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Dancing Your Way to Childbirth

Imagine this: Scantily clad women with their bellies exposed, jangling sequins and shaking their hips to the sound of Middle Eastern music. Who would have thought that such a scenario would apply to pregnant women? Yes, you heard it right. Belly dancing – the ancient dance form that predates Biblical times – is now being practiced by soon-to-be moms to stay fit and make labor easier.

The dance’s history shows that it was done as part of ancient religious rites that affirms the power of motherhood and helps prepare women for the efforts of child delivery. In Near East countries, the dance was, and perhaps still is, being performed during labor and childbirth. History records show that women members of the tribe dance around the bedside of a woman undergoing labor to inspire her to mimic the movements with her stomach and pelvic muscles to reduce pain and facilitate delivery.

In modern times, belly dancing movements have been rediscovered and are being taught as part of childbirth preparation classes. Experts on the ancient dance art say that some of the aspects of childbirth and the preparations before it are expressed in belly dancing. Using a combination of deep concentration, abdominal movement and isolation of muscles, belly dancing directly benefits pregnant women. Some of the belly dance techniques like deep-breathing patterns and pelvis tilt exercises are the same with exercises that are being taught in modern-day childbirth preparation classes. The following are some of the pregnancy preparation exercises and their similarity with some of the techniques used in belly dancing.

1. Breathing and abdominal isolations
During labor, a woman’s breathing progresses from lower abdominal breathing to chest breathing to panting. Similarly, these types of breathing have been developed in the practice of belly dancing into movements called lower abdominal isolation, diaphragm isolation, and flutter.

2. Structure of labor
Labor usually starts out with the woman trying to relax until the contractions build up and climax when she is completely taken over by the intensity of her own contractions. Likewise, belly dancing starts out with slow, relaxing, hypnotic movements that isolate and move only one set of muscles at a time. As the dance progresses, the movements build up until the climax is reached, in which the dancer moves to the rhythmic beat of a drum that beats to an intense peak.

3. Floorwork
The floorwork is an important part of the belly dance. Similarly, in childbirth preparatibn, two floorwork positions are important. First is what is known in childbirth preparation classes as the “Sims position” where the woman is lying on left side – a position particularly recommended for women in delivery. Another popular floorwork position in belly dancing that has similarities in childbirth is getting on knees and backbend. This one is especially good for strengthening and stretching the abdomen and the inside of the thighs.

4. Pelvic rock
In childbirth preparation classes, the pelvic rock is taught to strengthen and stretch the woman’s pelvic muscles and to support the baby better in the pelvic bowl, which.helps ease the strain on the pregnant woman’s back. Likewise, the most notable characteristics of the belly dance are the hip and pelvic movements that are similar to the pelvic rock.

Besides the physical benefits of belly dancing for women during labor and delivery, it also has other worthy benefits for the pregnant woman. “Belly dance promotes body awareness,” says Cathy Moore, a certified nurse and midwife with over 15 years of experience teaming up with a professional belly dance instructor in teaching pregnant women belly dancing. “Belly dance also promotes body acceptance both in pregnant and non-pregnant women:’ she adds.
Belly dancing in pregnancy can give the mother and the baby inside the womb plenty of benefits.

• Pre-birth: Low back pain and heartburn are just two of the common discomforts during pregnancy. Belly dancing can help alleviate these discomforts while keeping the pregnant woman in shape to aid in easier pregnancy and delivery.

• Labor: Movements used in belly dancing can be applied during labor to help the mother-to-be cope with the pains of contractions. Belly dance movements such as hip circles and figure eights can help keep the muscles and bones of the pelvis open and moving during labor. Doing these movements will help the baby’s head find its optimal position to fit through the pelvis and into the birth canal.

• Post-delivery: Belly dance movements after childbirth can also help in breastfeeding by encouraging the letdown process. Similarly, it is also useful for recovering abdominal and pelvic muscular tone. It is also a great way to unwind from the stress brought about by childbirth and motherhood.

Pregnant women in the country are now starting to discover the wonders of belly dancing in pregnancy. At the Rhythms studio in Taft Avenue, Manila, which provides health and wellness counseling services, pregnant women with their bulging bellies swing their hips and groove to modern music.

Rhythms was established by Dr. Fay Cagayan, an obstetrician-gynecologist and belly dancing instructor. At Rhythms, one of the special offerings they have is the “Sayuntis” – a term coined by Dr. Cagayan – which is a combination of belly dance, yoga, and fun movements in pregnancy. Dr. Cagayan is joined by a team of healthcare professionals that include other medical professionals, dieticiannutritionists, a psychologist, and fitness trainers with expertise in yoga and belly dancing to ensure the safety of pregnant women while doing belly dance as their form of exercise.

One of these expert trainers at Rhythms is Arcel Benson, a fitness professional who specializes in belly dancing, yoga, pilates and aqua aerobics. As of this writing,Arcel is currently in her last trimester of pregnancy with her third child and is still dancing and teaching belly dancing to her fellow pregnant women. “I always encourage pregnant women not to stop everything especially their fitness activities,” says Arcel. She adds that some women who used to exercise suddenly stop their fitness regimen when they get pregnant because of some misconceptions regarding exercise and pregnancy. “I tell them they can minimize the workout but they shouldn’t stop,” advises Arcel.

“In belly dancing there is a lot of variations, there are a lot of slow movements. Those exercises are the ones that are suited for pregnant women,” says Arcel. She adds that belly dancing in pregnancy helps relieve tension, keeps pregnant women healthy, and lessens the unwanted feelings brought about by being pregnant. “Belly dancing is one of the best exercises for pregnant women aside from yoga,” says Arcel.

Arcel further relates that her experience of doing fitness activities while pregnant indeed helps make delivery easier. “Even with my friends who exercise while pregnant, they also had an easier time during delivery,” she adds.

However, moms-to-be who are interested to start any fitness program, including belly dancing, are advised to get the approval of their doctor. On her part as a fitness professional, Arcel says that she usually asks for a doctor’s approval first before teaching a pregnant woman belly dancing or other fitness activities. “We require the certification of an obstetrician.”

As an obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Fay Cagayan only has good things to say about the benefits of belly dancing in pregnancy.What is good about belly dancing, according to Dr. Fay, is: “You do not think about the steps while you dance, you just let your body move to the music. It is one exercise that you would feel di ka pinaparusahan (you are not being punished):”

Dr. Fay’s fascination and passion in belly dancing started just last year. She started belly dancing when she was looking for an outlet to relieve stress. From then on, she got hooked. She bought instructional belly dancing videos and started reading and researching about belly dancing. Soon enough, Rhythms studio was born.
According to Dr. Fay, presenting the idea to pregnant women has not been easy. At first, pregnant women are wary of joining the classes because they are afraid of the possible consequences. “Women have unfounded . fears no baka silo makunan, mokokosama so baby, baka mag-premature labor (that they might have a miscarriage, it may not be good for the baby, they might undergo premature labor),” relates Dr. Fay.

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