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Lift and Breathe Yoga and childbirth
Alternative Medicine MagazineFrom Alternative Medicine Magazine - 03/2006
Yoga with Weights and Childbirth

It always surprises me to hear people say that I have a high threshold for pain. I don’t actually. I’m no saint when it comes to pain, and childbirth was no exception. I certainly was not one of those women who looked forward to the process. I just wanted to get it over with as quickly, safely, and painlessly as possible, but nevertheless I opted for a natural childbirth without any drugs—with all four of my children. As a result I felt it every inch of the way as those babies of mine—two daughters and two sons—worked their way out into the world. What really helped me was my understanding of the power of yoga breathing and an ability to harness that power. Through it all, I stayed calm as the contractions intensified and I gave birth without using any drugs.

Throughout labor, I felt that I had yoga breathing as a tool and a friend to help me in the challenge to stay calm and be present. Yoga breathing took the edge off as the waves of pain grew stronger and stronger with each contraction and the forces of labor took over. In each phase of delivery, the power of the breath allowed me to draw my attention and all my strength into the moment and into what I was doing.

I learned from giving birth that, realistically speaking, the mother is just along for the ride. You have little control over any of it. But you do have the power within yourself—breath by breath, moment by moment—to help nature direct your childbirth and support your ease and well-being. Yoga breathing can be your best friend, especially when you are giving birth. It can help you to better manage the pain of childbirth, harness the strength you need, and discover the timeless wisdom that every woman carries within herself to give birth and become a mother. The yoga-with-weights exercises beginning on page 95 are designed to help strengthen your back, make you comfortable while you’re pregnant, and prepare the pelvic floor for a healthy delivery. Use the last exercise as an affirmation to practice your breathing, plant the seeds of well-being, and make yours a joyous childbirth.

Exercise gently when you’re pregnant. Notice any signals of discomfort and stop doing an exercise if it doesn’t feel right. You want your workout to gently relax your whole body, leaving you with a peaceful sense of well-being.


The purpose of this exercise is to give you tools and techniques to build courage and strength. Remember, courage—a quality of the heart—is not the absence of fear, but the ability to proceed skillfully, moment by moment, with conviction and clarity. This exercise will strengthen your back and spine and show you how to open the pelvic area. It also strengthens your arms so you can carry your baby easily after you give birth.

You need: The lightest hand weights you have and one or two blankets

  1. 1. Sit on the floor (or on a folded blanket if you have trouble sitting up straight) with your right leg straight, your left knee bent, and a folded blanket under your left knee. If you are well along in your pregnancy, move your right leg to the side to comfortably accommodate your belly. Place your left foot next to the inner thigh of your right leg.

  2. 2. Look straight ahead and hold the weights at ear level or slightly above with your elbows bent. This is the starting position.

  3. 3. Inhaling to a count of four, lift your arms up, stopping at a comfortable level.

  4. 4. Exhaling to a count of four, lower your arms to the starting position.

Repeat this exercise six to eight times, pause for a moment, switch legs, and do it six to eight more times.

pose of courage and strength

pose of courage and strength


The pelvic girdle is the bony stru c t u re surrounding your pelvis. Its opening is where the baby passes through, so you need to condition and tone the surrounding muscles. This exercise, as well as the next one, does just that by opening the groin and supporting the relaxation and release of the pelvis. “Opening the Way” also strengthens and tones your back and spine and teaches you to breathe fully by encouraging good posture, which can be a big help during childbirth, when breathing and comfort matter so much.

You need: Hand weights and two or three folded blankets

  • 1. Sit cross-legged on the floor (or on a blanket) with a folded blanket under each knee. This is the starting position. Look straight ahead and rest the weights on your knees with your palms facing up.

  • 2. Inhaling to a count of four, bend your elbows into a bicep curl. Make sure your elbows stay close to your ribs.

  • 3. Exhaling to a count of four, slowly lower the weights to the starting position. Repeat this exercise six to eight times, pause to rest, and then do six to eight more repetitions.

Repeat this exercise six to eight times, pause to rest, and then do six to eight more repetitions.

Opening the Way

Opening the Way


This exercise also prepares the pelvic girdle. It strengthens your legs, inner thighs, and back; trains you to  stay steady and balanced; and encourages you to breathe in a consistent way when the rigors of childbirth challenge you.

You need: Hand weights. If you’re afraid of tipping over, put a folded blanket under your heels when you squat, squat onto a low stool, or do this exercise with your back against a wall.

1. Squat with your knees wide. Balance on the balls of your feet with your elbows against your knees and your hands joined in front of your heart. This is the starting position. Hold this position for three or four calm and steady breaths before proceeding.

2. Pick up the hand weights and as you slowly inhale to a count of four, rise onto your feet, keeping your knees slightly bent. Widen your stance by a couple of inches to get into this position. Put your arms in a scarecrow position, with your elbows bent and your arms at your side.

3. As you continue to inhale,rise up until your legs are straight.

4. As you slowly exhale to four counts, gently and smoothly squat, returning to the starting position. Spread your knees, pressing your tailbone gently downward, as you squat down.

Repeat six times, pausing to rest between each repetition, and then repeat the exercise, if desired, another six times.


The purpose of the Divine Mother Affirmation is to center you and to teach you how to relax and calm your mind on your own. This practice isn’t as much an exercise as it is a quiet meditation designed for expectant mothers.

You need: Three folded blankets

1. Sit cross-legged (or as near to cross-legged as you can) in a comfortable position, with one blanket under your buttocks and one under each knee. Or if you’d be more comfortable, sit with your back against a wall.

2. Close your eyes and join your palms in front of your heart.

3. Breathe gently and evenly, quietly meditating on the life that’s growing inside you. Listen to the gentle sound of your breathing. Silently repeat these words to yourself: “Breathing in, I calm body and mind, and breathing out I smile.” Or pick your own words that take you to a state of greater well-being.

Excerpted from Yoga with Weights for Dummies, by Sherri Baptiste-Freeman (John Wiley & Sons, 2006).
Used with permission.

For more information on Yoga with Weights see the web site..