Cathrine Mathiesen


Lying on your back to give birth is like giving birth up-hill, paralysed and immobile. This position restricts freedom and movement in the hip and pelvic region, and it does not allow the use of gravity (though not the most powerful force operating in this process it should still be accounted for). It confines the woman to the bed, when she should be moving around for as long as possible to encourage the contractions. Moreover, lying flat on your back during labour causes gravity to push too much force into the pubic bone when it is softening and opening for the baby to come down the birth canal. It also strains the pelvis and all the pelvic muscles as they are very pliable at this stage.

A rule of thumb that can help women during labour is to keep ‘UFO’: Upright, Forwards and Open. Upright positions may reduce pain and help you to be more in control; contractions are more effective; the blood supply to the baby is improved; and the downward force of gravity while you are in a wide pelvic position means an easier birth for the baby. Forwards, for being physically and mentally on top of and in control of the situation, rather than surrendering to lying passively flat on the bed. Open, to make space in your pelvis for the baby to descend and exit. Evidence suggests that babies born in this way are healthier and more alert, and that mothers recover far more quickly.

To practise yoga during pregnancy is not about learning and remembering a specific sequence of asanas to practise during labour, but to build a repertoire of yogic movements that generally feel good, and more specifically help the pelvis to open, encourage correct positioning of the baby, release the muscles and give the woman alternative ways of resting and meeting contractions. Practising yoga regularly in preparation for birth will help build up bodily strength, flexibility and awareness, and the confidence needed to move freely and spontaneously during labour.  Dinsmore-Tuli writes: 'The main value of yoga based movements during labour and birth is that they empower you to move with ease and confidence, because you have learned to respect your body’s natural range of motion and to be aware of your own comfort levels'. Here are some helpful yogic movements, with some mention of how they can be applied at various stages of labour.

Circular movements
Help to strengthen and tone muscles while keeping the joints lubricated and moving freely, preventing swelling in hands and feet. They help to release tension in sensitive areas such as neck, shoulders and lower back. Repeated circular movements create a feeling of grounding and wholeness. It connects us to universe, spiraling outwards, and it connects us to our baby and our core, spiraling inwards. During the often long and painful first stage of labour, where the cervix is opening to allow the baby through, it can be helpful and soothing to move the hips especially in large, organic circles, whether from a position on all fours or standing.

On hands and knees
Giving birth is a natural, instinctive, almost animalistic experience. Perhaps this is why being on all fours feels so good, so right. It brings us closer to our natural, as opposed to social selves, out of our minds and into our bodies, back to the animals we once were. Previously in my yoga practice I never thought of the all four poses as significant, but while pregnant they came to be essential, providing great relief, comfort and stability. Being on your hands and knees allows for the baby to hang in the hammock of your belly, freeing your pelvis and the lower back from strain caused by downward pressure and extra weight forwards. In the early stage of labour, rocking gently back and forth, or moving the hips in soft figures of eight, can reduce pain, calm the mind and create a soothing rocking movement for the baby. Being on all fours is also a good position for the second and third stages of labour, providing the legs are kept wide open the birth of the baby and the placenta, though some women might prefer to come up to kneeling to make more use of gravity and get some support for the upper body.

Squatting is the natural elimination position for the human body. In many cultures people squat to relieve themselves, because it is the most effective way of emptying both bladder and bowels. In a squatting position, the pelvic outlet opens and the perineum is able to stretch. Also, squatting provides a deep connection with the earth, and again, the force of gravity will help the baby descend through the birth canal. The squat position can thus be used in all stages of labour, but only by women whose babies head’s are already engaged down, otherwise squatting could enforce a wrong position, which might complicate birth.

My own experience of using yoga during both my births has largely been about optimising and assisting the process of birth as designed by nature, feeling strong and confident in my body and having a physical way of dealing with the pain and intensity of the situation.

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