What is Prāṇāyāma?
Breathing in both yoga and birth is incredibly important. In yoga breathing exercises are known as Prāṇāyāma. It’s defined as the practice of breath control in yoga. In modern yoga as exercise, it consists of synchronising the breath with movements between asanas (movement). It is also a distinct breathing exercise on its own, usually practised after asanas.
In Esther Ekhart’s article ‘What is Pranayama?’ She says ‘ It’s the first thing and last thing we do in our lives. The one constant thing we all have. Without breath there is no life!’
I find that statement so poignant and relevant for pregnancy yoga. You are carrying your precious cargo and will be there when your little one takes their first breath. But also breathing practise is so important during pregnancy because you have extra blood and oxygen and hormones in your body.
Breathing in pregnancy
When you are pregnant you can experience breathlessness. As baby grows and starts to move and kick you in the ribs sometimes you need to make space to breathe. Also breathing exercises are calming. A lot of women find pregnancy an anxious time. Learning how to calm yourself with you breath is a great tool to have both to clear your mind and also in birth.
Three Part Breath Script to use at home
This is a Three Part Breath script that many yoga teachers, including myself use in class. I welcome you to use it to find your inner space and calm. Practising every day will help you to calm yourself and also create a habit that you can use when you are experiencing surges in birth.
Breathing and oxygen are incredibly important for our muscles. Our uterus is just like all other muscles and needs fresh oxygen and rest to work effectively. During all stages of birth it will help you if you can slow your breathing down and get oxygen into your body.
Before we start…
Find a comfortable seated position, either cross legged, or perhaps kneeling with either leg on either side of a bolster.
Observe your breathing pattern
When you are comfortable, I want you to start to observe your breathing. Notice the natural inhalation and exhalation of your breath without changing anything. If you find yourself distracted by the activity in your mind, that’s ok. Just notice them and then let them go, bringing your attention back to the inhales and the exhales. As if they were clouds floating by.
Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest
Take a deep inhale through your nose and let a long exhale out through the nose.
On each inhale, fill the belly up with your breath. Expand the belly with air like a balloon.
On each exhale, expel all the air out from the belly through your nose. Draw your navel back towards your spine to make sure that the belly is empty of air. Imagine as if you are giving your babv a hug when you do so.
(Repeat this deep belly breathing three times.)
Leave one hand on the belly and place one hand on your ribcage…
On the next inhale, fill the belly up with air. Then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart.
On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and then from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.
Imagine that you are massaging your baby with your breath.
(Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage three times)
On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air. Then sip in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around the heart to expand and rise.
On the exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the chest to sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.
Bring your hand to your chest, and the other to your belly.
Use your hands to notice how each part of your body rises and falls as you breath slowly in and out.
Continue to breath at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.
Let your baby enjoy this calming sea of breath as you breath in and out.
Now close your eyes and go inside for the final three-part breath.
And when you’re ready we’ll open our eyes and roll our shoulders and shake out our legs, arms and wrists.
Practise this each day in the morning and the evening to develop a habit.