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Freeflow Article – We are Human Beings not Humans Doings

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Katie Mellor Snaith

Katie Mellor Snaith is a mum and pregnancy yoga teacher based in Clitheroe, Lancashire. She is passionate about creating opportunities for good antenatal preparation through movement, knowledge and breath.
Instagram @thepregnancyyogateacher

I often use this cue in my pregnancy yoga classes to remind my students to permit themselves to be there.

We grow up in a society that measures us by financial and professional success. It encourages competition against each other and ourselves. Rewarding behaviour that tells us to ignore the signs our bodies are screaming at us – how many times have you ‘powered through’ the early signs of a cold, only to descend into a full-blown illness which means you are bed-bound for 2 days?

And then we become mothers and all of a sudden, our finely tuned skills of hustling, striving, being efficient and productive are useless. We need to slow down, find patience and accept that parenting is about being there for the ‘none’ moments. To take joy in our day-to-day we need to re-learn how to be truly present, we need to just ‘be’ nearly impossible after an entire life of always trying to get onto the next thing.

But even before motherhood, when it comes to birth midwives often talk about the power of doing nothing, standing back and letting the woman be in her own body, listening to her instincts.

Rachel Reed illustrates this beautifully in her book, ‘Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage: Weaving ancient wisdom with modern knowledge.’ She describes ‘Liminality’ (often referred to as established labour) as a period when the birthing woman journeys between worlds, betwixt and between pregnancy and motherhood. The functioning of her neocortex is dampened and dominated by the limbic system which allows her to connect with their instincts and intuition.

By leaving the woman undisturbed, the neocortex isn’t activated, and so birth can progress as intended with the positive feedback loop of the hormone oxytocin fuelling contractions.

Understanding a little about the nervous system can also help us see how important it is for us to slow down, for birth and life in general. Our autonomic nervous system is split into two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant it activates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Our adrenaline spikes and we are ready to cope with whatever stress or fear we are confronted with. Unfortunately, in our modern lives, we spend too much of our time in this state as physiologically we find it difficult to distinguish between a tight work deadline and a sabre-toothed tiger.  As we know, while adrenaline has a place in childbirth, generally is not great if we want labour to progress as it inhibits oxytocin production.

Whereas, when the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, we are in our ‘rest and digest’ state. We feel safe, protected and calm, the ideal conditions for oxytocin production and effective labour and birth.

By slowing down, being and not doing, we are sending a message to our brain that we are ready to give birth. However, in our busy modern-day world where rest is a sign of laziness, women aren’t supported to ease off and ‘be’ in their bodies. We always have to be ‘doing’ something, even when we relax in the evenings, we are watching TV or scrolling through our phones.

This is where pregnancy yoga comes in as a gentle yet potent ally. Through the practice of yoga, we are invited to reconnect with our bodies. Each breath, each movement, becomes an opportunity to listen deeply to our inner voice, our intuition. We can also activate our parasympathetic nervous system by controlling our breath. But perhaps most importantly, the final posture of a yoga class is always ‘Savasana.’ This is an opportunity to lie still, in the quiet for around 5-10 minutes. For most people, this is the only time they are awake but not engaged in any sort of activity during their entire week. By forcing this stillness, it reinforces the importance of just allowing ourselves to ‘be’ even if it’s only for a few minutes.

The reality is that we live in a world governed by masculine energy, celebrating logic, progress and ‘success.’ If we can create even a little bit of space for the feminine powers of intuition, vulnerability and empathy we might open up opportunities for a stronger sense of self-trust which can not only positively impact childbirth but our whole lives.



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