Pranayama in Pregnancy - Techniques, Benefits & more

How to Do Pranayama During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Urja Shah (Yoga Expert)
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Pranayama can be described in different ways. For some, pranayama is the art of yogic breathing which uses certain breathing techniques to control the flow and circulation of life currents throughout the body. For others, it teaches one to breathe and improves the circulation of oxygen within the body.

What Is Pranayama?

Pranayama allows the practitioner to be aware of their breath, increase their mindfulness, and improve their overall quality of life. This is done through rich oxygenation of the blood and by promoting a calmer mind and body. In Sanskrit, the ‘prana’ in pranayama translates to ‘energy’ or ‘life force’ while ‘ayama’ translates to the regulation or control of this energy.

Why Practice Pranayama During Pregnancy?

During the initial stages of labour, the body releases adrenaline due to the stress and anxiety experienced by the mother. This can delay the release of oxytocin, a chemical compound in the body which aids in the process of delivery.

By practising pranayama, one can negate negative energy, relax, and aid the body to release oxytocin to make labour easier and smoothen it. Additionally, it helps cope with the pain by relaxing the body as well.

Is Practicing Pranayama Safe for Pregnant Women?

One question that is often asked is: “Is Pranayama Safe During Pregnancy?” While it is safe, there are some common unsafe pranic breaths for pregnancy such as:

  • Taking forceful breaths rapidly
  • Holding the breath

Consulting with your doctor or gynaecologist when practising specific pranayama techniques is recommended. This is because your body undergoes changes week-by-week during pregnancy.

Benefits of Pranayama

During pregnancy, your newborn is dependent on your body for the supply of oxygen and nutrients. Through conscious inhaling during pregnancy along with mindful exhaling during pregnancy, one can strengthen the supply of oxygen and dispel carbon dioxide in the blood. This purifies the blood, rids it of toxins, and supplies the foetus with fresh oxygen and nutrients as well. Supplying the baby with adequate oxygen contributes to its development in the womb, both cognitive and physical. By practising pranayama, you can reduce your own anxiety by fuelling your body with oxygen.

Pranayama has multiple benefits for pregnant women and by practising such techniques, one can enjoy multi-fold advantages. Here are several reasons why one should practise pranayama during early pregnancy:

  • Enhanced blood circulation
  • More energy in the body
  • Increased oxygen levels in the blood
  • Eliminates wastes and toxins from the body
  • Pranayama generates positive hormones in the body
  • Removes negative thoughts and calms the mind

7 Best Pranayama Techniques

These are the following pranayama moves which are deemed safe for pregnant women. Practising these will ensure good health and a growing, healthy foetus:

1. Gentle Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana) – Baddha Konasana, or the butterfly pose, is easy and safe, and is especially helpful during child delivery periods. It stimulates and maintains the health of the reproductive system. It acts as a stress-reliever and even heals menstruation problems.

    • Sit erect and bring your knees towards you by bending them as close as possible.
    • Connect the soles of your feet with each other and hold your feet firmly with your hands.
    • Take deep breaths and while exhaling, press on the thighs and knees downward in the direction of the floor. Breathe normal and gently flap your knees like a butterfly by bring them up and down at a comfortable pace.

2. Dirgha Pranayama – Purges carbon dioxide from the lungs and promotes mental clarity through proper oxygenation throughout the body. It also teaches proper diaphragmatic breathing.

    • Sit erect.
    • Take slow, long, deep breaths within and let your belly deflate like a balloon.
    • Breathe in again but this time keep your focus on your chest and let it expand and deflate after exhalation.
    • Combine the steps above and open-up the low, mid, and high chambers of your lungs through inhalations and exhalations.

3. Shitali Pranayama – Shitali translates to ‘cooling’ in Pranayama and reduces the fight or flight response in the body by relaxing the parasympathetic system. It also lowers blood pressure and acid reflux symptoms in the body.

    • Sit comfortably by aligning the neck, spine, and head.
    • Do diaphragmatic breathing while keeping the eye closed, for several minutes.
    • Open up your mouth and curl your lips into an “O”.
    • Inhale deeply as if you’re drinking through a straw.
    • Direct your focus towards the cooling sensation of your breathing.
    • Pull back the tongue and close the mouth while you exhale completely through the nostrils.

4. Nadi Shodhana – Nadi Shodhana translates to Nadi as “flow” and Shodhana as “purification.” Nadi Shodana is basically alternate nostril breathing and pacifies the three doshas. It releases toxins, infuses oxygen in the blood, and restores hormonal balances.

    • During the early mornings on an empty stomach, sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or on a chair with the feet flat on the ground.
    • Take a full, deep breath and follow it up with a gentle exhalation.
    • Repeat the breathing cycle several times till you feel breath becoming rhythmic and naturally paced.
    • Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril.
    • Alternate between nostrils and repeat this exercise two to five minutes every day.

