Yoga-Based Birth Skill #1- Movement (Asana) - Movement as a Labor Pain Management Skill

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During the birth of your child, movement is not only the physiological ability that accomplishes birth—it is also a highly recommended, safe and easily accessible birth skill—that  works to lessen the awareness of pain, that reduces stress, anxiety, and fear— a skill that works with the birth process not against it.

Part of Asana practice is about eliminating unnecessary muscle tension, yes balanced alignment takes effort, but that effort works to effectively make the effort feel effortless.

Your body is designed to move and your knees are designed to bend, and trying to make your body flexible by limiting natural movement (motion) is counterintuitive  and only works to impede your natural functional abilities.

Your laboring body produces adrenaline for several reasons during birth, one of these reasons is to encourage you to utilize movement, flexibility, and gravity.

Laboring at your own pace, without either hurry or interference represents a form of effort that done with patience, devotion and faith will make your efforts seem effortless.

Trying to give birth by limiting natural movement (confined to a hospital bed, strapped to a multitude of machines) is counterintuitive and only serves to impede the functional physiological ability of your birthing body.

Our spines are designed to hold four complimentary curves that support and cushion our movements. Think of a curve like the body’s built in shock absorber.

Being upright, utilizing both movement and gravity during the First Stage of labor works with these natural curves—facilitating the opening of the cervix and the movement of the baby down into the pelvis.

Being upright, utilizing both movement and gravity during the Second Stage of labor continues to work with these natural curves—giving birth on your back flattens out these curves and this translates into positions where you must quite literally push your baby uphill to be born.

Babies at birth have a C-shaped spine, to better fit through the birth canal, the shape of the spine transforms after birth, as your baby learns to move and survive in her/his new gravity filled world.

Yoga is about creating a sustainable energy efficient body. Employing a Yoga-Based Birth Skill means moving in a way that works with birth, utilizing the right kind and the right amount of effort, effectively making the effort you choose to employ seem effortless—not to mention efficient.

Involuntary movement is the primary internal process that accomplishes birth, whereas voluntary movement is an invaluable birth skill that works in conjunction with the birthing process by enhancing labor progress.

The choice to utilize gravity, remaining upright, and moving during birth helps in many other ways as well as it will give you a a sense of control, which in turn will increase both your comfort level and your sense of satisfaction with your overall experience.

Labor pain is a type of healthy pain. It is normally not a “sick” pain.

Earlier I gave an analogy about focus and raking leaves, let us continue using that as our example, to simply explain what I mean about “healthy” versus “sick” pain.

Healthy pain is the type of pain that you would feel in your arms after a long afternoon spent raking leaves.  Achy tired well worked muscles.

Sick pain is the type of pain that you would feel in your right arm if for some unknown reason you managed to break it while raking the leaves. Agonizing excruciating sensations— your body rightly signaling a situation that needs your immediate attention.

Labor pain (eustress) is generated from the actions of a healthy involuntary muscle, the uterus, which is doing the job that it was created to do, just like your lungs, your heart, and your digestive tract.

As the afternoon wears on, your arms tire, your muscles fatigue, which is called ischemia. Your arms start sending alarm messages to your brain. Your uterus does the same as it fatigues.

Yes, continuing to rake leaves is a voluntary decision, technically, you can quit raking at any time, uterine contractions however are involuntary movements—they stop at the end of the 3rd Stage of Labor.

But they both represent forms of muscle fatigue so just like you can decide to continue to keep on raking with tired arms, you can become proactive about the management of the eustress signals sent from your uterus.

You can, without causing physical harm to your body, look away from these signals and instead become adsorbed into the task of laboring.

Focusing on what the body is doing during a contraction, not the sensation. Activity combined with focus causes the mind to fix where it is directed- not only during an Asana practice but also during labor.

The pain, the endorphins, and the deliberately applied focus on movement and breath will all lead to what is known as flow state. Flow state is defined as any goal oriented activity that commands your entire attention and focus to complete. BIRTH has all of these elements.


"Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time."

Use everything you’ve got to the best of your ability, this effort is practice, and practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time and in all earnestness.

According to Ju Ju Sundin in her book “Birth Skills” during labor you are presented with a basic choice—each contraction can mean approximately 60 seconds of painful helplessness or 60 seconds in which you take powerful action to temper the pain.


"There are five kinds of changing states of the mind, and they are either detrimental or non detrimental [to the practice of Yoga]"

Yoga teaches that there exist two categories of mind modifications (vrttis), one variety brings us suffering; the other does not.

This sutra is NOT about pain versus no pain instead it is about the choice to suffer versus the choice to not suffer.

Buddha (not a Yogi) nevertheless famously said: In life there will always be moments of pain, the choice to suffer is optional.

So this sutra is also NOT about suffering versus pleasurable, as so called pleasures can ultimately bring about suffering as well.  Instead, it more closely means that one mindset brings suffering and the other mindset does not.

During birth one mindset (vrtti) brings about a sense of painful helplessness by setting up several maladaptive physiological cycles and the other mindset (vrtti) brings about sense of doing, the decision to take powerful action to alleviate suffering.

The first action makes it difficult to cope, it makes labor a real struggle. The other helps you avoid unnecessary pain.

Remember, labor pain is normally not sick pain, such as the sensations that come from pinched nerves, broken tailbones, or back labor. This variety of “sick” pain requires a separate set of skills and will be discussed, eventually, in its own section.

Instead labor pain is healthy pain. It comes from a healthy muscle doing its job. Your uterus healthily going about its business. Even big pain is simply ischemia—muscle fatigue. Only muscle fatigue.

The key to removing pain comes from various sources, it comes from using your body to facilitate the physiological birth process by utilizing movement, positioning, and gravity, but it also comes from using movement to help break free of two maladaptive cycles, the Fear-Tension-Pain syndrome and the Fight-Flight-Freeze Response.


“The senses can carry away the mind even of a woman of discrimination.” Bhagavad Gita II:60