Yoga Philosophy for Pregnancy
Let’s learn about the Yamas, the Niyamas, and the Kosha System…
The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the ashtanga, or eight lilmbed, yoga path. These are our moral pathways on the spiritual path of yoga. The Yamas, or restraights, tell us what not to do, and the Niyamas, or observances tell us what to do.
The Kosha system, kosha meaning “sheath”, is a study of our various energetic layers – physical, life-force, mental, wisdom, and bliss. These come from ancient Hindu texts called The Upanishads. The Kosha help us understand ourselves on a depper level than just mind and body.
You will find philosophy lessons in each week of the pregnancy journal from one of these three ares, or one of the Chakras (click here for Chakra lessons).
Yoga Philosophy Glossary
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The Yamas are the first limb of the 8 limbs of yoga from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Yama means restraint. The Yamas are our spiritual principle guide as how we should walk and behave out int the world.
Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is the first yama. The basis of ahimsa means causing no harm to any being. This is typically where a vegetarian diet comes into play, as well as passivity in the sense of politics and social justice movements (think Mother Theresa, Ghandi, etc.). This principle shows up as a cornerstone for most religions and spiritual practices in one way or another. “Be kind” sums it up.
In pregnancy and birth, ahimsa has many applications. Outwardly, we can focus on how we are treating our loved ones as we go through this new experience. Our hormones are at an all time high creating new feelings and sometimes new, unwanted, actions. It can be helpful to check ourselves and our behavior, even when our hormones are raging. On into motherhood, we can apply this same principle to our children, approaching them with patience and peace. We must also turn ahimsa inward. When we falter on our nonviolent approach to the external world (which we most assuredly will), we must practice ahimsa toward ourselves and do our best to try again tomorrow.
Satya, the 2nd yama, means truthfulness. We must be honest in our behavior with others. In order to be honest with others, we must first be able to be honest with ourselves. We must know our truth to be able to live it. Each yama builds on the other, as do the limbs of yoga as well, so we must always be truthful – unless it is unkind.
Finding and living in our truth as mothers can be quite challenging. The brain and hormone shift after giving birth quite literally make us new people. There is a new level of discovery and uncovering this new us, this maiden turned mother. As we explore this new side of ourselves, it can be easy to get lost in the fog of everyone else’s truth and what they think we should do. Practice tuning in to your innermost self, what you know is true. And try to live by it as best you can.
Asteya means non stealing. Externally, of course, we should not steal physical things from others. But we also should not steal intangible things. Non stealing means honoring what others are going through, honoring others’ life paths, honoring others’ lessons. Honoring their time, their space. Non stealing means allowing others the space to have their own experiences in and through life.
In pregnancy, it can be easy to think we are the only one having an experience, but our partners and families are experiencing this bringing of a new life and family member to the world as well. Try to let them have their own experience, all while protecting yours as well. Allow yourself to fully experience pregnancy and birth. To not steal from yourself any opportunity to learn and practice yoga, or this union with the Divine. Process and experience the good with the bad.
Brahmacharya directly translates to “stay in conduct with oneself.” This yama has usually been interpreted as practicing celibacy. Since you are pregnant and growing a family, you would be considered a householder and therefore, of course, not expected to practice celibacy on your yoga journey. The reason for celibacy was to conserve life force energy. There are many other ways to ensure we are conserving our energy.
Brahmacharya has also been interpreted as balance. We can easily expend unnecessary energy when we are out of balance, doing too much of one, and not enough of another. During pregnancy, you might want to explore areas of addiction or bad habits. True addiction to substances should be addressed with professional help. You may also look at any addictive or excessive behavior such as spending, phone usage, laziness, overeating, excessive workouts, and the like. Pregnancy requires a balance of physical activity and rest, and energetic liveliness and pause.
Aparaigraha is non greed, or not being covetous of that which others have. It can also be translated as non-possessiveness, or no-attachment. We may apply this to physical goods, but the meaning goes far deeper than that. In life, if we practice non-attachment, we can be happier with the outcome of any scenario since we cannot be disappointed by our own expectations.
All pregnancies and births are unique, just like the souls they produce. One must not be attached to any type of experience or outcome. Every pregnancy is different, so even if you are having your second child, letting go of what you think you know and practicing nonattachment can bring more peace. Labor and birth are unpredictable as well. This experience is not just had by the mother, but also by the baby. Trust that the Divine has a plan for this birth, and be open to all scenarios. Resistance to what is brings stress, tension, and anxiety – none of which are helpful during labor.
Niyama means observances, or things we should practice (while yama means restraints, so things we should not practice). This is the limb where we begin self-discovery. Becoming a mother is a huge rite-of-passage and spiritual initiation in this life, so allowing the spiritual journey of discovery can let us walk through this new journey with grace.
Saucha means purity, of body, mind, and spirit. This is our reminder to live a “pure” or healthy life. Healthy living habits are more important than ever while pregnant, so this is a good place to take inventory of your current habits and what you may want to change. Look at the foods you are eating, any substances you are using on your external body (think beauty products), and your movement habits (this is where your asana practice comes into play!).
Saucha also asks us to purify our minds and spirits. If we invite in positivity, joy, and peace, we will emit more of the same. If we allow in fear, doubt, and negativity, that’s what we will manifest. Be wary of content you are consuming and energy you allow around yourself. People love to tell their birth stories to pregnant women, but you do not have to hear them if it’s not coming from a place of love and encouragement. You may also purify your spirit by maintaining a meditation practice to keep the mind clear of fearful or anxious thoughts as they arise.