Woman doing anulom-vilom

5. Ujjayi – Ujjayi detoxifies the mind, promotes mental clarity and the free flow of prana throughout the body. It builds up internal body heat and increases energy and self-awareness of the consciousness.

    • Close your lips and breathe in and out through the nose.
    • Inhale slowly and deeply, more than your regular inhales.
    • Constrict the muscles at the back of the throat and exhale slowly through your nose
    • Repeat the steps above.

6. Brahmari Pranayama – Resembling the typical humming sounds of the Indian bee, the Brahmari pranayama is a relaxation inducer and helps calm the mind along with regulating emotions. It cures sinus problems, relieves hypertension, and makes childbirth trouble-free during pregnancies. It also relieves anger, tension, and anxiety during pregnancies.

    • Sit in any sitting asana like the Padmasana.
    • Close your eyes and begin breathing deeply.
    • Place your index finger inside your ear to completely shut the ear and make a fist with the rest of your fingers.
    • Focus your mind on the area between your eyebrows.
    • Exhale slowly while making a humming ‘Om’ sound while keeping your mouth closed.
    • Repeat the above steps five to ten times.

7. Kapal Bhati Pranayama – After pregnancies, if childbirth and post-recovery go smoothly, then one can gradually incorporate the use of Kapalbhati eventually.

    • Sit in Padmasana pose and keep your spine erect.
    • Inhale deeply until your lungs completely fill up with air.
    • Exhale forcefully and deflate your stomach so that it pushes deep inside.
    • Repeat four to five times every day.

NOTE: This technique can be practised before pregnancy but not during the pregnancy period.

Effective Tips for Practicing Pranayama

Pranayama serves as a complement to one’s lifestyle and improves the overall quality of life, pregnancy or not. There are a couple of lifestyle tips one should incorporate while practising pranayama:

  • Keep yourself happy by filling your mind with positive thoughts and occupying your time with productive and safe daily activities.
  • Walking for 30 minutes a day is highly recommended to aid with circulation and enhance the breathing process.
  • Swimming is also another highly recommended stress-free exercise for pregnant women which best complements pranayama.
  • Monitor your diet and include fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Food and breath are two sides of the coin. One doesn’t go without the other so make sure you stick to a healthy diet since the baby in the womb also depends on it.

Additional Tips for Practicing Pranayama

Although safe, pregnant women must not overdo any of the above-mentioned exercises since the body goes through several changes during pregnancy. Practising under the expert guidance of a doctor or gynaecologist who is well-versed with pranayama techniques is highly recommended. This is because every individual’s body (along with hormonal levels and the changes that undergo on the inside) is different.

Pranayama and yogic exercises must be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy. However, they are safe to practice before and after this period. Avoid practising Suryanadi pranayama during pregnancy since it can generate heat in the body and adversely affect the womb.

What Are the Effects of Pranayama During Pregnancy?

Pranayama bestows good health and well-being of both the mother and the baby. It is an integral component utilized for making a successful transition from adulthood to motherhood. It helps in generating a sense of well-being, maintaining good emotional health, and nurturing one’s body for a successful delivery. Some of the many effects of pranayama during pregnancies include lowered stress levels, regulated oestrogen levels in the body, adequate hormone production, and elimination of toxins from both the baby and the mother.

How to Get the Best Results from Pranayama

Getting the best results from your pranayama practice during pregnancy will depend on several factors. Here a few important things to keep in mind to get the best results from your practice:

  • Practice under the guidance of an expert teacher – The teacher whom you practice pranayama under must be certified. A good teacher will adjust the exercises according to your situation and tell you what not practice as well as what to do. Although watching videos online and reading material on exercises can help, nothing beats hands-on walkthroughs under the guidance of a well-versed pranayama teacher.
  • Listen to your body – During pregnancy, while practising certain exercises, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded or uncomfortable. Not exerting oneself is important since it can adversely affect both the baby and the body.
  • Choose the right environment – Practice pranayama in a clean and healthy environment, preferably in a quiet and open space where airflow is not restricted. Avoid cluttered rooms, noisy environments, and practice in a place that is filled with greenery and serenity to get the best benefit.
  • Timing and meal frequency – Practise during the mornings on an empty stomach since the mind, body, and air, are all fresh and pollution-free. You can also practice Shitali and Nadi Shodhana pranayam three hours after dinner for a sound sleep.
  • Take support and practice good form – Maintain the correct posture and take support when needed when practising certain asanas. By taking this into consideration, you can avoid muscle aches, spasms and enjoy pranayama to the fullest without any worries. Breathing is an important component of child delivery and practising pranayama can help one control the flow of their breathing. Through conscious inhaling and exhaling, one can regulate the flow of breath which can aid in a smooth delivery, free of any complications, during pregnancies.

Practising pranayama exercises will lead to greater awareness of one’s surroundings as one’s mind is calm and at ease. Pranayama helps to strengthen the body due to the efficient use of oxygen and helps an individual live a fuller life.

Also Read: Butterfly Exercise During Pregnancy

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