life lessons from a yogi: the power of breath



It’s funny when you have a vision in your head of how things are “supposed” to go and it turns out the complete opposite.  Or you make a plan for a big event only to have it go completely sideways.  It’s moments like that can really test you.  When things are completely out of our control it can be very stressful.  I had a feeling that I would go past my due date.  Most first time mother’s do.  I didn’t think it would be two weeks and three days late though.  I also didn’t think I would be in labor for two days at home and then another thirty six hours at the hospital.  That wasn’t really how I had pictured things.  But despite the challenges and hiccups along the way the one thing that got me through the experience was my breath.

When I started practicing yoga almost fifteen years ago I went for a workout.  The mind body connection wasn’t what I was seeking.  However the breathing in yoga was different than other workouts.  I did pick up that relatively quickly.  Inhaling and exhaling through my nose.  Most of the time when I would exercise I would breath through my mouth, a sign of stress, probably because my workouts were pushing me past my limits.  

Slowly over the years my yoga practice had changed.  I realized that the breath was a tool not only for the physical yoga practice but the mental yoga practice.  The power of breath is what helped me sit through meditations.  My breath is what could get me through a strenuous physical practice.  It truly was what helped me build my endurance.  When I trained for my half marathon I credited yoga with enabling me to be able to run thirteen some odd miles.  I never once mouth breathed.

When my husband and I were talking about birthing classes we decided on hynpobirthing.  No they do not hypnotize us in class.  It is a class that helps teach you mind over matter.  It helps create a space that you can retreat to in difficult moments.  We realized how much the class was really just an extension of yoga.  The foundation of both was breath.  I couldn’t help in class think “I’ve got this” about giving birth.

I feel like in general when we speak about birth, labor and child delivery we speak about it negatively.  Giving birth has become a scary thing we are taught to fear.  We seem to forget the fact that women for thousands of years have been having babies.  Pain management and epidurals were not used hundreds of years ago.  Our bodies were meant to have babies.  Also it doesn’t help that when you talk about pregnancy a lot of people want to discuss their birthing horror stories or make the experience sound horrible.

I started going into labor at home on a Thursday night.  That’s another thing, people hear “labor” and think intense contractions and maybe even the pushing part.  That is just one part of labor.  I was having contractions.  Sometimes they were closer together, other times they were more than twenty minutes apart.  But this went on until Saturday very early morning.  It wasn’t painful.  It was sometimes a little uncomfortable but in those moments I closed my eyes and took deep breaths.  I knew if the contraction was going to last a minute that was the equivalent to maybe seven deep breaths – so I counted them.  Then it was over.

I finally went to the hospital where I was in labor another 36 hours.  Yes 36 hours.  Most people would think “that is terrible”. but it really wasn’t.  Which I know sounds absolutely crazy.  It was uncomfortable and mentally challenging.  Yes, my body was tired but that was more from the lack of sleep and me being hungry.  I closed my eyes and breathed when things got uncomfortable .  My breath was so strong that my nurse came in to tell me every time I was having a contraction I was able to lower my heart rate over twenty beats a minute.  The other nurses thought I was in distress when they saw this on the monitors.

If you know anything about having a baby at some point in the process contractions usually get very close together, a minute or so sometimes.  That never happened to me.  Mine were at most two and a half to three minutes a part.  That was good and bad for me.  Good because I didn’t have the intense contractions people talk about.  Bad because my labor took so long to progress that they were getting worried about me and my baby.  It was a slow process but in the end it was all worth it.

Your breath can be a powerful tool.  Breathing deep can help lower your heart rate, calm your nerves and overall help reduce stress.  Fifteen years ago I would have never imagined what my yoga practice could do for me.  I never would have thought I would say thirty six hours of labor wasn’t bad.  There is something to be said about breath, the one thing you truly can’t live without.  It is pretty powerful and can do wonders for your mind and body.  So the next time you are in a stressful situation, try to close your eyes and take five deep breaths.  You don’t have to be in labor to realize how powerful it really can be!

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