Using images or visualisation can help you connect more easily with your breath and increase the benefits of your breathing practices. Many women, when they come to pregnancy yoga, have not spent prolonged periods of time focussing on their breath (unless they have previously practised yoga) and so find this part of yoga tricky to begin with. I often find that those who initially find breath awareness the hardest part of the yoga class, end up being the greatest advocates of the power of the breath. Previous knowledge of yoga is not a prerequisite of pregnancy yoga and so there is much we can do to help with this initial focus. We often start off with bit size chunks of breath awareness, a daily practice helps with the ease and length of time that we can focus on the breath without distraction. Indeed, the distraction itself becomes part of the practice. By far the greatest help to single minded focus is imagery and visualisations.
When learning how to connect with the breath in our Core Yoga classes, I often bring to class some scented herbs or plants (for online classes I ask students to select a scent that they feel a connection to, a memory or emotion). Then, with eyes closed, begin to inhale deeply through the nose seeking out the aroma of the plant being held. Without even realising we are already absorbing the prana (energy of life force). We are allowing space for images, memories or emotions to arise in breath awareness (whilst connecting with our instinct and emotions). In this way we can begin to focus only on the breath and we have also taken those first few steps on our path to pranayama (harvesting the pranic energy through the breath). We have become open to the power of the breath, and for pregnant women this is often a lightbulb moment; that realization of the potential of the breath to manage the strong sensations of the contractions (surges) and help and guide us through labour and birth.
First Stage of labour
With that awakening of breath awareness, the stages of focus on the breath becomes more logical. With practice, more and more of the subtle nuances of the breath are revealed. The classic pranayama that we use to guide us through the surges of the first stage of yoga is the “golden thread breath”, the image of the silky smooth golden yellow thread is synonymous with energy and we use this image of the golden thread to take our minds out of the body, leaving the body to do its thing – birth baby. In hypnobirthing there are other images we use that mirror the action of the muscles drawing upwards, images such as sunrises, hot air balloons, blowing bubbles. In Core Yoga hypnobirthing we have a lovely guided journey incorporating many of these upward images, this allows a woman to select one of those images that she most strongly connects to and build her own visualisation with that image.
Second stage of labour
Think of breathing your baby down rather than pushing baby out. The exhale is the powerful active breath action here and all the previous work we have done in class connecting your breath with the pelvic floor will kick into action instinctively. Remember our mantra – “Trust your body, follow the breath” – this originates from my pregnancy yoga training with the amazing yoga teacher, midwife and birth guru Judy Cameron (www.yogaofbirth.co.uk). We know that the mind has a powerful influence on the body… where the mind goes the body will follow, so choose your image wisely. My personal favourite is the opening of a flower from tight bud full of promise and energy, to fully open petalled bloom with all the energy and beauty revealed. Such a fabulous image co-ordinating breath, the power of a woman’s birthing mind and body with the opening of the cervix, to the birth and beauty of holding her baby. There are alternative images (below) to help with the second stage of labour and some of these are hypnobirthing images, others are those which birthing mothers have told me worked well for them:
General help with stamina
Labour and birth is a very physical process. Perhaps the most powerful experience you will ever have. There will be times when you doubt you can carry on. This is where the analogy of climbing a mountain can be useful. In Core Yoga we use the Mountain breath to help keep us on track with our breath and birth. Climbing a mountain, you are never sure where the exact peak is, there are false peaks, sometimes the peak is hidden from view. In birth you are not certain when the surges will end, you imagine them building in intensity indefinitely and this train of thought can lead you to temporarily lose your way. Reconnecting with your breath can bring you back on track, together with the knowledge that each surge brings you closer to your baby, each step closer to the peak. Just as a mountaineer may have doubts so might you, but know that you have everything you need to birth your baby.