Yoga during pregnancy, also known as prenatal yoga, can be a joyful and effective way to stay active, healthy and strong while also staying relaxed and flexible during your pregnancy.
Yoga is uniquely suited to maintaining and increasing your pre-natal health. With its focus on sensing and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles (PFM), yoga is a natural when you’re preparing for labor and delivery. Add in yoga’s organic synthesis of breath with movement and sensation, and you have a primer in breathing techniques that will stand you in good stead all through the process. Yoga enhances and refines your balance, which will come in handy later in the pregnancy when your center of gravity shifts, sometimes even daily. Finally, yoga teaches you to deal with intense sensation from an observational perspective, rather than reacting or labeling intensity immediately as negative. By distinguishing intensity from pain, using observation, sound and breathing to moderate the experience of intensity and encouraging sensation and movement from the core, including the PFM, yoga is uncommonly suited for pregnant moms.
One study of 335 women showed that yoga increases the health of baby as measured by birth weight, decreased pre-term labor and complications and increased health of mom when compared to a standard recommendation for exercise during pregnancy1. Fewer women suffered with Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) and more women carried closer to term, delivering healthy weight babies in the hour of yoga daily group than the women in the hour of walking daily group.
Yogic breathing is much like what you may be taught in birthing classes. In yoga class you may learn to emphasize the exhalation when seeking relaxation, and this is similar in the labor experience. Panting is similar to a yogic breathing technique called kalabhati, except that you move from your upper rather than lower body. Lion’s breath, a deep exhalation with the tongue out and mouth open is often used to decrease anxiety and tension, as well as cope with pain.
Yoga poses from Warrior 2 to Awkward Chair Pose recruit the PFM and teach not only engagement, but relaxation and sensation of these foundational core muscles as well. Beyond kegel exercises, the engagement of the PFM in yoga, called mula bandha, is coordinated with breath and movement, much like it will be during the birthing process. Not only does this prepare you for birthing, it also adds to your strength and balance for the entire pregnancy and beyond.
In some yoga classes you’ll learn sound, or chanting, practices which can be helpful during the birthing process. The simple act of breathing out while intoning any of the vowels, or each of them in turn, can be a transformative and expressive experience and focus your mind during the intensity of birthing.
Yoga relieves minor aches and pains that can go along with the changes of pregnancy. From easing round ligament pain to keeping your digestion healthfully moving and coping with nausea, yoga poses are invaluable in helping to manage the day to day transformations of your body.
Look for a class that is devoted to pre-natal yoga and a teacher who has specifically trained to teach this class. Pre-natal yoga teacher certifications are additional to the basic Registered Yoga Teacher certification issued by the Yoga Alliance. While there is no central certifying body for Pre-natal yoga, just knowing that your teacher sought specific training for this specialty in yoga will generate trust and peace of mind. They should know modifications for common poses that would traditionally be impossible with a baby on board, poses such as Cobra or Locust. They should be familiar with the changes of each trimester and which poses you might avoid. They may use themed meditations for their classes appropriate to the process of pregnancy and birthing. You might even find a doula or other birthing support professional who teaches this special kind of yoga.
You can look forward to meeting other expectant mothers and forming bonds that could last well beyond the yoga class providing support and celebration of your experience. Whether you’re new to yoga or bringing your practice into the experience of pregnancy and birth, pre-natal yoga offers you ways to honor your pregnancy and enjoy your health and vitality throughout.
1. Narendran S, Nagarathna R, Narendran V, Gunasheela S, Nagendra HR. (2005 Apr;11). Efficacy of yoga on pregnancy outcome. J Altern Complement Med. Retrieved September 14, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15865489