The Power of Mudras during Pregnancy Yoga

What is a mudra and how can they be helpful during pregnancy yoga?

Mudra means “seal,” “gesture,” or “mark.” Yoga mudras are symbolic gestures mostly practiced with the hands and fingers. They facilitate the flow of energy in the subtle body and enhance one’s journey within. These gestures help to focus the mind and also connect to particular energy channels in the body to produce a specific effect on the nervous system, the energetic body and the mind.

Each area of the hand has a reflex reaction in a specific part of the brain. A mudra therefore locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain.

Mudras can be very beneficial in helping pregnant women to become calm, centred and more focussed and will often be used in conjunction with a specific focus on the breath. Many mudras help to foster inner strength and confidence.

They can help pregnant women to focus on a specific intent, including opening the heart centre; giving and receiving; removing obstacles; developing a feeling of unconditional love; and cultivating and connecting to sense of deep inner calm.

Once a woman is familiar with a mudra she can practice it anywhere and anytime to bring about a particular energetic effect.

Some examples of mudras that are very useful to practise during pregnancy are:

  1. Ganesha Mudra – the remover of obstacles
    Ganesha Mudra is named after the Hindu deity who removes obstacles. It can be used to relieve stress and tension and lift your spirits.

*  Interlock the fingers of both hands in front of the chest, elbows in line with the hands, shoulders relaxed.

*  As you exhale gently pull the elbows out towards the side, as though you want to pull the hands apart.

*  As you inhale, soften and release the pull.

ganesha-mudra

*  You can repeat this five times, working with the breath, and then swap the interlock of the hands and repeat a further five times.

*  Afterwards release the hands on to the thighs and sit quietly for a few minutes, breathing well, and noticing the effects on this mudra on your mind and emotions.

*  The benefit on this mudra is that it helps pregnant women to focus on the concept of removing obstacles – be they mental or physical.

*  A regular practice of this mudra can help women to feel confident and trusting in their ability to give birth and can help remove anxieties or worries.

2) Lotus Wish Mudra
*  Begin by placing the hands in prayer position in front of the heart.

*  Then join the wrists, inner edges of the palms and little fingers together and the inner edges of the thumbs to form a little lotus bud shape, and lightly touch the tips of the fingers together. Take a moment here to connect to your breath and to your body, and then think of a heartfelt wish for yourself and your baby.

lotus-wish-mudra

*  Slowly open the finger tips slightly apart and as you do so gently blow the wish into the lotus bud. Then seal it there by bringing the finger tips back together, and hold it close to your heart centre for a few more breaths.

*  On an inhalation take the arms up, still with the hands forming the lotus bud, and then on an exhalation open the lotus bud into a flower releasing the wish to the universe, allow the hands to part and then bring the arms down by your sides in a wide circle.

lotus-wish-mudra

Finish by bringing the palms of both hands to rest on the heart centre, in a calm and grateful acceptance of whatever may come.

lotus-wish-mudra

*  This mudra is very helpful in connecting the mother with her baby in a positive way. It is reinforcing optimistic thoughts about the future relationship between the mother and baby, helping with the bonding between them. The final part of bringing the hands to rest on the heart in an acceptance of whatever may come can be useful in preparing a pregnant woman to be accepting of both the joys and possible challenges ahead, both during and after birth.

3)   Opening to a feeling of never-ending and unconditional love mudra
*  Begin with the hands in prayer position in front of the heart centre (Anjali Mudra).

*  Relaxing the shoulders and the jaw, draw the awareness inwards and connect to the breath. As you inhale gently press the palms of the hands together and as you exhale open the arms wide, palms facing upwards and really allow the heart centre to open.

love-mudra

love-mudra

*  Repeat five times moving slowly with the breath, and then rest the hands back on the thighs, with the palms of the hands turned upwards.

love-mudra

*  Allow a feeling of a deep sense of unconditional love to spread from your heart centre through the whole of your body and mind – that deep love between yourself and your baby.

*  This mudra is very helpful in cultivating a deep bond between a mother and her baby in the womb.

4) Giving and Receiving Mudra
*  This mudra has both a physical and emotional/energetic benefit.

On a physical basis it can be very helpful in relieving and preventing discomfort and pain in the wrists which can be quite common during pregnancy.

On an emotional level it helps women to deepen their bond with their baby as they think about all they will be giving to their new baby in terms of care and love, and all that they will receive back in terms of love and joy.

*  Begin with the hands in front of the heart centre with the outer edges of the wrists and the little fingers touching.

*  Inhale and as you exhale rotate through the wrists so that the inner edges of the wrists and the thumbs come together and the hands move away from you. Repeat 5 times and then change the direction of the movement.

5) Adhi Mudra
“I am always calm in the centre of my being.”

