The Millennial Mother is a first of its kind in the known history of mankind. She plays several roles, old and new, in which motherhood is just one of the pegs in the wheel of her life. In the absence of a shared family structure, there is neither support of traditional knowledge, nor are there older people to guide.
Fortunately, the medical world provides good support and fail-safe deliveries compared to old times. Women are educated, aware and men are better equipped and participatory fathers in contributing towards nurturing of the child.
Mothers-to-be can turn to yoga as the timeless knowledge is an easy self-help system of bringing in a new soul into the world. Just roll out your yoga mat every day for some simple asanas, pranayama practices for 30 minutes to an hour and sail through your conception, pregnancy and childbirth. A planned pregnancy is better for you can start your yoga a few months before conception.
A short preface before you dive into your practice. The world today thinks contorting your body into some challenging, difficult poses and posting on social media is what yoga is about. It is not another stressful challenge to prove yourself or a tool to massage your ego. On the contrary, yoga is about being comfortable with your present capabilities, strengths and weaknesses without judgment or analysis. In fact, relaxation of the body and mind is a significant part of yoga and ever so important part of the practice for a mother-to-be.
For yoga to manifest benefits, you must keep checking that no part of your body is tense or tight. Tensing up certain parts of our body is so involuntary that we are not even aware of it. A relaxed body engenders a relaxed mind and a relaxed mind curbs worry, anxiety and negative thinking, which is supreme for a prospective mother. Next comes paying attention to the breathing rhythm to be followed for every asana. Third comes the need to turn your gaze inward to feel and observe how each asana is impacting your different organs, muscles, bones and various systems of the body. It’s not easy but with constant reminder and effort, it becomes part of your practice.
Your yoga is designed to strengthen your spine to comfortably bear the weight of the stomach and also keep the nervous system along the spine in a fine fettle. All asanas have multiple impacts. Most of the asanas for the spine will also tone up stomach muscles, strengthen your pelvis, hip area.
The other recommended asanas target your endocrine and hormonal system. Besides asanas, pranayama has immense benefits pre-and-post pregnancy for both mother and child. According to yoga, the embryo does not have its own pranic energy until the third month. At the end of the third month, the panchpranas start to function in the baby. Therefore, pranayama by the mother helps provide this vital life force to both mother and child. Also, towards the end of the pregnancy, the stomach pushes the diaphragm against the chest resulting in difficult and heavy breathing. Pranayama helps relieve this and ensures efficient exchange of O2 and CO2 between lungs and the heart.
The following asanas can be done until the fifth month of pregnancy. Pranayama can be practiced throughout. After the sixth month, only Sukshma Vyayaam, Ashwini mudra and pranayama must be done. Keep your doctor updated about your yoga practice and follow his advice in case of special situations and problems.
Asanas (Takes 7 to 10 minutes)
1) Stand with feet, a foot apart. Loosen, relax your whole body. Interlock your fingers, place the palms on your head with palms facing upwards. This is the starting position.
2) Inhale deeply, stretch your arms up and come up on your toes. Pull your whole body up maximum and hold. When you want to exhale, lower yourself and come back to the starting position. Relax!
This is one round. Do five rounds. This stretches the spine, the whole body from toes to the fingertips, stretches the abdominal muscles and massages the digestive system.
1) Sit down, keeping knees, feet together, big toes touching each other and heels apart.
2) Lower your hips on your parted heels with spine and head in a straight line and your whole body relaxed. Close your eyes and watch every single inhalation and exhalation for 10-20 breaths.
3) Excellent for the spine, digestive system and calming the mind and nervous system. Awareness must be on how many times the mind wanders off from your breath and counting. This is the only asana which can be done after a meal.
Makrasana/Gentle backward-bending asana
1) Lie down on your stomach, rest your jaws in your palms. Relax. Inhale, fold right leg, exhale, bring it down. Then do the same with the left leg, then both legs together. This is one set. Do five sets. Works on the lower back, stretches the abdominal area and opens up the lungs.
Uthanasana/Squat and rise pose
1) Squatting, which is an old Indian pose for easing yourself, must be practiced in the initial months unless you have a prolapse uterus problem. To strengthen the hip, pelvic areas, thighs and knees, you can squat, then inhale and stand up. Exhale while you sit down, alternately standing and squatting. Best way to prepare the body for labor.
1) This involves sitting in any relaxed position and while inhaling, you tighten the muscles around the anus and the genital areas. Hold for some time and with exhale, relax all the muscles. Repeat this 10-20 times. Can be done anytime, anywhere as it is not obvious to others.
Pranayama Anulom Vilom/Alternate nostril breathing
1) Sit in Padmasana or Vajranasa. If neither is possible, then sit in a simple crossed-legged pose or on a chair with a straight back or against the wall if you have back problems. Place forefinger, middle finger at the eyebrow center, use your thumb to close the right nostril and ring finger to close your left nostril.
2) Close your left nostril and breathe in through your right nostril counting to the rhythm of seconds, then breathe out through the left with counting, then breathe in through left and breathe out through right. This makes one round. Do five rounds. As you breathe in and out, count the rhythm of seconds to measure how many seconds you inhale and exhale.
3) In the beginning let it be as per individual capacity. Finally, aim to breathe in and out for at least 5-10 seconds.
1) Sit in a comfortable position as described earlier. Then plug your ears with your fingers, close your eyes, take deep breaths and as you exhale, say a short “O” of “Om” and a long M, feeling the vibrations of mmmmm… buzzing like a bee inside your head. This is a very relaxing pranayama, induces sleep, lowers blood pressure and refreshes the brain.
1) Sit in any of the relaxed poses. Stick your tongue out, make a funnel of your tongue. Breathe in through this funnel feeling cool air entering your body, then exhale through the nose. Do 10 rounds.
1) Sit in a relaxed position and place the upper and lower teeth over one another tightly. Then breathe in through the sides of the mouth again, feeling cool air entering your body. Exhale through the nose. Do 10 rounds.
These are some simple but highly effective practices. Besides keeping the mother healthy and happy in mind and body, it provides a healthy environment for the baby inside the womb. After delivery, the women need to do some different sets of asanas and pranayama to remain fit and energetic.
(Kamini Bobde is a Kundalini practitioner who follows the Swami Satyananda Saraswati tradition of yoga. She along with her Yoga Acharya held Yoga and Kundalini camps in Germany, Tanzania, Vapi, and Kund in the Himalayas).