Yoga-Based Birth Skill #1- Movement (Asana) - Acute Stress Response, Birth and Yoga

Article Index

The acute stress response or Fight, Flight, Freeze (FFF) is an old survival mechanism-three ways of responding—fight it, escape it, or remain perfectly still.

These types of responses are vital when there is actual physical danger heading your way. The release of the adrenaline complex in the presence of danger has promoted safety for laboring females in the wild throughout human evolution. Like I said—very interesting it will have its own section.

For now, it is vital that you learn how to turn the remnants of this ancient response system into a helpful friend during birth by learning how to appropriately and instantly respond to a stressor that provokes an acute stress response.

Chastising yourself to calm down will only make your body send more stress hormones your way—whereas—Yoga-based labor management skills will help you to find and implement strategies that provide helpful easy to use answers.

Neither fighting against labor or trying to escape it makes any sense—make no mistake these actions can and will agitate your mind and hinder the birth process.

So, The Whole Way presents a different way. Don’t fight. Don’t escape. Don’t freeze up. Just be alert. Just be conscious.

Be aware of your body and the sensations, the signals, and the emotions that—being in labor— is provoking in your mind. Conscious effort is needed as you will be searching for a means of inner competency— a way of “working with” not fighting against, by becoming aware of and letting go of old less helpful patterns. Your tried and true defense mechanisms against stress, pain, and anxiety may be of no use to you during birth.

This approach to labor is not without effort. But from effort strength comes. When you do something on your own you can gain from it. The more effort you put into something the more effortless it becomes.

If you find relief solely from the outside, where does that relief come from—are you the source—or are you totally dependent on that outside source for relief or comfort?  No sense of inner competence just dependence?   

I want to assure you that— you yourself are enough unto yourself. A healthcare provider, a technology or a drug that holds the only key to your relief is your jailer and is in charge of your relief or your suffering.

This is not to say that a well timed well justified epidural won’t ease fatigue, pain and stress—gaining for yourself much needed energy and strength to get you back in the game and across the finish line.

It is to say that getting an epidural as a “just in case” your experience becomes unmanageable is handing over control of your experience—placing your relief in the hands of technology and hospital staff.  This is a form of risk-managed care.

Nor is it to say that the presence of a loved one or a doula won’t soothe your fears, release anxiety and stress guaranteeing for yourself the support, comfort and reassurance necessary to feel protected and safe—free to do want ever you need to while giving birth.

It is to say that you will be giving birth during an era where the belief is that —technology does is better—this is the approach that the medicalization of Birth has produced. I really don’t want to come across as anti-technology, anti-medicine, or anti-healthcare providers—they all certainly have their place, especially as technology and its providers certainly saved my son’s life and most likely mine.

But it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I believe in the strong evidence that suggests perhaps we should limit technology during childbirth— limiting it to being used only when medically necessary and when it is a choice made from your own volition based on an educated informed decision.

You can only feel in control while giving birth when you are free, independent and are able to make your own sense of a calm, positive, strong and resilient birth. When YOU are the center playing out the moment to moment journey of your own particular birth experience.

Obsessed with the pain and mad at the system does not calm and peaceful make.

Don’t create a fight. Don’t fight negative. Create positive.

This also takes wisdom and discernment for when pain, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and fear tip over into suffering—ask for and be grateful for the help—it is there for when you have a genuine need. It can and often does save lives.


[The vrttis (states of mind)] are stilled by practice and non attachment.

A conscious effort, the development of a constant inner practice that aims at achieving a tranquil state of mind free of attachment.

This state of mind allows you to become more alert, a master of yourself, less dominated by old habits, and it will help quiet the chaos of your inner mind. This gives you the ability to look objectively at your own direct experience and make more empowered choices.

Not killing pain, not seeking pain, and not fighting pain you simply find a better way to deal with labor eustress signals. Then the pain is not so important, and it withers away.

Correctly dealing with pain. Accepting it for what it truly is and working from there is what these Yoga-Bases Birth Skills are all about. When you fight or resist against pain you give pain more meaning, it becomes more important.

When you fight pain it becomes center in the mind. Then everything becomes about the pain not about birth, not about baby, not about the rest of the pain free body.

If you continuously engage the mind and occupy it elsewhere, for example:

You accidentally burn a finger while fixing Thanksgiving dinner for your whole family. You barely notice while caught up in cooking but as soon as you sit down to dinner—bam the pain rushes in.

Pain only hurts when you look directly at it and you make the decision to go with the instant reaction (FFF) and in this instance resistance means suffering, you struggle, and resist— you don’t want it— you don't deserve it.

Don’t fall prey to ancient fears and ancient response systems—this is wrong knowledge—instead realize that both your maternal and fetal systems are fully primed and precisely aligned for safe effective labor and birth—your body is not in danger—your baby is not in danger—this is eustress—the healthy physiological stress of labor and birth—this amount of stress is normal and beneficial to the healthy functioning of the birth process for both mother and baby.

You have a choice—you can react to the stress and switch on your body’s negativity bias which brings about fear, anxiety, tension and more pain and a longer labor. 

You may find yourself in a birth scenario where you are simply unable to look away—if so, then a bit of outside pain relief may indeed bring you back into control and ease your suffering. But tread cautiously as this is the path that often leads to a cascade of medical interventions.

You have a choice—you can find a way to deal with the stress—no matter the stress there is a way to deal with it.

Saying to yourself that at this moment my body is giving birth and at this moment I must work with what is possible within the direct circumstances of my own experience.

Don’t resist the sensations or the feelings, don’t pull yourself separate, flow into it. These sensations and feelings are simply changes in your balance of hormones and they all have a specific role to play.

You do not give birth everyday and especially if you are a first time mom then everything is strange a little mysterious and scary. It is normal to feel this way—it is key to getting the right cocktail of hormones flowing through your system. The cocktail that releases the good stuff—top shelf ingredients.

This stress response to Birth is a healthy reaction, stress is meant to feel uncomfortable, it is Nature’s way of saying “immediate attention is needed” and you need to act—you need to address this situation—right now.

This surge of hormones will always happen with contractions but the choice of a resistant reaction (FFF) is not the wise path as it does not deal with these hormonal surges constructively during Birth.

The better way is to implement any of the Whole Way’s birth management skills—especially movement—so take a deep breath and shift your body.

Then you will feel a sudden surge of “feel good” endorphins. Fight increases pain.  Your body is going to have this baby—one way or the other. It is happening.

One of the deepest secrets of life is that pain disappears when you flow with it, when you flow you transform the situation and through transformation you transcend it. Find the comfort measure and/or birth skill that brings you relief and move towards that.