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Yoga and Childbirth

Yoga creates balance in all. Heart and mind. Body and spirit. Masculine and feminine. Sun and moon. In the sacred act of creation, the energies of Shiva and Shakti unite, giving birth to the entire manifest world. Pure consciousness and creative energy producing infinite forms. Everything in creation is divine, is the body of the Great Mother Goddess. And every birthing woman is a microcosm of that Great Mother. Practising yoga during pregnancy can carry a woman deeply into an experience of this truth.

Ultimately, the goal of yoga is spiritual, the realisation that we all belong to Her body. Through yoga practice, we feel the energy which forms us, which is Her energy. During pregnancy, a woman is particularly tuned to receive this understanding—deep in her blood and bones. For a pregnant woman is a direct expression of life’s fundamental mystery and miracle. In the cauldron of the womb, spirit takes flesh, creation happens.

Pregnancy makes a woman more sensitive, intuitive, open and conscious, more aware of the energetic and spirit worlds. It prepares her for labour and the powerful psychic experience it can be. For a birthing woman is the original shaman. It is she who mediates between the two worlds, grounded in flesh and channelling spirit. Birth is a doorway. In a sense, the door of birth and the door of death are the same door: each open to the world of spirit. Yoga during pregnancy develops a woman’s natural sensitivity—connecting her to her body on all its subtle levels of awareness and to the incredibly creative power it contains.

Earth Mother of Laussel, ca. 25,000 B.C.E.Yoga practice during pregnancy has great physical benefits as well. The asanas are gentle but powerful, developing strength and flexibility in muscles and joints and enhancing the function of all organs and physical systems: muscular-skeletal, circulatory, digestive, reproductive, nervous and respiratory. Many women find that yoga relieves some of the common discomforts of pregnancy, such as insomnia, nausea, fatigue, back ache, varicose veins and oedema. After a day of work, women often come to yoga class feeling tired and stressed. They leave feeling both energised and deeply relaxed.

Yoga classes include meditation practice and guided visualisations to help each woman experience the serenity, bliss, balance and love at the core of her being. The classes teach her how to tune into the ancient wisdom and power of the body, to release any blocks or fears, to connect spiritually and emotionally with the baby. Many modern women carry a great deal of free-floating anxiety about childbirth, which yoga can help transform into trust and confidence.

Yoga also provides an excellent preparation for the experience of labour and childbirth. To harmonise her energy with the birth process, a woman needs to understand the power of four tools: movement, relaxation, breathing and concentration. These are also the essence of yoga practice. In yoga, breath generates movement and movement shapes the breath. When a pose takes its ultimate form, both balance at a point of stillness—a place of deep relaxation and focused awareness.

Aztec Birth Goddess,This is, in fact, the only thing that Patanjali says about asanas in the Yoga Sutras---that they should be both steady and comfortable. The mind steady and focused—without tension; the body calm and relaxed—without heaviness. This is the place where all effort ceases, where the mind can discover its own true nature, a nature which belongs always to the present moment. And what is the essence of the present moment? The breath. Living spirit. Uniting her breath with the breath of the cosmos, a labouring woman knows this place too. It is here that she experiences deep union with all of life. Both yoga and childbirth begin and end with the breath.

During labour as in yoga, the breath is the key to deep relaxation. Smooth,  even breathing releases tension and sends calm, peaceful sensations into a woman’s body. Conscious breathing also energises her entire being, stimulating circulation and enhancing the oxygen supply to her baby. It makes the body pulse with tingling, dynamic energy. The breath also provides a perfect focal point for the mind, keeping the awareness centred on the present moment and the regular, rhythmic communion with spirit which the breath is.

Isis Nursing Horus, ca. 2000 B.C.E.Through yoga, women learn to focus and sharpen the mind. They grow to understand the power of thought, how mental images can shape reality. For in a very real way, thoughts are “things”, powerful generators of change in the material world. A vivid mental picture takes the body with it. Or every physical manifestation has its energetic counterpart. Or whatever you conceptualise with sufficient energy becomes a reality on some level at least. Yoga practice clarifies and purifies thought, making it positive, forceful and balanced. It becomes the blueprint for a joyous pregnancy and beautiful birth.

Many women come to yoga for the first time during pregnancy, as they understand the many benefits it has to offer them and their baby. Most find it gives them much more than they ever envisaged. They develop trust and confidence not only in the wisdom of their bodies but also in whatever lessons the universe has to teach. As yoga opens and transforms body and spirit, it is the ideal practice for pregnancy, preparing women to give birth with awareness, joy and love.

© Marianne Jacuzzi 2004

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