*  Sit comfortably and place your thumbs inside your palms and gently make loose fists around thumbs.

adhi-mudra

adhi-mudra

*  Turn the hands downward on your lap.

adhi-mudra

*  Begin to notice your breath, sensing its natural rhythm through your body, and allow yourself to connect to the inner stillness that is always present deep within you.  Repeat for 10 breaths, or longer if required.

adhi-mudra

*  This mudra helps us to feel secure and grounded and also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It can be a helpful one to do before bedtime if disturbed sleep is an issue, or in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

*  It is also good for lowering blood pressure (N.B. if you have low blood pressure do make sure this mudra feels good in your body, otherwise move on to one of the other mudras.)

These are just some of the mudras that can be helpful during pregnancy. Sarah teaches these and other mudras during her weekly pregnancy yoga classes at Yoga Creation.

© Sarah Burgess 2017

The “mysterious” pelvic floor

Many yoga teachers mention the pelvic floor in their classes, mostly in connection with the practice of moola bandha (“engage your pelvic floor in this pose”). Yet for numerous people this area of our body is a bit of a mystery. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page!

Many yoga teachers mention the pelvic floor in their classes, mostly in connection with the practice of moola bandha (“engage your pelvic floor in this pose”). Yet for numerous people, unless they had a closer look because they or their partner have been pregnant, suffer from incontinence or practice certain tantric techniques, this area of our body is a bit of a mystery. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page!

What is the pelvic floor and why is it important?

What we call the pelvic floor is, essentially, a set of crossed muscles creating a “hammock” at the bottom of our pelvic bowl, between our legs.

The deepest layer is the pelvic diaphragm, forming a cupola shape. The next layer is the deep transverse perineal muscle, stretching across the pelvic outlet from side to side. The superficial layer surrounds the openings in the pelvic floor in the shape of a figure of eight, connecting the front and the back. In practice, the terms “pelvic floor”, “perineum” and “pelvic diaphragm” are often used interchangeably or mixed up. A minority of yoga teachers take issue with the term “pelvic floor”, arguing it is not really the “floor” of the body, they prefer the term “pelvic muscles”.

Male pelvic floor :

 

©A.v.Lysebeth, “Tantra”)

Female pelvic floor:

 

(© Wikipedia)

The muscles of the male pelvic floor are stronger at the front to support erection, whilst in the female the muscles are stronger at the back. The urogenital hiatus allows the urogenital “apparatus” to pass through the pelvic floor into the perineum below. In males, this is the passage of the urethra. In females, it is the passage of the urethra and the vagina. As you can see in the female drawing, there is a connection with the gluteus maximus, the “buttocks”.
Which means two things: 1) sometimes when we think we are working on the pelvic floor, we are actually just squeezing the buttocks – so learn to differentiate, use a mirror if need be. And 2) strong legs and glutes do support a strong pelvic floor – to the point that female dancers, horse riders etc. sometimes have a pelvic floor that is excessively toned and cannot relax… as they discover in childbirth.

What does the pelvic floor do?

It is involved in three very basic functions of the human body: urination, defecation, and sex / reproduction. The first two explain why keeping the pelvic floor elastic is so important to prevent or heal incontinence (which manifests as leakage when sneezing, laughing, or running, for example). The sexual function explains why practitioners of certain tantric techniques (used to reach higher states of consciousness through specific sexual practices) and modern sex therapists insist on training it (improving vaginal muscle tone has been scientifically proven to cure many cases of “frigidity” in women whose muscles in that area were less reactive).

It also supports our inner organs against the downward pull of gravity – hence its importance in the context of internal organ prolapse.

At the energetic level, moola bandha, the root lock, keeps the energy inside, directing it upwards, (also important for yoga: protecting the lower back, together with uddiyana bandha) Last but not least, the root chakra, “mooladhara chakra”, which is associated with our most basic human needs (shelter, food) is situated there.

What can affect the pelvic floor?

Pregnancy and childbirth, frequent and strong coughing (in case of a chronical lung condition for example), slouching on chairs/ sofas (which pushes the internal organs down), repeated incorrect lifting of heavy loads, chronic constipation (leading to forceful pushing, aggravated by modern toilets, on which we sit as on a chair, instead of squatting as nature intended), and incorrect “hyperpressive” abdominal exercises are all stressors to the pelvic floor muscles. Also, a symptom of menopause is that tissues tend to lose some of their elasticity through hormonal changes.

How to keep it healthy?

Basically, as with any muscles, you can’t just focus on toning, you must also relax. Some people need more relaxation, others more toning, so it’s not “one solution for all”. But the rule of thumb is still “use it or lose it”.

In the case of pregnancy and childbirth, practicing specific pelvic floor exercises which focus on elasticity of these muscles such as taught in the pre- and postnatal classes, and perineal massage in the last weeks before giving birth, are proven to be helpful.

