Thursday, 17 July 2014

Yin for Birth Partners

It is natural to try to help a woman in labour as much as possible, but sometimes what she needs is a little space... a little Yin from her birth partner.

Birth is essentially a Yang state - it is outward movement. So as the birth partner, to complement this, the more fluid and adapting you can be, the more restful and relaxed you may find yourself and the more benefit you may both enjoy.

Lots of talking and movement may not be helpful - try it and find out how she responds! Each woman is unique, there is no formula that will work for all.

Some shiatsu massage techniques, particularly using the extra-ordinary vessels, can provide calm, quiet and deeply supportive care for the woman, and will help you to feel those things too.

Yin exercises for a birth partner to try:
  • stroking, perhaps head to tailbone
  • massaging the shoulders
  • encourage the mother-to-be to rest in between contractions: lie together, let her lean on you, making sure first of all that you are comfortable enough so that you can continue to support her 

Self-care is extremely important for the birth partner, so take time out for yourself, make sure that you rest, perhaps with a meditation. And leading up to the birth, practise some breathing exercises and birth positions with the mother-to-be, so that you know how to physically and emotionally support her. Perhaps go to a yoga or antenatal class together, try hypnobirthing or listen to some relaxation audio together.

One of my birth preparation clients had a long labour with high blood pressure - the solution for her was to be held by her birth partner on the belly and lower back (called the Girdle Vessel or Dai Mai in shiatsu). Also rocking, circling and leaning exercises (developed by Suzanne Yates, creator of Wellmother) where the woman was able to follow her own rhythm but she was supported by her birth partner as she moved. And like this they were able to continue for several days with poise and calm...

Essentially using the same techniques for the woman on yourself as the birth partner can be really valuable, so make sure that you give yourself enough time to prepare for the birth so that the exercises become second nature and you can engage completely in your partner's and your own experience. With the balance of Yin, you can certainly preserve and increase your energy levels and find equanimity in the face of challenges during labour, helping you embrace the joy in the arrival of your new baby.

Harnessing Yin - some practical exercises

How do you harness Yin? By becoming it... stopping, yielding, finding fluidity, stillness... being aware of the Earth, substance, water... and above all, practising self-nourishment. Here are some physical and meditative exercises that you can try these ideas out with...

I recommend finding a place to practice that you enjoy, outside if possible, and barefoot if you can. Wearing some Yin clothing might help too, something flowing, that responds easily to your movement.

Waking up the body and connecting to the Earth through the Conception Vessel

The first exercise is a warm-up, helping you connect with one of the Yin extra-ordinary vessels in shiatsu, called Ren Mai or the Conception Vessel. It runs from the chin down to the pelvis, and can be felt as a band as well as points in a straight line down the centre of the body. Have a look at the video first...

This exercise comes from womb yoga created by Uma Dinsmore Tuli, combined with shiatsu 
practices of the extra-ordinary vessels as developed by Suzanne Yates... as well as connecting 
with the Conception Vessel by stroking the front of the body, this exercise stretches and 
stimulates the opening and coupled points for some of the Yin extra-ordinary vessels in the 
hands and wrists: L7 (for CV), P6 (for PV). In womb yoga these hand gestures include 
"mothering lotus" and "yoni mudra". More about how I use the extra-ordinary vessels and 
womb yoga as mutually sustaining practices in future posts...

Standing exercise
Feel your feet on the earth, and separate your toes. Be aware of the connection between the outside corner of your heel and the ground... be aware of the outside edge of your foot and the ground, from the outside corner of the heel to the little toe... then maintaining these connections, also be aware of your big toe on the ground... if you know K1, then be aware of its connection to the ground too.

Have your hands palms together in front of your heart.

Maintain this position, and listen to the response in your legs, your pelvis, your spine and your head.

Then whenever you wish, start stroking down the front of your body, perhaps making contact or at a little distance away from the body. Then come as far down to the ground as you wish, then lift your arms up, stand and return your hands back to your heart.

You may like to give a little "thanks" to the ground as you come close or touch it, for the beautiful planet we live on.

Sitting exercise
Find a comfortable sitting position, I suggest using blocks, or a bump in the sand or grass wherever you are, so that your hips are above your knees. This makes the position more sustainable and reduces pressure on your knees, hips and ankles.

Join your palms together at the level of your heart. Then stroke down the front of the body, making contact or a little distance away from the body, down to the lower belly or pubic bone, then lift your hands up to your mouth, perhaps brushing your lips with your fingertips before you come down again.

Try this as many times as you like... it may take a minute or so before you start to feel it, so be patient and don't try too hard, let it happen almost by itself...

Allowing your body to be supported... leaning and using the wall

Sometimes it is the hardest thing to ask for help. In your shiatsu and yoga practice, leaning is a gentle way of opening yourself to feeling physically supported. Walls can be really useful for developing your strength and balance, and they are also fantastic for resting...

Have a blanket or two underneath your hips if this suits you and rest your hands on the midline, Conception Vessel, wherever is comfortable for you. As well as a meditation, this may help tired or puffy legs if you have been sitting, driving or standing for a long time. If you are newly pregnant, it can be a good way to connect with your baby and rest.

You can use this to help prepare for handstands. Start by saying something open-minded and positive to yourself, such as "I'll give this a go and see what happens" :-) Then on all 4s have your feet by the skirting board, then walk up the wall, pressing your feet firmly into the wall. Perhaps use chalk on your feet and hands to stop from slipping. Breath gently.

This may help slow your breath and also stretches the back of the leg... have the front knee against or close to the wall, one hand on the wall at chest level, the other hand on the wall above your head. The stretch in the back leg is gentle, don't do it if it hurts, and stop if you feel faint. To rest after this, turn your back to the wall and lean, enjoy the support!

Holding the ancestral connection to our heart

This is a meditation on the Penetrating Vessel, that links the heart to the reproductive organs and the ancestral "Life Gate" or Mingmen Du4 in the lower back. I find this helpful for women with issues of menstruation or childbirth, whether recent or a long-time ago, and for men with lower back pain, working with fertility and anxiety.