The Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of continual change starting from that first moment of conception.
Women often arrive at yoga now for the first time as their focus shifts to doing something to assist them through the next nine months.
A regular yoga practice is the perfect way to go about processing this life change – learning to relax, let go and open the body and mind.
Whether you are a new or experienced yoga student, the good news is that a prenatal yoga class can be benefit both.
Here is why:
For the experienced student who has a regular yoga practice…the challenge of moving into a gentler, less dynamic practice often has the ego screaming ‘I can do more than this!’ missing the point of why our yoga practice needs to change at this time. Attachment (asmita) starts to appear and we may become resistant to letting go of old routines or activities. Our yoga practice needs to start changing along with our body! There are nine precious months in which to nurture and set foundations for this new life – let’s not waste them!
Pregnancy is a time to step back from what is the ‘norm’ and honor the rite of passage that is going on. The effects in utero of everything a mother does (including diet, experiences, stress levels) have been found to have significant impact on a growing baby. That daily jog might not be so appropriate now. Or those strong twisting postures and inversions may need to be let go of for a while. Tiredness, shortened breath function, dizziness, looser ligaments from hormonal changes and the potential strain on the uterus and pelvic floor (your baby’s home) are all reasons to switch to a more moderate and nourishing yoga practice for the time being.
For a student new to yoga… prenatal class might initially be a challenge when there is no previous connection with moving a body in the way of asana or connecting consciously with breath. Hormones and uncertainty often dictate a very unsettled mind in a mum to be particularly a first pregnancy. However yoga class can offer you and baby a valuable experience – letting go for that hour, releasing held tensions, creating space for the mind and beginning to connect deeply with your baby.
This is important when life is already very full and new change is being poured on top of it!
Our bodies are clever instruments and if we can tap into what they are really telling us the experience of pregnancy can be seen as important preparation – to a very different life after birth. If the overwhelming message is to slow down it is for good reason – to prepare for the intense and all consuming tiredness that comes those first months of baby’s life. A mother who is physically depleted prior to birth will have little stamina to cope later! Likewise physical exercise that is pushing into exhaustion will not be supporting you or baby.
Yoga can give us the opportunity to listen to ourselves as we begin to create the openness and flexibility that are necessary attributes of parenting!
What may be an inappropriate yoga practice for pregnancy?
There are many postures in yoga that are contraindicated in pregnancy so it is important to work with a teacher who has a strong prenatal yoga knowledge.
– Strong backbends will become unsuitable as the weight of the foetus grows, destabilising back and pelvic muscles. Excessive lumbar spinal curve can cause major problems during pregnancy and after birth due to the weight that is being carried at the front of the body.
– Strong forward bends or twists will begin to restrict space at the belly and place pressure on all systems supporting the baby – and the baby itself. Protecting this area (the apana-vayu) is paramount. This is your baby’s home – it needs space to grow. Whilst gently strengthening the deeper abdominal structure is important there are a range of poses that can still do this without ‘crunching’ into the belly space. Need I even mention lying on your stomach? Whilst this may be comfortable whilst the foetus is the size of a peanut it becomes less appropriate as time goes on.
– Inversions. I know we have all seen the photos of the woman with the big pregnant belly upside down but here are some reasons why it can be problematic. Apart from immense pressure pushing back on the lungs and organs, these postures increase heart rate, heating a body that is already pumping more blood around than usual (40-90% more by the third trimester). When we place excessive pressure on our body and breath, our adrenal function start to kick in (fight or flight response) – an action that has a flow on effect to the baby. Overheating the system is not advised during pregnancy. Whilst inversions may be ok in earlier months when the body is smaller and more mobile, a supported and moderate approach is advised during the second and third trimesters.
Overall, thinking of the needs of the baby (as well as your own) is important in the postures you choose. And if we listen closely, our bodies will tell us what they truly need.
What might you discover in a pre natal class?
– Postures designed to support the body in all the places it is changing!
– Squats, modified lunges and other standing poses that support those legs that have to carry around an extra 15 plus kilos (for most women) and a rapidly growing baby once it arrives!
– Gentle forward and back bends to release tension in the back without restricting the growing foetus. These will change through the trimesters as the body gets bigger.
– Postures to open the upper back – create strength and release tight muscles around this area. Important in ultimately supporting breast feeding and baby holding. Likewise more opening of the rib cage and upper torso. The breath becomes restricted as our body gets bigger so space is important for our lungs.
– Opening postures for hips to support the birth process and pelvic floor stability. Bolsters and blankets are used to support the body and allow comfortable reclining positions once lying on your back is no longer appropriate.
– Establishing a conscious breath and long exhale which becomes our ally during labour (and most challenges in life). Cultivating a long exhale starts to quieten the mind, soothe the parasympathetic nervous system and create calm. If you can begin to control and lengthen the breath and use it to steady the mind then your experience in labour can be transformed!
– Visualisation (bhavana) to link you with baby. Change often needs to happen in the mind more than the body and using visualisation / meditation techniques can tap into our innate knowledge that will lead us to feel steady and capable though this time.
– An enthusiastic group of women experiencing the same things a you! Yoga class can be a great bonding place of like minded, nurturing women holding each other with reassurance and support.
There is much that can be accomplished in this short time as our body changes. Most of all it can be a space to honor the relationship between you and your baby before the time comes to meet each other in person!
by Jill Harris
Prenatal Class runs Saturday mornings 9.15-10.15am @ the Yoga Hub.