When it comes to the most stressful and anxiety-laden aspects of pregnancy, labor and delivery, many women often spend several weeks, if not months, continuously worrying whether or not they will be able to deliver their baby.
However, women who practice prenatal yoga prior to giving birth can easily learn how they can minimize anxiety and stress over labor. The great thing about prenatal yoga practice is that it encourages an intimate and deep bond between the mother and baby, empowering a mom to trust her instincts by listening closely to her body.
There are several benefits of prenatal yoga. It is incredibly helpful for the various minute changes that happen during delivery. Keep in mind that labor is unpredictable in most cases and the unique ability to remain calm and focused in the moment is definitely something that prenatal yoga, through its body-strengthening poses and deep breathing exercises, could teach pregnant women to do nearly automatically.
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What Is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a practice designed especially for pregnant women. It could help moms-to-be physically, emotionally, and spiritually in the important nine months that lead up to labor and childbirth. The practice focuses on breathing techniques, building stamina, stretching, pelvic floor work, core strengthening, restorative poses, mental centering, as well as balance.
Prenatal yoga classes could help women become much more adaptive during labor, delivery and even postnatal recovery. Prenatal yoga is different from regular yoga in that it offers less strenuous or gentler sequences of poses as well as a higher use of props in order to support the women’s body in poses.
In a prenatal yoga class, the teacher might offer numerous variations and use a variety of props, such as belts, blocks, bolsters, or chairs, in order to make the poses available and comfortable to you during various stages of pregnancy. In addition, you could use more props if you want as your baby grows.
However, what you will not, and should not, see in a prenatal yoga class are higher temperatures (also called “hot yoga” classes) as they can put you at risk for dehydration, lightheadedness, and other complications.
It is also worth mentioning that you will not see certain types of poses in prenatal yoga, such as those which require you to twist deeply or lie on the back. This is because they could exert undue pressure on your major blood vessels and organs in a way that can be unsafe and unhealthy for the baby.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
By now, a majority of people know and understand that prenatal yoga could be immensely beneficial during pregnancy. Actually, many prenatal care providers often recommend expectant moms seek out prenatal yoga in order to help address a slew of discomforts which could arise during pregnancy.
This is why more and more expectant mothers are actively seeking out local yoga studios with classes geared specifically toward pregnant women and taught by trained and experienced prenatal teachers.
Much like many other kinds of childbirth-prep classes, the great thing about prenatal yoga is that it is a multifaceted and dynamic approach to exercise that encourages mental centering, stretching, and focused breathing.
An extensive body of research indicates that prenatal yoga is quite safe and could have a variety of benefits for both pregnant women as well as their babies. Key benefits of prenatal yoga are discussed in the following sections.
1. More Support For Your Body
Although your body is always changing, during pregnancy your body tends to experience “an accelerated rate of change and requires help compensating and adjusting. Prenatal yoga is designed specifically to better support the various changes that take place in a pregnant body, by providing women safe and healthy ways to strengthen their bodies and stretch their muscles — in particular their lower bodies – in order to ease and simplify the process of supporting a rapidly growing belly.
2. Calms Your Nervous System
Through effective deep breathing, your nervous system eases into parasympathetic mode quickly; this mode is responsible for relaxation. Note that when your body is at this stage, your digestive system and metabolism will operate properly, and you will sleep better; also, your immune system will be at its optimal.
3. Tones Your Important Muscle Groups
Prenatal yoga classes help tone your physical body, in particular your pelvic floor, abdominal core muscles, and hips in preparation for childbirth. An adequately toned muscle has the perfect balance between strength and length – keep in mind that it is neither too tight nor too lax. Developing and maintaining your muscle tone when you are pregnant, with yoga poses, such as lunges and gentle backbends, could help lower the pains and aches of those crucial nine months. In addition, they are vital to bringing the body back to a nice and toned condition following your delivery.
4. Increases Circulation
Circulation is considerably improved within your joints and muscles are significantly elongated during yoga practice. When your blood circulation increases, swelling is considerably decreased and your immunity enhances, which creates a healthy and safe environment for a thriving baby.
5. Better Preparation For Delivery And Labor
One of the top priorities in most prenatal yoga classes is to teach women that they should trust their bodies will open up to labor and child birth. Note that when you are afraid, you tighten up, and this tightening can lead to a “fear-tension-pain cycle.” The cycle could sabotage your efforts to stay calm and present in labor, in particular if you are hoping to experience childbirth with no or minimal pain medication.
If you work to connect with helpful yogic methods of mindful and deep breathing, you could help your body relax and loosen, and help get yourself to, what doctors call, a “mammalian place,” where you can let your body do what they instinctively know how to do i.e. give birth.
