Yoga and Pregnancy

Swami Sivamurti Saraswati. Reprinted from: The Indweller of the Heart, Satyanandashram Greece, Paiania, Greece, 1998.

Until the age of seven years, the mother is the guru of the child. She is responsible for the development of all the desired qualities, such as love, compassion and intelligence. Just as the gardener looks after a small plant, she too provides for the total care and nutrition of the child. The compost and the manure are derived from her blood and bone marrow. She is like the farmer who gives urea to the plant when it is growing. Once the plant is fully grown, urea is no longer useful. In the same way, giving nutrition to a baby is the mother's responsibility, and that nutrition does not mean only feeding, it is all inclusive.

Paramahamsa Satyananda

Pregnancy is a total experience. It is a time in a woman's life when it is of prime importance that the various dimensions of her being are in harmony. The regular practice of certain yoga exercises, meditation and breathing techniques ensures optimum health of her body and mind, and the unification of her physical, emotional and spiritual growth with that of the developing child.

Yoga postures, together with breathing and relaxation techniques, provide the mother-to-be with physical flexibility and suppleness. The breathing exercises not only aid relaxation and well-being, they also charge her body with vitality and extra energy for both herself and the child. Meditation techniques, if practised consistently, promote a serene outlook on life, which benefits the disposition of both the mother and the child, and help bring about a relaxed attitude towards the actual birth experience. The repetition of certain sounds settles the mind, and aids the brain development of the child.

The practice of yoga by both parents will enable them to become fitting hosts for the child. Indeed, the spiritual preparation of the parents is an important factor in the conception of every child, and moulds the consciousness and disposition of the foetus and the baby after the birth.

Ideally, yoga should be practised before conception to prepare the woman's mind and body, but it can also be of great value during pregnancy for an expectant mother who is just commencing yoga. It will strengthen the muscles and make the body more supple, which will aid the delivery itself.

The parts of the body that yoga works on, in particular during pregnancy, are the stomach muscles, spine, back muscles and pelvis. Strength in the abdominal region will assist the carriage of the foetus and aid proper development. The muscles of the stomach and the abdomen are essential for pushing the child from the womb. A strong, supple spine is necessary for general flexibility and toning, and the healthy functioning of the nervous system. A resilient spine will prevent the shoulders drooping, which often occurs during pregnancy, owing to the extra weight the woman is carrying. The extra weight of the developing child also puts a great strain on the back muscles, and yoga postures help to strengthen this area. Lastly, but most importantly, special exercises in a squatting position help to make the pelvic area relaxed and flexible for the actual birth.

Deep yogic breathing is particularly useful, as the growth of the baby enlarges the uterus to such an extent that the diaphragm is pushed upwards. This can result in a shortness of breath. There are specific breathing exercises to help the mother-to-be with this condition.

In early pregnancy many women experience strong feelings of nausea, lethargy and loss of appetite. The intensity of this condition can be alleviated through shatkarmas, cleansing techniques for the body. They are also effective after the birth if the new mother experiences post-natal depression. These techniques help to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and harmonize the endocrine system, which eliminates the depression.

Yoga nidra, which is a progressive system of deep relaxation using visualization techniques, is one of the most powerful practices to be used during pregnancy. Through visualization the woman can imagine her child with a healthy body, a good character and a lively and creative disposition. These days it is possible to know the sex of the unborn child, and this data can assist the effectiveness of the visualization. It is said that energy follows thought, and it is this principle that is behind the efficacy of visualization. Our knowledge of DNA also makes it possible for the thought forms of the mother to change and enhance the DNA structure of the child. Positive affirmations are also used in yoga nidra and these can be utilized to assist the character formation of the child, as well as facilitating an easy and enjoyable birth experience for both the mother and the child.

The psychology and philosophy of yoga can assist the mother to understand the experiences she is going through and to live them more fully. The development of awareness and of being a witness to all experiences in life is a central teaching of yoga. The ability to stand aside and witness what one is passing through removes a lot of fear and anxiety. Awareness builds one's inner resources of self-esteem and confidence and also enables the birth to be more consciously experienced. Yogic psychology also helps us understand the causes and effects of our circumstances in life and this deepens our insight and wisdom. Yoga stresses the first seven years of the child's life. During this time it is the mother who has the most important role in the character formation of the child. After seven years, the more masculine energies of the father are necessary to develop reasoning and intellectual abilities. The mother learns through yoga to nurture in the child an appreciation of beauty and culture, such as the use of storytelling with colourful heroes and heroines for the child to use as role models.

The yogic attitude towards motherhood stresses the importance of preparing the whole family for the arrival of a new family member. It advocates the participation of the father and other children in the preparations and often suggests the father and children do the yoga classes with the mother. Such preparation is often useful in counteracting feelings of sibling rivalry or jealousy that may occur following the introduction of a new family member.

For the single mother, both the yogic practices and their inherent philosophy help to strengthen the woman's health and psychological well-being, and counterbalance any feelings of insecurity and loneliness she may be feeling. Yoga gives prime importance to the role of the mother which builds self-esteem and strengthens her inner resources. Its philosophy teaches her how to make the most of her situation and provides the incentive to have a positive and optimistic outlook.

Yoga also views the pregnancy and birth from the child's viewpoint, as well as the mother's, and emphasizes the importance of the immediate bonding of the newly-born infant with the mother. From the fourth month, the wise say that the soul enters the body of the unborn child and that he or she now has awareness. This is why yoga emphasizes the role of the mother in nourishing the infant, not just physically, but also psychologically. The basic fabric of a child's life is woven in the womb and the health and mental attitudes of the mother directly affect the baby. Yogic practices assist the mother in developing a positive influence on the growing consciousness of the child, as well as ensuring that the experience of pregnancy and birth are wholesome and memorable ones for both herself and the child.