What are the adequate breathing techniques for pregnant women?
The word Pranayama has two roots: Prana (life force or vital energy) and ayama (expansion or extension), so it can be translated as the expansion of the breath and the aspects of the breathing: the inhalation, the exhalation and the retention or absence of inhalation or exhalation.
In general terms, Pranayama looks to emphasise the inhalation (Puraka), the exhalation (Rechaka), or the retention of the breath (Kumbhaka), or combinations of these aspects. However, while some techniques are perfectly safe to be practised throughout the entire pregnancy, some of them should be avoided. Practices like Kumbakha – that obstruct the natural flow of the breath (and therefore interrupt the oxygen supply to the foetus), or Bhastrika and Kapalbhati – that require expanding and firmly contracting the abdomen muscles, are not recommended.
Pranayamas for Mamas
Victorious or Ujjayi breath:
It is produced by deliberately narrowing the glottis, restricting the passage of air. Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose. Naturally occurring when we sleep, it is a soft, audible breath that reminds to sound of the ocean or a breeze going through the branches of a tree. The calming effects of the lengthened inhales and exhales can reduce high blood pressure. It is useful to re-centre and manage anxiety and fear, it calms the nerves and it facilitates the handling of sharper contractions during labour.
Golden Thread exhalation:
This technique consists in prolonging the exhalation by letting the air pass by through a small gap between the lips letting it become as fine as a golden thread spinning out of the mouth. The exhalation extends gradually contributing to lower the heart rate and relax.
It promotes deep rest (it can induce sleep) and is an antidote to pain and tension, which is why is instinctively adopted by many women in the first stages of labour.
Full Yogic Breath:
The objective of this practice is to make space in the body by bringing the breath awareness consecutively to three different parts of the torso: lower abdomen, ribcage and upper chest, and then combining all of them. It results in a fuller, deeper breathing. It massages the digestive organs and helps increasing abdominal and thoracic breathing, allowing the lungs to expand fully and breathe more deeply. It is good resource in later stages of pregnancy as the growing baby limits the expansion of the lungs due to the immobilization of the respiratory diaphragm.
Nadi Shodana or alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma):
This Pranayama lengthens the inhalation and exhalation by alternately closing each nostril and blocking the passage of air on one side and then the other with the aid of a mudra (hand gesture). It purifies the nadis (energy channels) and balances the energy within the body.
In pregnant women the blocking of the nostrils can be done with the fingers if the nose passages are free, or mentally, imagining alternatively closing the nostrils.
It creates a slower breath rhythm that soothes the nervous system and balances the moods and changing energies arising during pregnancy. It induces a state of calm, reduces anxiety and helps coping with fear and panic during labour.
This Pranayama is done by curling up both edges of the tongue and breathing in through this tube. As the air passes through the humid tongue, it gets cooler and refreshes the throat. The exhale is done through the nostrils. Because of its cooling quality, this practice is useful to lower the body temperature after a vigorous activity or when the weather is hot, to lower high blood pressure and ease mental tension.
Learn more about the benefits of deep breathing techniques during pregnancy here.
– Anaya, Patricia A. 2016. Bumps in Motion. Pregnancy Yoga Sequences from Around the World. Redondo Beach, California: Serenity Birth.
– Desikachar, T. V. K. 1995. The heart of Yoga. Developing a Personal Practice. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.
– Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017. Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth. Improve your wellbeing throughout pregnancy and beyond. London: Teach Yourself.
– Saraswati, Swami Satyananda. 2003. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha. Munger, India: Yoga Publications Trust