The Yogic Position for Birth
Dr. Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS. (Sydney, Australia),
Bihar School of Yoga
additional text by Mary Ceallaigh
In the yogic science of tantra, the squatting birth position is known as kali asana, in which shakti
(feminine force) is realized and expressed most powerfully. Undoubtedly the most effective asana
or posture for the very late stages of birth is the squatting stance traditionally adopted by women
in village and tribal communities since ancient times.
The woman who moves into this position in very late labor ("second stage"), when the fetal
explusion reflex is happening, harmonizes great efficiency each time the uterus pulses (each one a
concentration of shakti prana). Labor is completed far more easily and quickly and the mother's
whole orientation and appreciation of her role in birth alters if she adopts this posture. The
downwards and forwards orientation of the pelvic floor and the birth passage in the squatting
position is such that all her efforts are concentrated directly into the center - the infant down,
forward and out of her body, without wasting any energy needlessly in other directions. The pelvic
outlet is widened an additional centimeter (a very significant amount) and the intra-abdominal
space is increased 20-30% allowing for more uterine freedom. In addition the whole process is
assisted by the force of gravity.
With adequate yogic preparation, a woman can give birth easily from kali asana, requiring only
minimal guidance and assistance from the attending midwife or doctor.
In contrast, many modern women in hospitals are uniformly delivered of their child from what is
known as the lithotomy position, or modified lithotomy position, a position of incapacitation.
This is the posture where the mother lies flat on her back, or slant seated, with her legs raised and
knees apart. Her ankles are commonly supported by braces above and to either side of the table,
the pelvic floor is aligned with the lower end of the delivery table, and the birth passage faces
horizontally and upwards. In this position, the mother's coccyx/tailbone is immobilized, and she is
forced to labor against gravity, pushing her infant up and away from her body. The whole labor,
when carried out from this position, opposes the natural principle of gravity. The mother's innate
and powerful capacity to bear down and align with the second stage's special expulsive
contractions is counteracted and her power of self-expression and self-achievement in childbirth is
lost. Much vital energy is also misdirected, going to waste in the back and leg muscles, rather
than being focused where it is needed for an efficient, triumphant birth.
In this position the woman's whole psychic attitude is altered. She is no longer directing her own
birthgiving and feels no confidence in her own capacities to assist nature, because she is no longer
in a position to manifest her natural power. If the choice was yours, in which position would you
prefer to deliver your child?
Harmonizing Apana Shakti
According to yogic physiology, the pranic force which flows downward from the navel into the
pelvis is known as apana shakti. This energy is responsible for propelling the infant down the birth
canal during the process of birth. The secret of successful emergence of a baby is to alternatively
project and withdraw the apana, breathing in harmony with the contractions of the uterus. This is
essentially the same process as defecation or emptying the bowels, which are far more effectively
evacuated from the traditional squatting position than either the lithotomy position or the
elevated toilet position assumed in modern cultures. The function of apana shakti is obviously
hindered in both of these positions. If you can understand this, then you will also understand what
has to be done.
What has happened today is that womankind has lost touch with her own innate wisdom and
power. No one should be too hasty in blaming the obstetricians and gynecologists. They readily
admit that for the superior (or healthy) woman, the squatting position is far easier for labor than
the lithotomy position, even if it makes their own role more passive and less significant. The vulva
is no longer accessible to active intervention, so that they are no longer in charge, but become
merely advisers. The lithotomy position gives the doctor power, prestige and livelihood. When
women realize their own potentials, symbolized in kali asana, social dominance of men over women
is dissolved, and true reverence of feminine power made possible.
Preparing for Birthing in Kali Asana
In the lithotomy position, the duration of this second stage of labor is often unnecessarily
prolonged, and it is here that most complications, arrests and emergency procedures are deemed
necessary (and 90% of first time vaginal births in the hospital involve cutting of the perineal vulva
area). Many of these problems will be largely avoided and the whole of this second, crucial stage
of labor can be completed in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes, if the child emerges from kali asana.
