Within days of finding out I was pregnant I decided that a natural labor was what felt right for me and my family.
When I talked about my plan for an unmedicated water birth with other women I was met with mixed reactions but I was ready to feel just how amazing my body could be. Pregnancy was a time of great transition and adjustment. My practice evolved as my pregnancy progressed; I enjoyed prenatal classes and the chance to connect with the community and I cherished the quiet time on my mat during my home practice. Yoga was there for me every step of my pregnancy. I thought that labor would be a great yogic experience and I was right. I was fortunate to have had the safe, quick and natural childbirth I had dreamed of. I know yoga had a lot to do with this and I called upon many elements of my practice throughout the journey.
Let’s Get Physical
I approached labor thinking of it as the greatest physical event I would participate in. I was excited to see what my body could do, to feel that level of physicality. So, just as I had spent hours on the road to train for a race, I put time into my body to train for my baby’s birth. I worked to keep my muscles active while my body adjusted to its new growth. I used yoga as a chance to move my body into the shapes that I most expected in labor, lots and lots of squats. I practiced malasana, that nice low squat, multiple times a day. I took to the mat even when I was tired, preparing my body to move even when the exhaustion of labor came over me. Yoga was my main, if not only, form of physical activity and it gave me the chance to connect with my body while getting exercise.
As the number of weeks and days until my due date dwindled, I started experiencing nervous energy. Instead of letting it manifest into fear I channeled it into focus. I set my Drishti, my intention, my goal, my mantra: Safe and healthy pregnancy. Safe and natural labor. Safe and healthy baby. I repeated this any time I felt the waves of apprehension coming up. I gave myself a visual reminder, a beautiful handmade bracelet, that I could touch as I repeated my Drishti. Decisions that needed to be made were weighed against my goal, “will this help achieve a safe and natural labor?” I kept my intention at the forefront of my mind; I affirmed I could do it. I reached out for helping hands and invited my closest female relatives to a share the mantra with me, to focus their energy in as well. At a blessing way we sealed it in with henna.
Yoga gave me so much relaxation during pregnancy. My home practice turned into the most indulgent relaxation session, complete with candles, lavender oil, mellow music and extra long savasana. Some days practice was a nap with legs up the wall. My world was spinning around with change, but my mat helped me chill out. I knew that I could calm myself down no matter what happened. When my labor began with steady contractions in the middle of the night I didn’t freak out. In fact, I went back to sleep! I employed my practice of allowing non-working muscles to relax. My body contracted where it needed to, using the muscles it needed to, and I worked to allow everything else to just feel at ease. As night turned to day I moved from bed to the tub and contractions increased in frequency and intensity, yet I still found waves of relaxation. I allowed myself to completely release and let go between each contraction and find brief moments of rest.
Breath is the heart of the practice and breath was essential to my natural labor. I concentrated on long, slow, steady breaths, feeling the breath throughout the body as best as I could. Contractions were much more pleasant when I focused on each inhale and exhale; if I let the contraction begin without being with my breath, it felt like my body was getting away from me. Taking things just one breath at a time made everything manageable.
In yoga I developed a sense of trust in my body. The more I practiced the more I understood how it felt to move my body and how to interact with my body. Through practice I could fine tune muscle movements and connect with the physical body in ways that I hadn’t been able to before. So when my midwife told me it was time to get baby’s head under the pubic bone and into the birth canal, I had a trust in myself that helped me maneuver. I didn’t think through what would work, but I listened to my instincts and moved my body in ways that I felt would help. I trusted what my body told me to do and worked with my body to get baby down.
Just Keep Pushing
When it was time to push, I knew that it would be difficult and painful, but I was not prepared for how hard it would be. I had to dig deep, deeper than I thought I could, to keep pushing. I didn’t do any kegels during pregnancy, but luckily, I had spent significant time during practice working on my bandhas to build strength in my pelvic floor. I’m pleased to say that the time I spent engaging Mula Bandha, the root lock, paid off during labor; my babe was born within 15 minutes of pushing. I know that this was not only because of the physical strength I built but also the emotional connection I developed by using Mula bandha to get deeper into asanas.
I was fortunate to achieve the safe and natural labor I dreamed of and am blessed with a beautiful baby boy. I know how much of an impact my practice had on my labor and am so grateful to have had this experience. I wish nothing but the same wonderful experience for every other mama to be!