If you suffer from stress incontinence, it can be beneficial to “squeeze” your pelvic floor pre-emptively when you feel a cough, a sneeze or a good belly-laugh coming.
Also, both men and women who are interested in maintaining a healthy sex life for many more years will benefit from basic tantric practices to keep their pelvic floor active.

And this goes for everybody: when practicing any physical exercise or lifting heavy loads, remember to engage the pelvic floor muscles, draw the abdominal wall up and back towards the spine, and lift the diaphragm (you may see your belly bulging if you’re not doing it correctly and pushing your internal organs down). This is one reason why we mention moola bandha and uddiyana bandha in yoga classes.

To learn more about this issue, we encourage you to join us for the “Pelvic floor Magic” workshop with Susanne at Yoga Creation.

Adapting classical yoga asanas for Pre-Natal Yoga

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Here we look at two classical poses and give instructions on how they can be adapted for a safe pre-natal practice.

Triangle Pose/Trikonasana
    • Begin by stepping feet a comfortable distance apart – but not too wide. Your stance will be narrower than for ‘traditional’ Trikonasana. In all pregnancy yoga postures we want to be careful not to overstretch the muscles and joints (particularly those of the pelvis) which are generally more pliant during pregnancy. The feet should be less than one of your leg’s lengths apart. A good guideline is to have the feet just wider than the width of your mat.
    • See if you can align the heel of your front foot with the inner arch of your back foot. Turn your right foot out and the back foot in slightly.
    • Inhale and raise the arms and extend them either side at shoulder height, relaxing the shoulders as you do so.

Trikonasana

    • As you exhale extend over to the right, folding at the hip, and bending your right leg as you take the back of your right hand to rest on your inner right leg, wherever feels comfortable and at the same time take your left arm into the air.

    • Inhale here and if it feels ok then you can straighten the right leg as you rotate the abdomen and chest towards the sky and carefully turn your head to look towards your left hand. If there is any dizziness or discomfort in the neck then keep the gaze on the right foot instead.

  • Stay for a couple of breaths – as long as feels comfortable, and then on an inhale come back up. Then turn the feet in the opposite direction, exhale over to the left side, and repeat as above to the left.
  • You can also then flow back and forth between each side, moving on the breath, and really allowing the pose to feel as fluid as possible. Inhale in the centre, exhale as you stretch over to the right, inhale back to centre and exhale to the left, in a continuous flow of breath and movement.
Warrior 1 /Virabhadrasana 1 using the wall and twisting variation

*  The variations of these postures are best practised against the wall during pregnancy, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.

*  Moving to a wall, stand facing the wall with the right foot about a foot and half away from the wall and the left foot a comfortable distance behind.

*  Be aware that the distance between the front and back foot should not be too long, and definitely shorter than for the classic variation of Warrior 1.

*  Take both hands to the wall, shoulder width apart and shoulder height. The arms should be straight and hands firming pressing into the wall.

*  Look down and ensure that the feet are lined up as if along either side of a tram line in terms of the width between them and have both feet facing the wall. This helps to create more space for the baby and also really makes the posture more stable. It also facilitates bringing both hips to squarely face the wall.

*  Exhale and bend the right leg. You might need to reposition your feet a little here to ensure that both arms are straight and the palms flat against the wall.

*  On an exhalation press the hands into the wall as if you want to push the wall away from you and on an inhalation soften and release the pressure. As you exhale and push the wall away you may feel the muscles of the lower abdomen engaging. Don’t worry if you can’t feel this at first as it is quite subtle.

*  If you don’t feel anything, you can try moving the hands a little further down the wall, and/or turning the hands so the fingers point to the sides. You can also try with the forearms on the wall instead of the hands and notice which muscles engage, or move the hands a little higher or lower up the wall to see what effect that has.

*  Repeat 5 times. Even if you can’t feel the lower abdominal muscles engaging, the most important thing is to connect to the breath, and the sense of pressing firmly on the exhale and releasing and letting go on the inhale.

*  To move to the next stage, which takes the upper body into a safe and open  twist, then inhale and open the left arm out to the side and back, opening through the chest and left shoulder, and looking towards your fingers, and then exhale and bring the left hand back to the wall. Repeat several times flowing on the breath.

*  Then swap sides and repeat all of the above on the other side, with the left leg in front, and then opening the right arm to the side and back when coming into the twist.
Flowing though the postures on the breath rather than holding them is very beneficial in pregnancy yoga as it really helps women to embody the breath/body connection, which is so useful in labour, and it also encourages more relaxed stretching and elongating rather than rigidly holding in a posture.

