Mind your pregnancy
How yoga and mindfulness for pregnancy and birth can help mums-to-be handle the unexpected twists and turns of their journey. By Nadia Raafat
There is a space between the stimulus and the response and in that space lies your power and freedom” — Victor Frankel
I wanted to labour in that space; that timeless space where everything is possible. The space of shakti.
After a decade of teaching yoga and mindfulness for pregnancy and working as a birth doula, I was ready to enter that place again myself.
It was to be the birth of my fourth and final child. At 42, I knew it would be the last time I made the journey; travelling deep into the bowels of my own earth to bring my baby to air. I was looking forward to it.
I prepared my body, my mind and my home for the beautiful homebirth I envisaged; flowers on the altar, candles blessed by friends and words of inspiration to guide me on my way.
Then my waters went, at 37 weeks, and I had no surges to follow for the next 72 hours! I was devastated.
Where was the labour? Instead of the blissful, candle-lit homebirth I had imagined, I found myself marching in winter weather to and from the hospital, daily, where I sat wired up to the monitor, checking my baby’s vitals and negotiating extra time with the midwifes.
Each night I went to bed hopeful; each morning I woke to disappointment.
As day four loomed, doubt and fear set in: Why was labour not starting? What was wrong?
That key event — the stimulus of my waters breaking — had set me on a different birth trajectory to the one I had envisaged; I found myself navigating a birth story that would test my mental resilience, my trust in my body and my commitment to birth in power and freedom.
As teachers of yoga, we guide our pregnant students into Frankel’s ‘space’. We lead them to the ground of their being beyond the fluctuations of their mind. We hope they will find their way to this space during labour. We call it a yoga birth.
But all too often the ground of their being eludes them as the fluctuations of mind persist. What if there is something wrong? What if I can’t stand the pain? Should I agree to the induction?
Yoga does not teach us how to really work with those fluctuations, just to transcend them.
Thoughts like these visit the mind of a heavily pregnant woman regularly; sometimes they plague her, other times they stalk her — depending on contextual pressures like inductions, anxious relatives or, in my case premature rupture of waters. It’s a stressful time — and often their own worst enemy is their unconscious fearful thinking propelling them towards actions they do not want.
Luckily for me, I had been practicing mindfulness for some years, facilitating Mindful Motherhood classes for my London clientele. Mindfulness had taught me how to relate to my mind not just to transcend it. How to hear these thoughts, feel their discomfort, assess their value and allow them to move on.
I practiced meditation daily, dug deep into myself for guidance. I befriended the shadow of fear which stalked me. My trust grew roots.
Don’t get me wrong, I was also responsible in the medical sense — I sat on the monitor, checked my bloods and even had a scan. I knew all the studies behind the recommendations. Despite intense NHS pressure, I waited.
When I finally went into labour on day five, I felt vindicated. I got ready for my blissful homebirth.
It never came.
What I did get instead was 12 more hours of blood, sweat and tears; a stuck baby with a twisted neck, who inched his way painfully and very slowly into my arms.
Looking back, I am so grateful for every twist and turn of that particular birth story. I learned so much more about myself, along that crooked way. I went deeper and further than I ever knew I could.
One year later, I launched my Yoga & Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth course — determined to bring support and awareness to the pregnant mind alongside the body. Through the quality of intimate attention, we discover our mental and emotional habits and our conditioned beliefs. We learn how to change our thoughts so that they serve us.
The consequence is that we find sanctuary not just in our bodies but in our minds as well.
The Yoga & Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth Teacher Training programme, in conjunction with Battersea Yoga Studios, is a course borne out of my many years of professional and personal experience working with pregnant women.
All our teachers are trained in mindfulness, pregnancy yoga and birth preparation. We currently have fully trained and accredited YMPB teachers across the UK, Ireland and Singapore.
If you would like to join a Yoga & Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth class or find out more about training please visit: nadiaraafat.com or batterseayoga.com
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.