Sometimes in class when I announce we are going to work on mantras as a pain management tool, I get some eye rolling, as if I am asking the students to start bowing down to Buddha.
While mantras in their true sense are from the Vedic Hinduism period and chanted in sanskrit, the mantras we use in prenatal yoga tend to deviate slightly from the original interpretation. The true meaning of mantra is “mind tool”: “ma” meaning mind and “tra” meaning tool. This mind tool translates beautifully into supporting women in labor.
Mantras are used to create focus on the repetition of a word or sound. This single pointed focus gives the mind a place to rest, helping clear away the vrittis or fluctuations of the mind that can leave one distracted and restless.
A commonly used mantra is Aum or OM. In prenatal yoga, I often introduce the mantra “let go.” This is a gentle reminder to let go of sensations or tension as well as thoughts that are pulling the yoginis’ attention. Once the theme of class is introduced, I then invite the students to notice if a personal mantra spontaneously emerges in the midst of a challenging pose.
Students have shared some of their experiences: “I am strong,” “I can do anything for a short period of time,” “Just breathe.” One of my doula clients started chanting “I am OK, my baby is OK.” This became her ritual for every contraction for hours. This mantra brought her a sense of relaxation and confidence. She moaned these words in a low, guttural voice, the vibration filled the room. I knew that not only was she breathing deeply, but also that her baby could feel and hear this vibration.
In my own first labor, my midwife gave me the mantra, “The breath is the pathway through the contraction.” I silently repeated the phrase to myself hundreds of times. It helped me focus on my breath and became my lifeline through my long, hard labor. Weeks after my son was born, in moments of trying to calm his cries, my mantra became, “This too shall pass.”
Whether you are embracing the classic form of mantras in sanskrit or allowing your own personal mantra to manifest, the end result is often the same. You are finding internal focus, diving deeper into a state of stillness and escaping the external noise of the mind. For the laboring woman or new mom, using mantras can also affirm that the challenge she is facing will not overpower her, and she will come out on the other side.
And sometimes we do deviate from the purely meditative intent of the mantra and use this repetition of words to simply be our own cheerleader: “The contractions will eventually end” or “The baby will soon stop crying.”
Keep calm and chant on!
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Debra Flashenberg, CD(DONA), LCCE, E-RYT 500 is the director of the Prenatal Yoga Center. After several years as a yoga student, she decided to continue her education and became certified as a Bikram Yoga instructor. In 2006, Debra received her certification as a Lamaze® Certified Childbirth Educator. In September of 2007, Debra completed a Midwife Assistant Program with Ina May Gaskin, Pamela Hunt and many of the other Farm Midwives at The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. Drawing on her experience as a prenatal yoga teacher, labor support doula and childbirth educator, Debra looks to establish safe and effective classes for pregnancy and beyond.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.
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