves when pregnant. Prenatal students have an increased awareness and sensitivity to a broad expanse of health-related issues, including nutritition, exercise, and sleep patterns. Many students experience pregnancy as an initiation into healthy self-nurturing behaviors.
Carol speaks about the heart connection that she feels with her students. "I think about them constantly, sending them support, comfort, nurturance and love." As the students experience first hand the heart connection and psychic connection which Carol creates by sending her students thoughts and loving support over the course of the week, they bathe in the energetic experience of her attention and intention. They then begin to weave the web of relationship with their own thought field to that of their loved ones and unborn child. Many pregnant students proiritze learning relaxation techniques, stress reduction, and balance for the first time in their lives. As they enter into conscious relationship with their body and mind, they can sometimes reach transcendent states of spiritual connectedness.
The physical needs of pregnant women can vary, with some some students full of energy and wanting to feel strong and limber, and others simply exhausted. Many have low back pain and accompanying upper back tension. Angelena Craig, a yoga teacher who previously worked in childhood education, finds that her classes attract many first time moms who feel healthy, vibrant, celebratory, and mystified.
Dr. Curtis Cetrulo of Hingham is a physician who blends Western medicine and Eastern spirituality. An Ob-Gyn affiliated with New England Medicine Center, he has taught pre-natal yoga and helped to train other yoga teachers to work with pregnancy. When he opened a practice on Martha's Vineyard, he constructed a yoga studio in the building. Cetrulo is convinced that women who prepare for birthing through yoga have less complications and fewer operative deliveries, in part because they have learned how to harmonize their minds with their bodies.
Carmella Cattuti, R.N., a Boston-based teacher, was an Ob-Gyn nurse before she began teaching yoga. As more and more pregnant students came to her regular classes, she began to specialize in pre-natal yoga, combining her two areas of expertise. She loves the opportunity to assist women through conscious birthing. Rather than seeing pregnancy as a medical condition, pregnant women are encouraged to be active and feel enabled in their natural state of grace. Mothers-to-be learn to transcend anxiety or fear, and open to the flow of spontaneous joy that arises from quiet inward focus and presence to the divine.
For thousands of years, yoga was reserved only for men who had renounced the world and conjugal relations for the sake of solitary union with the divine. Only in the last one hundred years or so has the practice of hatha (physical) yoga been available to women. In this country, women have the choice of how and when to begin to invite the essence of their child into their hearts and awareness. Prenatal yoga awaits those who hear the call of the unborn child.
For more information about yoga classes in your area, contact the Massachusetts Yoga Network at http://www.massyoga.com
Portia Brockway, director of Yoga in Harvard Square, teaches prenatal and postnatal (mom and baby) yoga as well as regular group yoga classes.
For more information please visit http://www.yogainharvardsquare.com or call Portia at (617)-864-YOGA (9642)
Pat Burke is the mother of two teen-age boys, both born by C-section prior to her introduction to yoga. She is committed to nurturing all aspects of intuitive parenting and teaches yoga and energetic medicine in Marlboro, MA at Earthsong Yoga.
For more information please call 508-480-8884 or visit http://www.earthsongyoga.com