Pranayamas or breathing techniques that are performed during yoga practices can greatly enhance your pregnancy and help to prepare you for birth and beyond. Regular pranayamas will reduce stress and tension, encourage a healthy sleep pattern, increase oxygen levels, help you remain calm and focussed during difficult situations. Pranayamas can also be practiced during labour, to help manage pain and clear and focus the mind. It is also believed that by practicing pranayamas it could dramatically help to lower the risk of post natal depression.
When practicing yogic breathing during pregnancy, focus on expansion through the rib cage and avoid breathing beneath the naval.
Do not practice breath retention exercises.
Ujjayi (The Breath of Tranquility)
Begin in a comfortable sitting position, ensuring that the spine remains straight, rest the backs of the wrists on the knees or position hands in any chosen mudra (gesture). Become aware of the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the body through the nostrils, and then eventually move the awareness to the throat. The breath vibrates as it passes across the vocal chords and bring your awareness to the sound created.
Ujjayi breathing can help to lower blood pressure. Ujjayi is known as the breath of tranquility because it helps to quiet and still the mind.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Sit in a comfortable position ensuring that the spine remains straight. Using the right hand place the thumb beside your right nostril and your first two finger fingers to your forehead the ring finger is positioned beside the left nostril.
Block your right nostril and inhale through the left, then block the left nostril and exhale through the right, now inhale through right, exhale left, inhale left, exhale right and so the exercise continues finishing with an exhale through the left nostril.
Alternate nostril will help calm and balance the mind. This breathing technique provides a focal point and prevents the mind from wandering. Nadi shodhana is the perfect preparation for meditation.
Bhramari (The Humming Breath)
Begin in a comfortable seated position with the spine straight. Hands are on the knees whilst inhaling as you exhale block the ears with your first fingers allowing the elbows to lift and make a humming sound. Repeat for ten breaths.
The word bhramari literally translates to mean large black bee. This breathing technique encourages stillness and balance in the mind. It helps to balance the nervous system and promotes a general sense of well-being people do not usually hum when they feel low, angry or depressed.
Bhramari is strongly recommended as part of postnatal practice as this breathing technique is said to reduce postnatal depression.
Sheetali (The Cooling Breath)
Begin in a comfortable seated position with a straight spine, stick out your tongue and curl up the edges, inhale slowly allowing air to pass through the tongue. As the exhale occurs relax and retract the tongue and exhale through the nose. If you are unable to curl the tongue then just create an ‘O’ shape with the mouth and practice the technique like this instead.
This breath may help you remain centred in between contractions during labour; it will also help restore lost energy.
The cooling breath does exactly what you would expect it to do, whilst practicing this breathing technique you will find that the inside of your mouth feels cooler.
Always consult your GP or midwife before commencing any new activity during pregnancy.
Sue Fuller is a leading yoga teacher with a range of over 40 audio yoga classes, including a selection of pre and post natal Yoga classes. All yoga classes are available on CD or as a MP3 download from www.wellbeingworldonline.com or from www.yoga2hear.co.uk. Classes are easy-to-follow and suitable for all levels of yoga experience.
Sue is also the author of The British School of Yoga Pre and Post Natal Yoga Teachers Course, The resident yoga expert for Natural Health Magazine UK and a mother of two.