Applying the fundamental 8 Limbs of Yoga to pregnancy and childbirth.
The Yamas and Niyamas, the First and Second Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali gives us the 8 limbs of yoga, which offers guidance on how we should ethically live on and off the mat. It gives us a direction to follow to find peace within ourselves and the world in which we live. We can easily focus on the specifications for the 8 limbs of yoga and how it applies to pregnancy, motherhood, and labor. Yama is the first of the eight limbs, combined with the Niyamas, it is foundational to our life experiences. Within each of the Yamas and Niyamas, there is a group of ethical teachings to lead the way we interconnect to the world around us. Both of these limbs establish a foundation for ourselves while in pregnancy and a foundation we can later teach our children. The following are ethical rules within the first limb.
Ahimsa is the respect for all living things and the avoidance of violence toward others. It is translated from Sanskrit as the absence of injury. This is applied to pregnancy in how the pregnant person treats others and how they treat themselves and their baby. Also, we cannot narrow it to just those circumstances but to being compassionate and being at peace with what is happening. This is strongly related to the care of their child within. Proper nourishment and reducing stress is a way to be kind to yourself and your child. Satya is truth. This is relevant to a pregnant person’s experience in a variety of ways. They are now speaking for two people. So this leads to knowing your truth of what you want for yourself and your child. Or simply knowing the truth of what is happening in your life and the changes that your body is currently enduring and will endure throughout the birthing process. Asteya is our next virtue and is translated to mean nonstealing. Although this seems quite obvious in its interpretation. We must examine how this applies to being pregnant. It is being respectful to others and not being competitive with them. Someone might look to another pregnant person or someone interacting with their child with contemplation. They may want what someone else has instead of appreciating what they have in their life and their own experiences. They are looking to the future too much instead of being present with the process. In a sense, they are stealing time away from themselves and their own experience.
Brahmacharya relates to abstaining, however, this situation relates more to the use of energy. In pregnancy, fatigue becomes a normal part of life. It presents itself in varying degrees and can affect different people in different ways. It is more beneficial for a person to properly rest or to proactively use their energy. The direction of where the energy goes is very useful to consider during this time.
The last of the Yamas is Aparigraha, which refers to not hoarding. Simply taken as not needing an excessive amount of items or things. This could mean more of holding something so forcibly without the willingness of letting go—whether it be an ideal, a physical object, or an experience. Perhaps a person is gripping to their past and who they were before becoming pregnant. This may come when making room for the baby. Some people place such importance on objects and how they either make them feel or remind them of the past. So decluttering your home could be hard when preparing for a new arrival. We could apply this after the birth as well. You may not want to throw something out because you hold memories of your child interacting with a toy or wearing an outfit. This could also reflect a true idea of what you want your birth to be like. Sometimes we need to let go of our expectations and trust the process.
The second limb, Niyamas, are observances or self-disciplines we are encouraged to have in our lives. Saucha is our first Niyama. It is considered to represent cleanliness and purity. Simplified it means the obvious—wash your hands, shower, etc. Furthermore, it is the cleanliness of the mind, body, and spirit. For a pregnant person, it could be eating cleaner healthier foods for the baby. They should also consider using clean products with no fragrances. By removing stressors out of your life during this time could be considered to be clean. The birthing experience is especially the time to clean out the cobwebs mentally and physically for your child.
The next Samtosa means contentment. This is being happy in our own skin and being happy with what we have in life. Not necessarily physical goods but skills and talent to name a couple. It is hard for people to let go of their feelings, their past, or their expectations. This is useful in several ways for pregnancy. Do you need all of those supplies for the baby? Also, regarding expectations. Holding on to the idea of a perfect birth instead of being content with being in the moment.
Tapas is heat, intense commitment, ritual, and discipline. Being aware of the little one growing inside of you and how your actions are being translated to the baby. Being aware of your surroundings or what you are doing. How does this affect your child? Should you be watching a horror movie? Should you be yelling at anyone? The baby will know when you are angry or scared.
Svadhyaya is self-study and is very prominent for a pregnant person. Learning about your changing body and preparing for the upcoming joy of having a child. Taking classes or reading books about what is to be expected during this time. Listening or reading about birthing stories. Discovering more about yourself and your baby is essential during this time. Even if you are not proactive in your pursuit of more knowledge concerning birth, you will gain knowledge in your experience.
Isvara Pranidhana is a surrender to the divine or the highest quality you wish to embody. Finding your connection to a higher power and relinquishing control over what you cannot control.
Asana, the Third Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga Asana refers to the postures or poses of yoga. Asana may bring the connection between the mind and the body. The origin of the word from Sanskrit means seat. As a pregnant person, you should be aware of and become quite acquainted with your pelvis. So not only are the poses beneficial to both mother and baby, cultivating strength and stamina to help during the birthing process is advantageous. You are mentally and physically preparing yourself by practicing asana for the duration of your pregnancy.
Pranayama, the Fourth Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga Pranayama is not only representative of breathwork but energy and prana (life force). It is fundamental in preparing for labor, birth, and motherhood. Revitalization, healing, and calmness come with breathing. From supporting the development of the baby to staying present, or calming your nervous system, the necessity to breathe is paramount on a different level. Moreover, pranayama is very crucial during labor. Focused breathing is pertinent during labor and delivery.
Pratyahara, the Fifth Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga Pratyahara is the conscious withdrawal of the senses. For pregnant people, it is paramount to learn to remove external distractions so they can identify and trust their intuition. And find confidence in the process. A pregnant person can surrender to nature and the demands of labor and motherhood.
Dharana and Dhyana, the Sixth and Seventh Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga Dharana and Dhyana refer to concentration, meditation, observation, and reflection. This is helpful to a pregnant person if utilized. Sleep, relaxation, and preparation for labor are all benefits. Regarding labor, it prepares by learning to trust nature and herself by preparing them physically, mentally, and emotionally. You must listen to your inner self and trust yourself. Practicing meditation can prepare you for challenging moments during pregnancy and motherhood.
Samadhi, the Eighth Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga Samadhi is a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In this, a pregnant person discovers their wisdom as a mother. This connects to trusting your intuition. The process of giving birth is a miracle of its own. To attain higher attainment of your path and your new role is something quite powerful. They will be able to lead their child purposely and with meaning using their power and strength as a mother.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga are valuable when applying them to life during pregnancy and motherhood. The benefits are quite numerous and create a healthy and balanced pregnancy. So many interpretations but the journey guide us to trust ourselves and trust our body.