6. Connection With The Baby
Prenatal yoga classes allow you to slow down a little and focus your attention on what’s happening within your body. When you work with your breathing and perform each pose, you will become more aware and mindful of what’s going on within. Even the routine of going to your prenatal yoga class every week is a gentle and subtle reminder to take some time out of your hectic home and work life to better care for and bond with the growing baby.
You may connect better with your baby if you imagine that while you exhale, and gently sink your belly back towards your spine – you’re giving your baby a hug.
7. Relief From Many Common Pregnancy-Related Complaints
Another great benefit of prenatal yoga is it can cure regular pregnancy discomforts like nausea, lower back pain, and insomnia, shortness of breath, headache, and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you stretch and tone your muscles, you could help improve blood circulation throughout your body while deep breathing may bring sufficient oxygen to your muscles and your baby.
According to a 2012 study at the University of Michigan, mindfulness yoga, which helps combine meditation practices with physical poses, could bring quick and notable relief to the anxiety and depression which often accompany the emotional and stressful journey of pregnancy.
8. Healthier Pregnancy
It is not surprising that various research studies have indicated that a healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby. A research done in India and published in 2005 in the popular Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that pregnant women who practiced prenatal yoga regularly during their pregnancy were less likely to deliver a low weight baby or have preterm labor.
Prenatal Yoga Poses
Prenatal yoga can address the various physical and emotional challenges inherent in pregnancy, like lower back pain and shifted center of gravity.
The poses and moves discussed in the following sections will help relieve aches and pains and develop strength in your back, legs, and abdominals in order to prepare you for childbirth. Prenatal yoga can also help ease delivery and labor, with excellent moves that can relax your hip muscles while using gravity to your advantage.
1. Pigeon Pose
The pigeon pose, also known as hip-opener, is ideal for relieving your lower back tension. To practice this pose, start on all fours and gently slide your right leg forward so that your right knee comes to your right wrist and the right foot (flexed) is directed towards your left wrist. Then ease your left leg down toward the floor and extend it gradually behind you, keeping your left foot relaxed and the leg internally rotated.
In case this feels comfortable, then come down on your forearms, and connect both hands in prayer, bowing your forehead so that it touches your thumbs. In case your stomach doesn’t permit you to easily bend forward then try to remain comfortably upright. And not exert too much pressure on your lower back. Repeat the pose on the other side.
2. Cow/Cat Sequence
You can use the cow/cat move even during labor. To practice the pose, start with your knees and hands in a tabletop position. Ensure your knees are positioned below the wrists and hips. Your shoulders and elbows should be aligned and perpendicular to the ground. Then look at the floor and center your head maintaining a neutral position.
While inhaling, raise your chest and sitting bones toward the roof and allow your stomach to slowly sink to the ground. Then lift your head gently and look forward. As you exhale, come back to the neutral position on your knees and hands. Repeat ten to twenty times.
3. Supported Squat
The supported squat pose is not recommended in case you’re experiencing signs of premature labor. To practice the pose, stand with the feet a little wider than your hips, and have a stack of comfy pillows on the ground behind you. Then bend both the knees in order to lower the hips gently into a deep and relaxed squat. Sit on the pillows with your palms together at the center of your heart.
Then close your eyes and take deep breaths through the nose while relaxing your pelvic floor (these muscles surround your vagina). Hold for about ten full breaths, and then go on your knees and hands for the next move. Note that this is an ideal move in preparation for birth.
4. Child’s Pose
Sit comfortably on your heels, exhaling all the air and firmly grabbing the heels such that the back of your hands face outward. This means keep your fingers inside and thumbs outside.
Round down and engage your core as much as possible. Place the top of the head gently on the floor toward the knees so your forehead touches your knees. Raise your hips and roll forward similar to a wheel till both the elbows are properly locked and feel the superb opening at the back of your heart.
Now Inhale, then pulling on both the heels using a firm grip of the hands, exhale deeply. Stay in this position for a minimum of four to five breaths. Then slowly and gradually revert to your original position.
Inhale deeply, rolling up a single vertebrae each time. Your head and chin should come up last, after the release of your hands.
If you have done yoga in the past, you may know the immense power of this incredibly restorative yoga pose. Keep in mind that as you slowly get bigger, as your belly becomes heavy, anything which takes off the pressure will feel amazing.
5. Standing Mountain
The mountain pose is also called the heavenly stretch pose because you stretch yourself towards the heavens. The muscle movement and alignment during the mountain pose is quite useful as it helps you perform all the different standing yoga poses. Stand straight and keep your feet apart (at hip-width distance). Imagine as if you can grow both the soles of the feet deep into the earth; this will help you feel steadier and more stable like a mountain at the base.
Stay in a straight position, letting both the arms fall to the sides. Then slide the palms forward, spreading out your fingers. Now lengthen and stretch your spine by slowing raising your head toward the sky above you. Steadily inhale and exhale, standing firmly in your position.
What to Expect During a Prenatal Yoga Class?
