Yoga and total health
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Yoga and total health
Yoga and Total Health
By Nutan Pandit
LAXMI has been told since she was a little girl that her mother went through a great deal of pain and agony while she was being born. Mitra’s mother had another story to tell her. She used to tell Mitra, that she wondered why it was that childbirth was painful, as she had not experienced anything like that. She had just had a fulfilling experience.
The years have rolled by and now it is Laxmi and Mitra’s turn to become mothers. Since they have gone through life with their ideas, the experience of labour has been different. The expectations in both cases make the prophecy come true.
A contraction of the uterus is mistaken for pain to such an extent that the word “pain” is taken to mean both. Reshaping our attitude towards birth is important. We have to begin by changing centuries of deep-rooted beliefs of pain as being synonymous with birth.
Conditioning is a beautiful concept. It means making our minds, attitude, bodies prepared for certain situation. In Yoga correct type of conditioning plays a strong role. If the mother-to-be can condition herself with correct attitude and understanding coupled with joyful acceptance of her duty to the baby in uterus she can become more ready for this experience.
Yoga has held always that the emotional life of the mother affects the baby she is carrying. This has been more and more proved today by scientific investigations and startling facts have been brought to light as expressed in books like “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child”.
Proper conditioning would involve getting to know the truth. The truth then can have a liberating effect. An interesting fact is that the uterine contractions and their associated ‘pain’ form a very short part of the labour. Suppose for instance you have contractions every five minutes, lasting for one minute. It will mean that in our hour you have ten minutes of contractions and fifty minutes without them. If the pattern is maintained for twelve hours, you will have two hours of contractions and ten hours of rest! If the rest periods are intelligently used and contractions handled with breathing, it isn’t all that bad at all!
But than what is a contraction and what does it achieve? A contraction is the tightening of the uterine muscles. If the contraction lasts for about sixty seconds and comes at regular close intervals it helps in dilating the mouth of the uterus, the cervix, to ten centimeters. And when that is achieved the baby is usually ready to be welcomed in our big wide wonderful world.
This sacred miraculous process needs the active co-operation of the mother. She has to learn to work with nature and not to fight or fly. ‘Labouring’ joyfully with the contractions in a relaxed way helps.
The role of the brain and nervous system is vital in understanding how pain is felt.
The brain is constantly receiving information through one or more of the five senses, that is the eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue; and from the body’s internal organs.
This information is sorted, analyzed, interpreted and either stored as memory or acted upon by instinctive behaviour (like withdrawing a burning finger) or by learnt behaviour like guiding one’s food to one’s mouth and then chewing it.
As the message of pain reaches the brain, it sets off an area of activity. To prevent the area of activity from spreading over the whole brain another brain activity, inhibition, acts as a balance to the excitation. This balance between excitation and inhibition is known as the threshold of pain.
Without this balance, a pain as small as that of a pin prick would totally overwhelm the brain.
The threshold of pain varies with each individual, but relaxation can help all to see the contractions in a different light.
Physical relaxation is most helpful in labour and this is very related to the mind. Actually relaxation is a mental attitude of ‘let go’. We let go our prejudices, preconceived ideas and fears. The body rigidities start to relax when the correct attitude are engendered. In between the contractions the mother can quietly lie down in the bed or sit up. While lying down she can lie limp with eyes closed and filling her mind with positive thoughts. Some women feel more comfortable with their backs resting and they are sitting up. They can relax also in this position. They can listen to a sound passively as in Nispanda bhava.
As soon as the contraction is known to be coming (this the mother can teach herself by placing her hand on the abdomen and feeling a tightening of the uterine muscles as the abdominal wall gets hard, thrashing about or shouting or clenching the teeth or getting tense can be avoided. Slow rhythmic breathing can be practiced, this has a marvelous effect. It is well known that there is a connection between the mind and breathing. This is taken advantage of in pregnancy. The mind is kept focused on a task, so it is busy doing something which also helps to relax the uterine muscles to an extent. In Yoga we say that slow diaphragmatic breathing can be done. The relaxing effect of this goes a long way.
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