Women who wish to "breath out" their baby in kali asana (long exhales and also pant breathing,
rather than voluntary bearing down) as women have always done, and still do in native cultures,
might want to contemplate an archetypal childbirth goddess such as Ma Kali to awaken their subtle
body of deep inner resources: confidence, power, and strength. If you are not familiar with Kali,
she is superheroine who destroys ignorant forces and protects and births new life with passionate
kindness. She is the fiercely compassionate mother, freestanding on her own feet, supported by
the cosmic law of divine mother power. Such archetypes are helpful in welcoming the full range of
change & power via the birth process: emotional, physical, spiritual.
Many women living in the modern lifestyle will probably find difficulty in adopting kali asana for any
length of time. Due to sitting in chairs and sedentary activities, the muscles and joints of the hips,
lower back, knees and ankles have all but fused up. Many women today cannot squat with their
heels on the ground; such is the inflexibility in their ankle joints. Squatting on the heels is key to
full rotation of the hip joints and pelvic outlet expansion. How can women hope to give birth to
their child in kali asana, where they will have to remain squatting for quite some time (fifteen
minutes)? Even though some movement in the squatting position is possible, they will need to stay
grounded there from the time the baby's head has emerged from the cervix until their child
completes their birth passage journey and is born.
Fortunately, pregnant women have elevated hormones that relax connective tissue and help a
woman relax into a squat like she never has before! Understanding a repertoire of squatting
movements can also help release tension in the thighs. Helpful techniques for staying in the squat
include: using a squatting bar and rocking weight back and forth, leaning onto your seated birth
partner's back, using a wall/tree for support, and using yoga blocks or a birthing chair to relieve any
arising leg muscle tension, along with reminding yourself and being reminded by your
partner/midwife about the ever-changing nature of true reality. And in between contractions -
moving feet closer together, lifting heels and shifting weight into toes rocking forward & back and
side to side in a frog posture - then dropping back down into a fully grounded squat to meet the
next contraction with a welcoming heart.
Some women may find that wearing low wedge sandals with a heel lift of 1/2-1 inch provides more
stability to sink the back calves & heels down for their long squat, others may prefer to keep a
folded yoga blanket handy to prop under the back half of their feet so their feet can remain bare.
Helpful here is the practice of the supported squat, which can be done in a variety of ways!
Support for the squat can be found resting on yoga blocks (in labor it is advised to use a block
under each sitz bone to allow the tailbone full mobility) with partner behind you in-between
contractions, then moving your weight fully into the squat when the uterine energies concentrate
A vastly underused position for spontaneous second stage is the asymmetric squat, with one knee
up and the other knee down. This posture is often instinctively taken by women just before the
baby emerges, in order to help catch their baby. This posture helps facilitate final rotation of
babies, and can be called upon should there be any issue with proper descent of the baby.
How can the body be prepared for kali asana? All the asanas are helpful, but specifically the knees
and ankles are prepared by learning to squat, starting with back half of feet elevated with one inch
wedge shoes or by placing feet halfway on the edge of a folded yoga blanket, or sliding down a wall
for support. Also crow walking, surya namaskara, chopping wood, and uttanasana, while the hips
are made flexible by the butterfly posture. These should be performed on a daily basis, while a
yogic diet which eliminates accumulated toxins in the joint fluids and keeps the bowels eliminating
well, should be followed. A woman can also use a wooden prop such as the Lillipad to practice
squats while toileting. The mother who has prepared herself in this way has the key to easy and
Through yoga a woman can know how to conserve and direct her energies better, and how to relax
completely and quickly, so as to meet the concentrated energy of each contraction with renewed
resources. She can complete the birth with minimal delay, maximal enjoyment and reserves of
endurance. She can be aware, in-choice, and flowing with body rhythms.
For healthy women, most childbirths are normal and can be carried out free of distress in a
harmonious and peaceful environment where she feels safe, and beautiful. Childbearing is not a
disease that it should need routine drugs, anaesthetics or other medications, although there are
times when such help is needed. But one should not be dependent on the modern care providers
to the eclipse of one's own resources. Yoga is a science which a woman can use to develop her
spirit, mind and body, to know her strengths and overcome her limitations. She can approach the
special role of physical motherhood serenely developing the innate, intuitive dimensions of her
personality, aware of herself as a happy, creative and fulfilled individual.