Reflections on Breathing and Birthing; Part Two

Newborn Breathing and Birthing
Grace holding David’s finger in the Maternity Ward

Last month, I shared Part One of how Grace made her entrance into the world. I’m completing the story with this post, expanding on the experience and sharing my tools from a yoga perspective. So, thank you for joining me again and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Yoga, Life & Pregnancy

To me, yoga is a part of all aspects of life. It is not alone a physical practice. But a mental, emotional and spiritual one. Yoga goes beyond the mat and is interwoven with our thoughts, our words, our actions – our breath. It makes sense then, that something so intimately connected to our being be part of a birth plan that brings another human life into the world.

In an effort to maintain a safe physical yoga practice throughout pregnancy, I studied pre and postnatal yoga with Bliss Baby Yoga. It would also serve as my guide to better understand the changes going on within me. The training was detailed, supported and thorough, I enjoyed learning as much as I enjoyed practising. It gives me an excellent foundation to safely instruct and support other women. But when the time came to bring Grace into the world, I wasn’t referring back to my training. The knowledge was so deeply embodied, it came from a much more primal place. An inner knowing.

Yoga as Preparation for Labour

There are precautions to take during each of the trimesters. During the first trimester, I ceased practice until I knew I could practice safely. The second trimester allows for more energetic movements – as this is a time when you get a flood of hormones that make you feel like you can take on the world. So they say. This never happened to me. But overall, my practice was much more like what you expect in the third trimester. It was slow, restorative, and very earthy. I loved the grounding feeling of being on my mat on the floor and I had no idea exactly how much it would help with the active birth that I had planned.

While all asanas have their benefits for pregnancy, I chose just a couple essentials for this toolkit.

Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall pose)
I credit this pose with helping me to avoid any swelling in my ankles or calf muscles. Legs up the wall helps deoxygenated blood from the lower body, back up to the upper body – this boosts mood and circulation. It also helped me in any moments of stress or anxiety I experienced around the pregnancy – especially as a first time mum.

Supported Childs Pose – All Fours – Cat Pose
Moving between these three positions repeatedly each morning did wonders for my hip flexibility and for creating movement in my spine. Especially helpful after holding a single side-sleeping position every night. And excellent practice if you are planning to have an active birth.

Breathing for Birth

For me, breath is one of the most important parts of yoga. Breath has so much power and potential to create change within us on every level. It’s what keeps us alive. But what I really find amazing is how breath can be adjusted and controlled to create our desired state. And remaining calm during periods of stress or pain is favourable during labour and birth.

When I had the balloon catheter procedure, I focused so intently on my breath to cope through the discomfort and pain. Long, slow and deep inhalations followed by even longer and slower exhalations. After the first attempt failed and they had to try to insert the catheter again, I could feel my internal state change to one of discomfort and distress. I returned to the breath, naturally finding myself with Ujjayi breath.

Ujjayi helped me to stay present with every experience during the induction and labour. It kept me calm, focused and present.

Ujjayi Breath 
Inhalation and exhalation occur for equal counts through the nostrils, with a slight restriction in the throat. This restriction creates an audible breath.
Ujjayi helps to create heat in the body and can be energising as it delivers oxygen to the body. It allows us to slow and deepen our breath, bringing us deeper into our present, to be fully aware in our experience.
Ujjayi breath stimulates the relaxation response, helping us to remain calm in times of stress.

“I was not just in the moment – I was in the breath”

Later during labour, as contractions came on strong, I let my breath take the lead. I adopted strong, deep inhalations with equal exhalations. A little bit like a slowed down Wim Hoff method.

After a while, it all became a very internal experience for me. I was not just in the moment – I was in the breath. My midwife later told me it was like watching a hypnobirth. David would later tell me that I went somewhere else completely – that I didn’t respond like I was in the room. My breaths were still long and deep, but more powerful. I used my voice, roaring like a primal woman. Then, the breath became more than just breath. It was a force. And it helped my body to achieve things I didn’t know were possible.

Breathe in through the mouth, and out through your vagina.

Sabine, Midwife

When it was time for Grace to make her entrance into the world, my second midwife, Sabine, knew exactly what to say. She told me “Kylie, I can see your baby’s head. Now is not the time for deep breathing. Now is the time to push. Kylie, what you need to do is breathe in through the mouth and out through your vagina.” Honestly, I laughed. But it was perfect. It described the force of the breath and how we use that energy, exactly.

The deep breathing was effective for me to relax and oxygenate my body and muscles that worked so hard with every contraction. But now the breath that was flowing in and out through my mouth now had to transform and become the power that would move through my body and deliver our baby girl. Within 20 minutes, I was holding Grace in my arms

Sitali / Sitkari Breath
This is another useful breath for your yoga for birth toolbox.
Sitali breath is a cooling breath. The passing of air over a curled tongue, delivering a cool sensation on the inhalation before exhaling through the nose. Similarly, Sitkari breath is also a cooling breath. With Sitkari, the air passes through your nearly closed teeth. You feel the saliva in your mouth cool with the air. Again, exhaling through the nose with a closed mouth.

Mantra in the Maternity Ward

Finally, there were a few mantras that I had as recordings to play during the labour. Mostly, these were personal and selected for the meditations that I had practised during pregnancy. For example, the ‘So Hum’ mantra of “I am that, that I am” has had a profound impact on my practice and wellbeing. It has given me clarity in the past and brings me home to myself every time. On the other hand, the Mother’s Blessing chant was chosen specifically for my birth suite playlist. A few other Kundalini Yoga chants made the playlist as well – for the reason that they raised the vibration in the room, with everyone feeling connected through song. See below for a few of my mantras, chants and songs for birth.

I am that, that I am

Yogi Bhajan said that this mantra means “clear perception of what is important to preserve” and that it “links the essence of your purpose to the greater minds and souls in the cosmos.” [source; spiritvoyage]

I can’t say it better myself than this blog post on Spirit Voyage;
“Pootaa Mata Kee Asees is prayer that a mother makes to her child to develop his or her highest potential as a spiritual being. This mantra may provide a high vibration of protection everywhere the child goes.”

May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on!

And with that, I would like to close this post with that final mantra.

May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on.


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