What do we mean by focus? In our modern day society it conjures up an image of someone concentrating intensely, maybe over his or her computer. The image is narrow and leaves little space for expansion and relaxation. Focus in our modern world has the feeling of contraction. Yogic focus brings an ease and lightness into the space of focus that expands awareness and possibility. It is the ability to stay awake and aware of what’s happening in the outer environment while experiencing awareness of the inner environment. The woman who uses yogic focus during labour and delivery holds both spaces simultaneously. She exists in both worlds. This makes the process of labour and delivery an extraordinary journey that can be a great teacher for the labouring woman.
Detachment is an integral part of yogic focus. In the twenty first century the concept of detachment has negative connotations. In our society it brings up the image of an uncaring person or one devoid of feeling. Yogic detachment has the qualities of heightened awareness through observation while not getting caught up in the drama of the outer world. This brings the woman into a non-judgmental space. Letting go of judgment is an important part of yogic focus. Detachment keeps the woman in the moment and encourages her to keep going regardless of the outcome. In the end she will not judge the process. Detachment is the key to feeling successful during labour and delivery.
Bringing Attention Inward
Internal focus is another concept confused by today’s concentration on the outer world. There is the outer landscape of the city with all the buildings and roads. There is also an inner landscape that is particular to the individual. It is one’s personal space. Moving inward is not a popular activity in the western world. It is imperative that a pregnant woman has this practice of experiencing her internal landscape on a regular basis if she is to prepare herself for a successful labour. Her inner world is a space that no one else can access. This gives her a deep connection with herself and her process. Traversing the inner world brings depth, focus and vitality to the mind and body. Reserves of energy are accessed and used through the aware flow of the breath. Bringing attention inward gives the body and mind a chance to relax. It helps to quiet the chatter of the mind and allows the muscles to loosen their grip on the bones. How does one access the depths of the inner landscape?
The slow steady rhythm of the breath is our guide when we journey though our inner space. In any prenatal yoga class there needs to be emphasis on the breath. It teaches the woman to bring attention to her breath during the day so that she recognizes when she holds her breath or it has become shallow. Focus on the breath also helps the woman to monitor her thoughts. Usually if breathing has become laboured or shallow a thinking pattern emerges. By imagining the thoughts going into space, or visualizing them moving out to sea, the woman can detach from thoughts that don’t serve her. In my prenatal yoga class, I describe the inner landscape as any thoughts, feelings or images that show themselves. We practice allowing these images to surface and then we visualize them dissipating. When the inner world is penetrated there is limitless energy and limitless spaces to explore.
The breath is the pathway to any successful labour. If a woman holds her breath during labor then stress builds and the muscles become tense, making it difficult to flow from contraction to contraction. Holding one’s breath slows labour and is a breeding ground for negative thinking. Fear will come in, making it difficult to get back on track. If the woman has taken prenatal yoga classes then she will be aware that she is holding her breath and will resume breathing. It is important that when a woman takes a prenatal yoga class she is encouraged to breathe with her natural rhythm. Breathing techniques are not as useful in labour as integrating one’s individual breathing pattern. When a woman has practiced focusing on her breathing rhythm it shows the way into the depths of the inner world. It helps the labouring woman to access nooks and crannies of a world that would otherwise go unexplored. The inner landscape holds information that assist the woman in letting go of time and staying in the present moment. Focusing on the inner landscape expands the mind to perceive “no time”. Linear time as we know it becomes suspended and the woman is able to enjoy a feeling of expansion while breathing and detaching herself from the contractions. She is able to observe the tension, not fight it.
Moving into no time takes practice. No time can be accessed through holding challenging postures, breathing and meditation. It is best described as the suspension of linear time. The linear sequence of time no longer exists and a more lateral awareness takes its place. Some labours can be long and arduous. Expanding into no time is essential for those labours. With the study of yoga come options and choices: when to take pain medication, when to move, when to remain still and follow the breath.
The effectiveness of women’s deep confident focus during labour is beyond measure. Yoga creates a confidence that is far reaching. When a pregnant woman takes her first prenatal yoga class something changes. For many women it’s the first time they’ve met themselves in meditation, movement and breath. It is a revealing experience for most and they know on an intuitive level that yoga will assist them; that they can always depend on their yoga. How a woman maintains and deepens her focus during labour is an individual path. In my experience as a prenatal yoga teacher there are a number of anchors that women use to facilitate and keep their focus.
Intentional visualization is a vital anchor for women in labour. Students design their own visualization based on their inner landscape, or personal sensibilities. The intention is to feel powerful, strong and flexible. In my prenatal yoga class, students practice visualizing a power image that will anchor them to these qualities. Visualizing this image will bring the labouring woman back to her breath. It is important that she practice connecting with this image during pregnancy. If she becomes anxious or out-of-breath during the day she has the option of closing her eyes and visualizing this symbol. It will bring her focus back to the breath and movement. There will be information in the breath and body. Maybe she’ll take a walk and centre herself or maybe she’ll meditate or do yoga. Intentional visualization works in harmony with focus and relaxation.
Women have also visualized yoga postures during labour. It is not necessary to do the postures; just visualizing them will bring the labouring woman back to centre. A practice of intentional visualization during pregnancy, labour and delivery is beneficial for relaxing the thinking mind and connecting the woman to her inner landscape.
Focus and Relaxation
Labour and delivery are unknowns. No predictions can be made by anyone as to the type or length of labour. Pregnant women who practice yoga develop confidence in their body movements and become more comfortable with the unpredictability of labour and delivery. They know that staying in the moment will propel them forward, releasing any resistance to the unknown. Students of mine have actually gone on to do their own movements during labour. Yoga is about the individual, not about attaining perfect postures. Any movement that brings in focus and relaxation is yoga. This concept is especially important during labour because the demand is for the woman to follow her breath and intuition in regard to labour and movement.
Labour is about opening doors and moving forward. It is a process that demands letting go of inhibitions and attitudes. Yoga supports this process. Yoga gives the labouring woman the means to stay in the moment and experience the hills and valleys of the inner landscape and come out at the end stronger and more confident.