In a typical prenatal yoga class, you will likely be urged to use various accessories such as bolsters, wedges, blocks, or folded blankets in order to achieve the right alignment.
A Brief Introduction
Your prenatal yoga teacher would like to know your age and name, any pains and aches you are having, how far along you are, and what poses or body parts you would like to work on. You will get a great chance to mingle and interact with other mothers during this time.
Many yoga studios tend to encourage expecting moms to chat both before and after the class, and some ask mothers to share about their unique pregnancy experiences such as worries, dreams and hopes.
A Brief Relaxation Period
Like many regular vinyasa classes, prenatal yoga classes typically begin with a short period of rest and then focus inward (you can put this to use during labor).
You would be encouraged to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling deeply through your nose. Many prenatal yoga breathing methods and techniques may help you manage or lower shortness of breath, especially during pregnancy as well as work through your contractions during labor.
A Quick Warm Up
You would be encouraged to move various parts of your body gently, like your arms and neck, through a complete range of motion.
A Vinyasa Flow
It will include abdominal toning and pelvic floor movements, then chest and hip opening poses, all the while emphasizing diaphragmatic and deep breathing.
Usually, many yoga poses you will perform are quite similar to the ones performed in standard vinyasa classes; however, they will be modified a little for you and your baby’s safety.
At the conclusion of every prenatal yoga class, you will relax the muscles and restore your breathing rhythm and resting heart rate.
You may also be encouraged to listen closely to your breathing, pay attention to thoughts, sensations, and emotions, and repeat a word or mantra in order to bring about a great state of inner calm and self-awareness. The video shows that you can learn more in prenatal class.
Prenatal Yoga: Safety Guidelines
To keep your health as well as your baby’s health intact during prenatal yoga, you should follow these safety guidelines:
Consult Your Healthcare Provider
Make sure that you take your health care provider’s approval before starting a prenatal yoga program. This is important as you may not be able to practice prenatal yoga in case you are at an elevated risk of preterm labor or if you’ve specific medical conditions, like back problems or heart disease.
Set Reasonable Goals
Note that for a majority of pregnant women, at least thirty minutes of light to moderate physical activity, is often recommended on most days of the week. That being said, less frequent or shorter workouts could still help you prepare for labor and stay in shape.
Avoid Fast Breathing
Any pranayama that requires rapid inhales and exhales or breath retention (like kapalabhati) must be avoided. Start practicing birthing breaths instead (this involves deep inhalations through your nose and exhalations through your mouth).
Jumps can pose a considerable risk of dislodging your fertilized egg from your uterus and must be avoided, especially early in your pregnancy. You probably won’t feel like jumping later on.
Stay Hydrated And Cool
Always do prenatal yoga in a spacious and well-ventilated room in order to avoid overheating. Also, drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated.
In case you cannot speak normally while performing prenatal yoga, you may be pushing yourself a little too hard.
Yoga Styles Not Recommended For Pregnant Women
Note that there are a variety of different yoga styles — and some are more strenuous compared to others. The best choices for pregnant women are prenatal yoga, restorative yoga and hatha yoga. Consult your instructor regarding your pregnancy before you start any other yoga class.
Try to avoid deep twists from your belly, like ardha matsyendrasana, as they can compress your internal organs, including your uterus.
Twist gently from your shoulders instead, or perform an open twist, which entails twisting away gently from the forward leg to make sure your belly has plenty of room rather than getting squashed.
Avoid all types of deep backbends in general, such as full wheel pose. However, if you were able to practice this pose with ease before your pregnancy, you can continue it, but only in the initial trimester. Also, keep in mind that poses which are abdominal strengtheners, like boat pose, must be avoided.
Also, try to avoid Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, which entails performing vigorous and strenuous poses in a room or space heated to about 100 F. This is because Bikram yoga could increase the body temperature too much, and lead to a condition called hyperthermia.
Similarly, ashtanga and other kinds of power yoga may be very strenuous for pregnant women who are not experienced yoga practitioners.
When to Start Prenatal Yoga?
Keep in mind that doctors and yoga teachers cannot agree on a perfectly “right” time to begin prenatal yoga. In general, sooner in the pregnancy is often better; however, exceptions do exist in case of extreme morning sickness, risky pregnancies, and experienced practitioners.
If you are an experienced yogi, you may carry on your current practice, in the initial few months at least, with no or few modifications. However, you would benefit considerably from prenatal yoga even when you start a little late such as in your second, or even third, trimester. Remember that breathing techniques, meditation and gentle poses could benefit you at any stage in the pregnancy.
During times when you are likely to feel tired, nauseous, moody, and even out of control, regular prenatal yoga classes could give you the enthusiasm and energy to fully enjoy the pregnancy, the calm and serenity to forge a deeper bond with your spirit and body, and the presence of mind to face the unexpected and be present and ready for the miracle of childbirth.