योग चित व्ति निरोधं: ।। २ ।।
Yoga citta-vritti nirodhah
Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
– The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Edwin Byrant commentary1)
Without stillness in thought, action and overall being much of the benefits of asanas will only be rudimentary and superficial. In order for pregnant women to gain all the benefits of her yoga practice, incorporating a vehicle that will influence calmness of mind and emotions becomes essential. Meditation techniques should therefore be introduced as early as possible during the course of the prenatal yoga practice.
There are distinct physiological advantages to meditation that may benefit both mother and child in the womb. In the influential The Relaxation Response2, Herbert Benson in 1975 showed that meditation (particularly he researched transcendental meditation) decreases various stress causing physiological responses (Fig. 1) such as heart rate, breathing rate, sympathetic nervous activity and other metabolic activities. Pregnancy rates at 44/100 in scale of impact of stress in a woman’s life, well above change in financial status (38) and death of a close friend (37).2 This means that active management of stress and anxiety during pregnancy will be of great benefit to both mother and child.
Apart from stress management, meditation and in general yoga practice has significant benefits in childbirth and management of pregnancy related issues. Many techniques involved in meditation will also be useful during birthing itself, which may explain to a certain extent why women adept in yoga and meditation manage labour and childbirth better than their otherwise unprepared counterparts (fig.2).
Fig.2: The sequential effect of the pathways of yoga on outcomes in pregnancy. (source: Chuntharapat et al. 2008)
There have been a number of studies in the literature recognising the impact of meditation and yoga in pregnancy. One such recent study4 examined the effectiveness of two relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing) during pregnancy. The results of the study demonstrate significant benefits from the use of the techniques in the psychological state of the pregnant women. The systematic implementation of the proposed relaxation techniques contributed in the reduction of perceived stress and anxiety and increased the sense of internal control. They also found changes in many lifestyle factors associated with stress during pregnancy (Table 1)
Despite all the mounting scientific evidence, one of the main reasons to prepare pregnant women with techniques in meditation is to empower them to take control of arguably the biggest situation in their lives. Women can only feel in control when they know how to respond to situations in a non-reactionary manner. But the even more important point to empower women with is in the knowing that giving birth is perhaps the greatest meditation technique we will ever have and thus to embrace it with all its power and humility and pure beauty.
1. Bryant, E., F (2009) The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary. North Point Press: New York.
2. Benson, H. & Klipper, M. Z. (1975) The Relaxation Response. William Morrow and Co. Inc.: New York.
3. Chuntharapat, S., W. Petpichetchian & U. Hatthakit, (2008). Yoga during pregnancy: Effects on maternal comfort, labour pain and birth outcomes., Complementary therapies in clinical practice 14(2), 105–15.
4. Tragea, C., G.P. Chrousos, E.C. Alexopoulos & C. Darviri, (2014). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of a stress management programme during pregnancy., Complementary therapies in medicine 22(2), 203–11.