In yoga, one of the first things we’re taught is about the mind-body connection; that thoughts and feelings affect our physical bodies and vice versa. To me, never is this connection more obvious than in labor. A confident, happy, safe and nurtured mother’s body will open to her baby. A frightened, disrespected, unsure mother’s body will literally hold her baby in. Trying to have complete control over your mind and body in labor though is a futile effort. Labor is way bigger than you are! But what if I told you that if you can consciously relax just one body part, your labor and delivery will be amazingly enhanced? If you’re thinking that body part is below the belt, think again. Relaxing the mouth and jaw are the secret to a great labor.
No sucking lemon faces!
Legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin first codified this theory into the Sphincter Law in her book “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” a must read for all pregnant women. She wrote, “The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix [and] the vagina..to open to full capacity.” She goes on to say, “women whose mouths and throats are open and relaxed during labor and birth rarely need stitches after childbirth.” As a doula, I have seen with my own eyes this principle at work. A mom can be pushing through clenched teeth and the baby staying right where it is; with a little reminder to relax her jaw her bottom loosens and the baby gets closer and closer.
Asana practice and prenatal yoga are a great time to practice relaxing your jaw during physical effort. When holding that tough warrior 2 or deep squat, notice what you are doing with your face and jaw and consciously relax both. A helpful tip- laughing does all the relaxing for you and enhances your mood!
Another way to practice the Sphincter Law is through practicing mula bandha. Mula bandha is basically doing a giant Kegel, lifting your entire pelvic floor, and then relaxing. In some schools of yoga it’s an integral part of the practice to move energy up the spine. I find it really helps bring awareness and control of muscles needed in labor and birth. But instead of focusing on how tightly you can hold it, like you would a Kegel, focus on the relaxing. Relax your jaw while you hold, and then practice consciously relaxing the entire pelvic floor, as you will need to do during pushing.
Have you witnessed or experienced the Sphincter Law? Does relaxation during the effort of labor make sense to you? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!