There are serveral forms of Pranayama. Here are two that are especially helpful during prenatal yoga and childbirth:
- Dirgha Pranayama, or "complete breath," is practiced sitting up or lying down with a straight back. (Lying on the back is only recommended for women in the first trimester.) Slowly inhale, allowing your belly to fill and expand, then slowly exhale and think of your belly as a balloon deflating. Repeat several times. Then inhale deeply, filling your belly and now your mid-chest region, allowing your ribcage to open and expand. Exhale and repeat several times. Lastly, inhale deeply, filling your belly and mid-chest region, as well as deep into your upper chest. Breathe in until you feel you can take in no more air, hold briefly, exhale; and repeat several times. This type of breathing is especially helpful for promoting very deep relaxation.
- Ujjayi, or "ocean breathing," is another valuable breathing practice. It calms the mind and promotes concentration—both valuable tools during labor. To practice, sit comfortably with your spine straight or lie flat. Begin drawing in deep, long, slow breaths through your nose. Gently contract the back of your throat, creating a steady hissing sound as you breathe in and out (think of Darth Vadar—his breathing is similar to the sound you are trying to emulate). Slowly lengthen your inhalation and exhalation as much as possible while concentrating on dispelling tension within your body. Your breath should be constant and smooth.
During pregnancy, yoga positions that spotlight posture and alignment are best for the unborn baby and mother-to-be. Avoid any positions that twist the body, put strain on the internal organs, or constrict the uterus. That means no abdominal crunches, no forward curls or spinal twists, and no lying on your back after the fourth month of pregnancy.
Practicing yoga now can also help you during labor by opening your pelvis, strengthening your back, and developing composure and control. "Pregnant women who practice yoga are calmer and can meditate into a state of serenity while enduring the physical demands of labor," says Kase.