By Camella Nair (Swami Nibhrtananda), PRYT,C-IAYT, ATRI-C, Ayurvedic Health Educator
Twenty four years ago I gave birth to my oldest son in a warm birthing pool. In England, they are a common option in many of the hospitals across the country, with about 18% of women using water for labor and/or childbirth.
Actually, I almost gave birth to him in another watery environment….down the toilet! My contractions were progressing faster than expected (by the midwife who was on duty in an ‘early laboring ward’) I was apprehended only as she was on her way for a tea break. I was actually on my way to the ‘throne room’ to avoid embarrassing myself in a ward full of women. The other women, like me, were not quite ready to move to a private room for birthing. Likely ‘first timers’ as I was.
I had been breathing in extra oxygen for a few hours to take the ‘edge off,’ along with applying the wires and pads of a ‘tens’ machine taped to strategic spots on my hips and lower back where I felt the intensity. No medical staff had been around unfortunately to notice that my waters had broken quite a while before as I wriggled on the bed, mouthing silent screams because I was told I had ‘ages’ to go and didn’t want to appear like a ‘baby’ myself.
Upon entering the birthing pool, I was able to squat comfortably and switch to a kneeling position to continue the active childbirth. I was grateful to have practiced lots of warrior type poses and squats during pregnancy which helped me gain stamina and strength as well as improve focus. A short while later, the midwife helped me lift my son on to my tummy and to my amazement he was smiling!
I have always been drawn to the water as it has magical hugging and supportive qualities known as hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy.
I have been teaching Aqua Yoga for almost two decades and I feel It is a field where pregnant woman in particular can find relief with some of the common symptoms of pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimester. Just stepping into water can alleviate so much.
Swollen lower extremities,
Lack of sleep,
A general feeling of heaviness,
Add appropriate asanas and relaxation to the mix, and Aqua Yoga can ensure a meaningful practice for both mother and baby. Movement in the water can also help proprioception, and feel like a deep tissue massage all over the body, helping to hydrate fascia,
About 30% of women in America opt for C-sections, and I think that fear is a large reason for this. In my almost two decades of teaching pregnant women, I have found that most have not prepared themselves as much as they could have based on the Yogic Kosha model, which is more than addressing just physical symptoms.
A doctor may suggest trying yoga for various prenatal aches and pains, and in fact, many of my pregnant students were referred by their doctor. It is an area where bridging the gap between yoga and healthcare is generally accepted. As a minimum, many of their symptoms can be addressed with appropriate asana and pranayama.
The act of birthing is linked to the muladhara chakra found at the tail bone, and also related to the earth element and structure in the body( the skeleton). It demands cultivating apana vayu or the descending pranic current necessary to move substances down and out through the body. On a subtle level it is linked to ‘fear’ at times of change and instability, and so taking time to connect to the earth can be invaluable to ease a pregnant woman’s anxious mind. In the water it is perhaps more accessible for hatha yoga but certainly not without its challenges as bouyanancy makes rooting down through the feet much harder than on land. The payback is the ability to sustain more inner body length, and for a very pregnant woman this can really help her feel much lighter. A new human being descends through the birth canal to take form in the big wide world with all its lessons and opportunities for spiritual growth, and mother and baby meet in this somewhat gross realm that extends family group karma as baby takes its first breath.
Sometimes it is a school of hard knocks, for ‘Sri Gravity’ can be a tough taskmaster, yet we won’t always know until the child starts to develop and express its personality, how that will pan out. I definitely recommend having a natal chart drawn once the baby is born. This will show you the traits they will tend to show and can help develop wiser parenting choices.
Childbirth can be approached as a spiritual practice, but Self Awareness is vital and also being stable in body and mind. Respite as a pregnant woman’s body continually changes, may be hard to achieve as odd aches and pains and thoughts may creep into the koshas causing confusion and anxiety, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Unless being in the water has negative connotations for a woman, practicing yoga in the water can help her to alleviate stress and pregnancy-related issues as she prepares for childbirth. We tend to be socially conditioned to relax near to water as we vacation, often by the sea, river or lake, and in fact, doctors used to prescribe time by the seaside back in Victorian times just to relax. The color of the water even adds to the feeling of calmness. (most people associate the color blue with a feeling of calm)
Even though there is more yoga available in the West, with the rising cost of running a Yoga Studio, it may be difficult for a pregnant woman to find an exclusive Prenatal Yoga class. This can cause problems for her in finding the right teacher or level of class if she is new to yoga (Many women try yoga for the first time when pregnant in my experience). Luckily there are other options for her because she can slip into a general Aqua Yoga Class and with a few exceptions, join in with the rest of the group even though she may be the only pregnant one. She will find that the water buoyancy helps her to cultivate inner body length as she grounds the femur bones in poses like Virabhadrasana 2 or Warrior 2, and the non-classic Horse or Goddess Pose in which she will tend to sink into a little deeper as her arms raise overhead.
Breathing is an important part of working with contractions and another bonus with practicing pranayama techniques in the water is that typically with the waters gentle squeeze of the rib cage, she will be able to deepen her respiration. This pays dividends when she is working to help her baby descend through the birth canal in active childbirth.
When it comes to relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety, Yoga Nidra such as (irest) is proving to be a wonderful way to unwind. In the second trimester a woman will be instructed to lie on her left side on land and will even be encouraged to do the same at night with a body pillow between her legs. In water however, she can float on her back for Savasana or Yoga Nidra (the later should only be performed if someone is in attendance in case she falls asleep)
Sound healing with bowls in the water is also a wonderful accompaniment to relaxation and the yoga teacher can get into the pool with her and gently play the bowl for both the mother and baby. I love the idea of the prospective father getting into the water with them and offering this relaxation sound therapy.
I think that women can gain a lot of inner strength by practicing warrior type poses in the water as well as hip openers and balances. Yoga instructors can give them encouragement to be strong and powerful as they meet the challenges of contractions in childbirth with poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Ardha Chandrasana.(Half Moon)
Chanting and meditation can also be an amazing experience in water for anyone but certainly for a mother and her baby who will also get to enjoy this therapeutic little ‘extra’ in the pool.
The entire Koshas can benefit in the water and maybe even assist a heightened awareness of the Anandamaya kosha or Bliss Sheath even at this time of great change.
If she is worried that she will need to be induced as the baby is happy to stay longer in her tummy, she could even take to the water, especially at a full moon when many babies are born and see if that helps start the labor.
She should make sure that she is properly hydrated as with any exercise regime and have a nice snack for after showering in which she can use a vitamin C spray with some drops of her favorite essential oil to remove any traces of chlorine from the skin before applying a favorite oil in a loving abhyanga type massage. Here, use firm up and down strokes for the long bones and circles for the joints working up from the ankles to the shoulders and neck.
Here is a recipe for the spray;
1 cup Spring water
1 tsp Sodium Ascorbate
5 drops of your favorite essential oils
A nice nap afterwards for mother and baby when back at home can be a perfect end to a satisfying yoga class in a medium that really makes sense to a body that is mostly…..water.
In the Kriya Dharma
Camella : Camella is one of the few Women Swami’s in the unbroken Kriya Lineage and has been teaching yoga for decades. She has a book called ‘Prenatal Kriya Yoga’ and “Aqua Kriya Yoga’ and teaches and trains teachers internationally. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www. camellanair.com