Your breath is your anchor!

“Does he breathe?” was the very first question I asked as soon as my son was born. Straight after a very loud crying wouldn’t have let me hear any answer. I knew then that he safely made it earthside.

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā II:3, a classic fifteenth-century Sanskrit manual on yoga, says “As long as there is breath in the body, there is life; when breath ceases, death follows. Therefore learn to master (prolong) breathing”.

The Sanskrit word pranayama consists of two words: prana and ayama.

  • “Ayama” means stretch or extend and describes the action of pranayama.
  • “Prana” refers to “that which is infinitely everywhere” or life-giving force.

Training the breath has many benefits for mothers, before, during, and after giving birth.

When we are pregnant we are literally breathing for two. The mother provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby and removes waste products from the baby’s blood through the placenta. Shortness of breath can be common especially during the third trimester due to the restricted movement of the diaphragm.

Through the regulation of the breath, the movements of chest muscles and diaphragm enhance the function of the lungs allowing greater oxygen uptake, essential to building new cells, strengthening the immune system, producing energy, and detoxifying the blood. We massage bowels and kidneys, aiding good digestion and elimination of toxins, fundamental for the growth of the fetus. We also stimulate the liver, spleen, and stomach, supporting a good absorption of nutrients for the mother.

When we regulate the breath we relax the body as it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the fight and flight reflex while activating the relaxation response, which reduces the heart rate and blood pressure. The body is then able to relax and rest.

Relaxation has enormous benefits for the fetus as it prevents low birth weight, improves developmental and obstetric outcomes, and reduces postpartum complications.

Pranayama practices are a powerful way to build a bond and connect more fully to the baby from the womb. Babies recognize relaxed breath patterns and the rhythm and sound of the mother’s breath which will be key for the mother-infant dyadic regulation.

Breathing techniques are extremely useful to manage fear as birth approaches and pain during labor as they facilitate the handling of sharper contractions.

Training the breath allows us to relax, concentrate, rest, center, improve our vitality, access inner strength, and give us a great sense of embodiment. All key elements for mothers dealing with tiredness during pregnancy, postpartum depletion, toddlers’ tantrums, and throughout the entire motherhood journey.

When a woman is calm, joyful, and in good health, this is the world her baby enters and in which it learns how to live.

And as Tich Nhat Han, the father of Mindfulness, said “When you hold your child in your harms if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold”.