Yoga Blog for Midwives Part II: Breathing

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Written by Yaisa from Yoga Here & There.

Hello and thank you for opening this blog!

This is the second yoga column for midwives. In my first blog ( in which I wrote about what yoga is, I promised you I was going to write about a special yoga topic each month to help you find ways to serve yourself and therefore your clients a little bit better.

Today’s topic is one of yoga’s most crucial elements: the breath.

Being midwives, I am 100% sure you have witnessed the power of breath.

Did you know that breathing is the most powerful detoxifying instrument of our body? According to Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., author of the book Conscious Breathing, “the human body is designed to discharge 70% of its toxins through breathing. Only a small percentage of toxins are discharged through sweat, defecation, and urination. If your breathing is not operating at peak efficiency, you are not ridding yourself of toxins properly.”

Deep breathing also moves the diaphragm and other muscles around the belly, ribcage, back and shoulder blades, which in turn stimulates the lymph to move and helps support your immune system. Conscious deep and slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore the “rest & digest” time that our body needs so very much. But not only that, from a yogic perspective, the breath is the vehicle for prana into the human body.

Prana is our vital life force or the cosmic energy that infuses and vitalises all matter, permeating the Universe on all levels. In some cultures, it is referred to as Chi or Qi (like in Tai Chi and Qi Gong). You may be familiar with acupuncture or a Thai massage. These therapies all work with the Chi or Prana meridians that run through your body and so does yoga.

Alternate nostril breathing, or Anuloma Viloma, is a breathing technique that helps to balance the flow of prana through the body.

The breath being prana’s vehicle is therefore essential, not only for the intake of oxygen, but also for the flow of this more subtle and vital life force. More on prana in another blog, let’s stick to the breath for now.

Besides being a detoxifying tool and the carrier of vital life force, the breath is an important indicator of our emotional and physical state of being. When somebody is breathing fast and shallow, we know they are stressed or unwell. When somebody is sound asleep, their breath is deep and slow, from the belly and thus we know all is well.

I’m sure we agree that the breath is pretty special. On top of that, we humans, can actually  use it consciously. Though we are mostly unconscious breathers (imagine having to remember all the time to inhale and exhale), we are actually capable of deliberately and purposefully altering our breathing patterns. By training that skill, we have a very strong tool in our hands: one that can influence our physical health, our state of mind and our entire outlook on life.

A few months ago, a young and very pregnant girl asked me to help her breathe better and to teach her how to use the breath to calm down and focus. I had no previous experience with breathing techniques specifically for childbirth, so I simply helped her with the yoga breathing techniques that I teach and practice and that are safe for pregnant women.

Here are two of the techniques that I taught her and that she practiced before giving birth to help her release some anxiety.

Yogic breathing, also known as three-part breathing. Yogic breathing helps to breathe fully into all the lobes of the lungs. It soothes the nervous system, stimulating the parasympathetic system. It helps to detoxify as it brings movement into the abdominal area. Sitting or lying down comfortably, you start by exhaling completely. You then inhale expanding the belly first, pushing the navel out. When the belly is full, you continue inhaling into the rib cage, flaring the ribs out and finally you end the inhale by breathing into the chest, lifting the collarbones. The exhale also starts by drawing the belly in, then relaxing the ribcage and finally lowering the chest. Some prefer to exhale from the chest down to the belly, but I find it more natural to push the air out from the abdomen first. You can check whether you are doing it right by consecutively putting your hands on your belly, wrapping your fingers around your ribs and putting your hands on your collarbone as you breathe into each part of our lungs. If you are finding it difficult, start by practicing breathing into each section individually first, until you can feel which muscles you actually need to engage to expand and contract that area.

Humming bee breath, also known as Brahmari Pranayama. This breath control exercise is extremely soothing and relaxing and support the release of emotions that need to be expressed. It helps against anxiety, hypertension and headaches. It improves concentration and gives clarity. And all you need to do is hum like a little bee!

Teaching Brahmari Pranayama during the Yoga Here & There teacher training in Bali.

You gently close your ears by pressing on the tragus (the cartilage just in front of your ear) with your thumbs and softly rest your index fingers on your eyelids. The rest of your fingers can cover your nose and your lips as comfortably as they can. You then take a deep breath in and slowly exhale with a hum with your mouth closed. Some people like to imagine they hum the mantra Om. You can play with the pitch and experiment with the volume. Just do it 4 or 5 times, then go back to natural breathing for a little rest and repeat the humming bee breath as often as you want. The idea of the fingers over your face and ears is that you close yourself off from the rest of the world by covering all your senses and really feel the sound, the vibration and the breath. Try to keep the shoulders relaxed while you do this and sit nice and straight.

My young friend was so happy with the results of just two sessions, that she requested I be present during her labour as she was looking for as much support as she could get. Of course, I could not refuse so I was there during the first stages of her labour and when they gave her the epidural. She was holding my hand for comfort and I was helping her to focus on her breathing, which in turn helped her to relax and to feel more at ease during and in between the contractions.

During my young friend’s labour, I obviously did not ask her to put her hands over her face to do the humming bee breath. I told her to simply breathe out with a hum, especially during the contractions. It calmed her down and made the pain more bearable as she could hear her own soothing voice. In between contractions, I asked her to breathe deeply into the belly as we had practiced before. Focussing on the breath helped her to stay calm and retain energy.

Although I wasn’t there for the actual birth which happened a couple of hours after I left, I felt enormously grateful for having been able to support her through part of this experience. It was a huge honour to have been present during this special moment in her life and so incredible to see what she achieved by simply breathing consciously. And I can see why midwives love their work.

Today's tip: Take five to breathe.

I never fail to take five minutes during my yoga practice to just sit and breathe. But maybe you can do it in the train on the way to work or before you step out of your car at the end of the day and have to face your kids, partner and cooking chores at home. Or before you eat breakfast, on an empty stomach, which is even better.

Simply taking five or ten minutes to breathe deeply and consciously will help you focus, clear your head, take in some extra oxygen and get that vital flow of prana going. You don’t need a complicated breathing exercise. We just want energy to flow and move around.

Also try to make it a routine. Doing it once every so often is good for you but practicing it every day makes it even more beneficial. Just like any other skill, breathing well is something you can train. It is simple, cheap and one of the best gifts you can give to yourself on a daily basis.


More about Yaisa

Yaisa is an ex-banker and ex-scuba diving instructor. She now spends her time between Bali, Europe and South Australia teaching yoga and working as a health coach and appropriately named her business Yoga Here & There. Since 2016 she is also yoga teacher trainer and every day, she is amazed at how much more there is to learn about yoga. She is happy to (try and) answer any questions you may have.

Phone: +61 45510 7533  (only WhatsApp when overseas)



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Special offer for ACM Readers

Yaisa is offering a fabulous discount for midwives.

  • Offer: 10% discount, for any yoga teacher training or yoga retreat with Yoga Here & There
  • Eligibility: any midwife that reads the Yoga blog
  • Booking: Use the code "ACM" when you email or call Yaisa to find out more.  The booking process is online, so you dont need to print any vouchers.