Another trick for breathing during labor: Nadhi Sodhana
Alternate Nostril Breathing or (Nadhi Sodhana) is a good way to provide balance for the right/left hemispheres of the brain and to increase oxygen to the cerebral tissues. Shirley Telles, PhD (a leading researcher in the field of Yoga) shows that right nostril breathing has a stimulating effect on the body and the mind, while left nostril nostril breathing has a calming effect. It makes sense, then, that if someone who experiences major depressive episodes, her energy might be expanded with right nostril dominance breathing, in which you inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. On the other hand, if you are feeling anxiety, a few extra rounds of left nostril dominance breathing will help.
Labor can be vary intense, we know this to be true. Employing left nostril breathing can help bring about a calming effect. And I think it probably helps us slow our breathing, and provides a distraction for our minds – now we have a task to focus on, we no longer have to worry about the pain of the next contraction, or how to cope with the pain, or when it will be over. All we need to do is focus on our breath, and find a natural rhythm in changing nostrils with each inhale and exhale.
As a biochemistry graduate and crazy hippy all in one this alternating nostril breathing intrigues me further. The ancient Kundalini Yogis have always honored the pituitary gland as the master gland of the body, the internal thermostat and regulator for emotion. It’s an ancient wisdom that might contain relevance in modern endocrinology. When we slow our breath, our hippocampus signals to our pituitary gland to release more beta-endorphins (anti-stress hormones). Slow breathing, and alternate nostril breathing actually change the biochemistry of our bodies to promote relaxation. The pituitary gland is of course the main focal point of labor. This is the gland that releases oxytocin, the hormone of labor, while also being involved involved in releasing beta-endorphins, our own natural opiates. Kundalini breathing may help us to labor faster and more efficiently by stimulating release of our own endogenous oxytocin (making us labor more efficiently), while at the same time encouraging increased levels of endogenous opiod release to help us cope with that same increased pain and intensity of labor.
Shorter labors with less pain? Yes please. Who’s wants to be my next guinea pig for alternate nostril breathing in labor?
Thank you to these smart folks for intriguing my interest in combining yoga and chemistry:
Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub
Kundalini Yoga by Shakta Kaur Khalsa.
Corticotrophin-releasing hormone and beta-endorphin in labour.
McLean M, Thompson D, Zhang HP, Brinsmead M, Smith R.
Eur J Endocrinol. 1994 Aug;131(2):167-72.