Santosha means contentment. Contentment and acceptance with ourselves and others. Contentment looks like peace, and peace can oftentimes look like complete, boring, neutrality. Imagine having no reaction, good or bad, to life’s happenings! It doesn’t seem possible. We are humans with emotions that we are meant to use, of course, but when these feelings go awry or are imbalanced, we do not serve ourselves or others.
Finding and accepting this “boredom” can be challenging in and of itself, but can lead to less drama, chaos, and general unnecessary excitement. Santosha can be applied on a daily basis when pregnancy has you down – nausea, pain, uncertainty, fear – just stay in the present moment and be content with what is happening right now. This is paramount during labor and birth as well, as anything can happen and we cannot predict any certain outcome.
Tapas refers to our inner fire or passion, thus asking us to practice self-discipline. This is a difficult feat anyway, much less with pregnancy added on! This fire or heat we are asked to stoke pertains to our physical yoga practice, as well as our passion and courage with which we approach the world, or in this case our pregnancies.
Self-discipline can be so hard during pregnancy. Every time you go to unroll your yoga mat, or go for a walk, or go to exercise, or to eat healthy, remember why you are doing it. You will feel your best, and your baby will be nourished. Here we also commit to any other practices that we are working on – perhaps meditation, exercises given by your birth team, supplements, the list could go on. As we practice self-discipline, think of this commitment to action as burning away any impurities of body, mind, and soul.
Svadhyaya means self-study. Many of the lessons of the Chakra system and the other Yamas and Niyamas can be aided by self-study. We must continue to know ourselves better in order to grow spiritually and to further connect with the Divine and to free ourselves from the impurities of this physical world. Self-study looks like reading spiritual texts, meditation, contemplation, journaling, spending time in nature, therapy, and practicing asana.
In pregnancy, knowing yourself well can aid in your journey immensely. Understanding your emotional and spiritual state can help you navigate hormonal shifts. Staying connected to the Divine can help you stay in a place of peace rather than fear. Practicing meditation can help you navigate the thought spirals that pregnancy can bring. Knowing yourself well now will help even more in motherhood.
This final Niyama means complete surrender. This is where we take full devotion to the Divine (or God, or highest self, or collective consciousness…) and completely let go and trust. This complete devotion to a higher purpose alleviates fear, uncertainty, ego. It helps us remove our human, finite selves from our outlook and look toward a bigger picture outcome of life.
In pregnancy, complete surrender is necessary and inevitable at some point. Going into labor requires full surrender to the body, to the natural waves of contractions, to letting the Divine navigate your baby into this world. Full surrender and trust in a bigger divine picture can bring peace to your rough days during pregnancy. Practice letting go and knowing that you will fully surrender to your higher power.
The Koshas refer to different layers, or sheaths, of ourselves, going from our densest most present, the body, to ethereal, our spirit body. This system can be explored and balanced by practicing the 8 limbs of yoga. It is similar to the Chakra system as we are exploring all parts of ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.
Annamayakosha is our physical body, concerning itself with the earth element. This is the most relatable and recognizable part of ourselves as most people are (oftentimes overly) consumed with their physical self. We care for this physical body layer by eating healthily, practicing asana and pranayama, and balancing our Root chakra, which is also concerned with our physical body.
In pregnancy, we focus on our physical body as this is the capsule of life for our babies. We undergo massive changes in our physical bodies, and it will do us well to observe this Kosha by paying attention to our physical health.
Pranamayakosha is our vital sheath, or life force layer. The element here is water, and this concerns our energy bodies. The multichannel energy system via the 72,000 nadis that are mentioned from the Chakra system above, is where this layer lies. This layer is influenced by vital life force, or pranayama practice, as well as balancing the Chakra system.
When the baby’s lungs are ready for breathing, labor begins. Taking a breath is one of the first things a baby does after passing through the birth canal. This Kosha layer is very important to focus on during pregnancy and on through labor and birth, by practicing pranayama.
This layer is subtle and is concerned with our mental capacity. Our thoughts and emotions are wrapped up in this kosha. Practicing meditation and pratyahara, which is sense withdrawal from the fifth limb of yoga, can help us navigate and smooth out our mental layers. In pregnancy the manomayakosha might show up as a web of thoughts, a giant checklist, fears for the future, so many unknowns and uncertainties. Meditation, journaling, affirmations, can all help balance this subtle layer.
This Kosha is our wisdom body, where our inner highest self and truest being are found. Tie this into your third eye chakra, the seat of your intuition, and imagine that’s the “voice” that you would hear at this level. All external factors, the senses, the body, the mind, all cease at this juncture and you tap into your truest inner wisdom. The practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation can help remove the “impurities” of the world and bring us to this state where we can tap into this highest self.
The final and deepest layer of the koshas is this, our bliss body. This layer can be likened to the state of samadhi, the 8th limb of yoga, which is a state of nirvana or complete peace. The bliss body goes almost deeper as it is a state where we reach complete and pure bliss, free of any thoughts, knowledge of emotion, or energy – whereas in saadhi we may be aware of the state of nirvana. This is almost pure neutrality, which can be difficult for the mind to grasp.
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