It is not surprising that yoga and childbirth have a lot in common…gentlemen stay with me! Max Strom, yoga teacher and author of "A Life Worth Breathing," states that, “the only people in this country, on a wide scale, that are taught how to breathe are woman about to give birth,” (and yogis of course). Although sensations during birth are much more intense than sensations in a yoga posture, both practices help to develop tools to establish a sense of calm amongst internal chaos. Due to the fact that I have an interest in both of these astounding practices, I stuck my nose in “Guide to Childbirth,” written by one of North America’s top midwives, Ina May Gaskin. In her book she not only shares her client's birth stories, but also shares her personal birthing tips and tricks. One observation that Ina has made over the years is how powerful the mind/body connection is. This relationship between the body and mind is what I’d like to focus on, because miraculously it is a relationship that is strengthened through yoga as well.
Most of us brought up in Western cultures are taught that thoughts and feelings don't matter when it comes to the functioning of your body. Ina states, "When something goes wrong with the body, our culture teaches that pharmaceutical medicines or surgery will be necessary." In the early stages of her career she quickly learned that we cannot afford to overlook the mind/body connection in labor and delivery. Here is an example of how strong the bond can be.
In many cases, a woman's cervix will dilate at a steady rate to about seven centimeters, but then can became locked there for several hours. When this occurs, Ina begins an open dialogue with the soon to be mother to try and get to the bottom of her physical hold up. She discovered that in all cases, the delay was due to an emotional blockage that needed to be released before the cervix could relax.
One woman was riddled with fear of dying in childbirth. As soon as she confided in Ina, her baby was born within two hours. Ina reflects, "I was quite impressed to know that an unspoken terrible thought could so powerfully alter a woman's body's ability to perform a normal physiological function."
Talk about reestablishing trust in your intuition and feelings: Ina said that if someone walked into the room who wasn’t intimate with the laboring mother, labor would often come to a halt. If that person then left the room, only then would the birthing process return to its natural pace and intensity.
In another case, the power of mantra (a sound, word, or group of words that is capable of "creating transformation") was used to progress the physical body in labor. This woman experienced her cervix opening just after her husband whispered in her ear, "You're marvelous." The couple continued to use positive affirmation to ease their baby into the world free of medication, mechanical intervention, or surgery.
Mantra, as well as meditation, pranayama and asana, is an important part of yoga that helps enhance mind/body coordination. "These techniques help to awaken poise, grace, strength, and the development of centered awareness, even in the midst of chaos and turmoil, " shares physician and spiritual guide, Deepak Chopra. It's quite impressive to watch the muscles, nervous system, the breath, and heartbeat become affected by what is happening in the mind. For example, if you hit meditation after a whirlwind of a day, you can calm yourself quite quickly and efficiently by focusing the mind on a relaxing image or word.
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with mantra, to try to decipher if it makes an impact on my practice or not. What pose did I choose to be my guinea pig? Obviously handstand, as there is so much mental and emotional turmoil around this popular little bugger! Upon hopping into it, I silently recited one word in my head to see if my body would respond. Overzealous mantras, caused me to flip past centre, cartwheeling to one side. A softer word, or even no word at all, seemed to have kept my hips far behind my shoulders; I was still far from making the cover of Yoga Journal! Finally, I discovered that it was a mantra between the two extremes that helped click me into that sweet spot. I hopped to the word, “ strong” or “ stick it” and literally hung out with my handstand for a few breaths. To help nail handstand, sometimes I’ll trick my body with my imagination. Call me crazy, but yesterday I put a pretend pit of snakes behind me and I didn’t fall out of it once!
Another way to deepen your understanding of the body/mind connection is to periodically check in with your overall experience in a pose. For example, if I observe my body struggling I’ll go upstairs and scan over my thoughts. Almost 90% of the time I’ll discover that my mind is either dark, negative, distracted or unsupportive. If the body is being challenged by an advance posture, eventually you can ease your experience by softening the edges around reactive thoughts. Change your habitual thinking patterns to therefore change the overall bhava, or mood, of the pose.
Chopra affirms that, "the activity in your mind is communicated to every cell in your body. When your mind is turbulent your messenger molecules communicate turbulence to your cells, tissues and organs. If you can quiet your mind, you can send messages of peace and harmony to every cell in your body."
Your body is listening, so never forget that thoughts become things!