It is very important that the stances in all standing postures for pregnancy yoga are kept shorter to prevent overextending in the muscles, ligaments and joints, especially those in the inner groins, hips and pelvis. The pregnancy hormones of elastin and relaxin can mean that the joints and ligaments become looser and more elastic and pliable during pregnancy so it is important to make women aware of this and to encourage them to work safely and conservatively and not to over-stretch in any posture. If muscles and ligaments are over-stretched during pregnancy it will take much longer for everything to knit back into place post-natally, and can also have a destabilising effect on the pelvis during pregnancy.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Warrior II as a freestanding posture in the middle of the room is best avoided in general for pregnancy yoga as it can provoke and aggravate Pelvic Girdle Pain (which is quite common during pregnancy) as it is an asymmetrical posture that can destabilise the SI Joints.

Within specific pregnancy yoga classes, we modify many classical yoga poses, and also compliment these with many movements, poses and exercises that are specifically designed for women during pregnancy, with a focus on keeping women ailment free during their pregnancy and to help with common conditions.

For those women who have had a regular and consistent yoga practice prior to becoming pregnant, it is also possible to continue with your practice and to attend non-pregnancy yoga classes, especially during the second trimester when you have more energy, but there are some guidelines that you should be aware of, and things that you should specifically avoid doing, and I will talk more about these in a future article.

In the meantime, if you are pregnant and attending a non-pregnancy yoga class you should always tell the teacher before class, so that he/she can advise you on which poses to avoid or modify.

If you are newly pregnant and would like more advise on how to continue with and adapt your existing yoga practice, then I am always available for 1-2-1 sessions to help with this.

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017

Pregnancy Yoga

Our pregnancy yoga teacher Sarah Burgess explains what pregnant women can expect to gain from yoga in each of the three trimesters of pregnancy.

In the First Trimester *, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To rest, relax and slow down
  • Specific postures can help the foetus to implant
  • Using positive mantras can help relieve anxiety regarding possible miscarriage
  • Deep relaxation and pranayama can be very beneficial in helping women to relax their bodies and minds, and in stabilising hormonal fluctuations and mood swings
  • It can provide physical and emotional support in adapting to all of the changes occurring in their bodies and in their lives
  • It can help women to self-nurture during this very important early stage of pregnancy when they will often feel exhausted and also possibly very nauseous
  • It can help women to create both physical and mental space for baby

In the Second Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To build strength and flexibility in their bodies
  • To both tone and develop elasticity in their pelvic floor
  • To become more in touch with their bodies and to make friends with their pelvis
  • Pranayama exercises help women to begin connecting with and working with their breath and to expand their breathing capacity. This is beneficial for both the mother and baby, and also is very calming for the mind and the body
  • To relieve a number of common ailments associated with pregnancy such a Pelvic Girdle Pain, SI Joint Pain, swollen ankles, sore wrists and insomnia
  • Regularly attending a pre-natal yoga class can help women to form new friendships and find a support group with other expectant mothers
  • Yoga helps women to begin connecting with their babies through the breath, sound, touch, thought and intention and it also gives them some valuable down-time to do this
  • It can help women to feel nurtured and can engender more self-nurture
  • It can help women to positively and effectively respond to postural changes as the increased size of their babies increases the curve of their lumbar spine
  • Yoga at this stage continues to help women to better cope with any anxieties they are experiencing about their pregnancy, the birth and all of the changes that lie ahead.

In the Third Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • It continues to help alleviate common ailments which may well have become more pronounced as the pregnancy progresses, particularly lower back ache, PGP, indigestion and heartburn and difficulty sleeping
  • To learn breathing and sound techniques which can be very valuable during labour and birth, and which during pregnancy help women to connect with and bond with their babies
  • To learn deep relaxation techniques which can also be very useful during labour and birth, and can particularly help women prepare for the potential challenges involved in a hospital birth (e.g. lots of people, noise, bright lights, stressed midwives)
  • Learning labour circuits and birthing postures can be very useful for the birth
  • The use of positive mantras can help to reduce women’s anxieties around the birth
  • To make more physical space for the growing baby and to create more space for the woman to breath, with a particular focus on breathing into the back body, side ribs and chest
  • Breathing and posture work can encourage letting go and releasing, which is very important in preparation for labour
  • Yoga can help to encourage optimal foetal positioning (so that the baby is positioned in the best possible place in the pelvis when a woman goes into labour)
  • Yoga can give women some much needed time for themselves as the practical preparations for the arrival of baby increase, as perhaps do the last minute demands of the workplace before women go on maternity leave

* N.B. It is worth noting that whilst women are generally advised to rest and not attend yoga classes during their first trimester there are a number of gentle practices and relaxation exercises that are safe and beneficial to do at home during this time.

Sarah will cover these in a future article. She is also available for 1-2-1 sessions either at the studio or at your home if you would like advise or guidance on simple, safe yoga practices for the first trimester.

 

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017