Focusing on the breath is an integral part of any yoga practice and can be a hugely helpful aid during labor and delivery. But let’s face it, sometimes there’s just not enough there to keep your mind on every inhale and exhale. I find the practice of somewhat more complicated breathing exercises, pranayama, to counteract the boredom problem and allow for greater focus and concentration. In particular, alternate nostril breathing is one of my favorites. It’s just complex enough to hold your attention without being confusing, and breathing through one nostril at a time forces you to slow down, telling your body to relax by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
Pranayama is best done after an asana practice, but any time you can take five minutes to sit quietly is fine. You can sit comfortably propped up on blankets or in a chair with your spine straight.
To prepare, fold the pointer and middle fingers of your right hand in towards the palm of your hand.
Alternately, you can choose to rest those fingers on your forehead or third eye space.
Use your right ring finger and pinky to gently close your left nostril while you breath in through the right nostril.
(Optional step to hold your breath here. I usually tell pregnant moms to go with their natural breath to avoid feeling lightheaded.)
Then switch sides. Release your left nostril and exhale through it while you use your thumb to close the right nostril.
Keep your fingers where they are and inhale through the left.
Then close the left nostril again with the ring finger and pinky while you exhale through the right.
You’ve now completed one cycle. (Inhale right, exhale left, inhale left, exhale right.) Continue as long as you like, I say at least 10 reps, ending on an exhale through the right.
Continued practice of this will leave you feeling rested and rejuvenated. You can also use this whenever you are feeling anxious or unsettled as a way to calm yourself down. Try it before the four hour glucose test or a blood pressure test. Breath in, breath out, and enjoy!