By Neelu Shruti
The benefits of yoga are far-reaching. In an hour of downward facing dogs, sun salutations, and other poses, we can exercise while releasing stress and becoming more mindful. While we can all find benefits in the practice of yoga, there are exceptional benefits to the practice for pregnant women.
Prenatal Yoga is designed to build strength and flexibility in your body to help you carry your growing belly more efficiently, so you can feel your best — preventing low back pain, hip pain and round ligament pain and other common pregnancy aches and issues. Yoga while pregnant is safe in all stages of pregnancy and is recommended as long as you avoid deep twists, deep backbends, any abdominal exercises that compresses the uterus and laying flat on your your belly or back.
More significantly, prenatal yoga targets the muscles you will use in labor and birth helping you build strength, flexibility and stamina where you’ll need it the most and offers tools to aid in labor and birth. Whether you have a vaginal or a cesarian birth, practicing yoga while pregnant will significantly aid in your postpartum recovery.
A few of the benefits of prenatal yoga are:
Get a good workout: Exercise is great for you and your baby! Whether you’re a regular runner, spin cyclist, or yogi, keeping up your active lifestyle can be more challenging when you’re pregnant. For starters, your tendons and ligaments become a lot more flexible during pregnancy due to the influx of relaxin in your body, and you’ll want to build muscular strength to prevent injuries from hyper-flexibility. Prenatal yoga offers all of the benefits of maintaining your exercise routine (including helping to reduce stress, control weight, improve health and well-being, maintain a positive mood, boost energy, and get better sleep) while being safe for you and your baby. And if you’re not an exercise junkie, or have let your routine slip a little, now is a great time to start because the healthier you are and the better shape you’re in, the better it is for your baby! There’s even evidence, according to recent studies, that exercising regularly when you’re pregnant can boost your baby’s brain function!
Strengthen your abdominal pushing muscles and learn to relax your pelvic floor: Another incredible benefit to prenatal yoga is that incorporated into the sequence are targeted exercises to help strengthen, and improve flexibility in key muscle groups. Doing crunches and plank is neither very comfortable, nor recommended when you’re pregnant, and prenatal yoga offers an excellent alternatives to tone your transverse abs (your deep corset pushing muscles) in a safe manner. Additionally, prenatal yoga targets the key muscle group known as the pelvic floor. The importance of both strength and flexibility in the muscles of the pelvic floor cannot be overstated. The pelvic floor muscles are muscles in the bowl of your pelvis. It is essential that they are strong enough to allow the baby’s head to rotate when descending, and to prevent pelvic organ prolapse, but also that they are flexible enough to open and release to allow the baby through. Labor involves the unique combination of flexing and pushing with your abs while relaxing your pelvis which can be tricky, and prenatal yoga incorporates ab work, pelvic floor exercises, and breathing exercises, all of which can help accomplish this challenging balance during birth. Not only are you learning how to target those areas, you’re learning how to synchronize them, while building strength and flexibility where you’ll need them most.
Learn to deal with discomfort: The therapeutic benefits of yoga are far-reaching. Prenatal yoga can help prevent and address common issues such a lumbar lordosis (lower back pain), sacro-iliac pain, sciatica and piriformis pain. The poses can also create space in the torso for better breathing, and include movements that can help to alleviate carpal-tunnel syndrome and charley horses, as well as demonstrate positions for better sleep. By working through discomfort with breathing techniques and a focus on mindfulness, you are able to alleviate discomfort, and the practice of challenging yourself and building muscle strength builds your tolerance to pain. In prenatal yoga, the poses are designed to challenge, but not strain your body. Learning to breathe and maintain calm in an intense stretch teaches your body how to react to and manage a stress, so you’ll be better-equipped to handle stressful situations during your pregnancy, and of course, more prepared for labor.
Get baby in the optimal position: Compared to the benefits of other forms of exercise, the really exceptional benefit of prenatal yoga, is that poses like down dog, cat/cow, and puppy pose gently guide your baby’s head down, facing your spine, the ideal position for birth. That’s right, the more cat/cows you do, the more you’re encouraging your baby’s head down toward optimal fetal position! Prenatal yoga counteracts the long periods of laying back on your couch or sitting at a desk — which have the exact opposite effect and can encourage breech or posterior (sunny-side-up) babies and result in longer births times and sometimes lead to medical interventions — and helps have you and your baby exactly where you need to be when the time comes.
Breathe: Often, we don’t pay attention to our breath which tends to be shallow as we go about our day-to-day activities. In yoga, we begin to pay attention to our breath, and to teach ourselves to focus on maintaining deep, full breathing. The benefit of the yogic breath is that we become aware of our diaphragm’s movements and begin to use our lungs to a greater extent, engaging their full capacity and allowing a larger intake of oxygen. This focused method of deep breathing calms our mind and allows us to relax and use our muscles more efficiently. Breathing and active relaxation exercises taught during a prenatal yoga class help reduce stress for overall better physical and mental health for you and for your baby.
Bond with baby: Recent studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness allows parents to recognize, appreciate, and connect with their babies. Embracing a few minutes of quiet time where the distractions of the day fade away allows you to focus all of her attention inward and on the baby, and can help you to zoom out, see the big picture, and be less bogged down by the day-to-day frustrations. It also allows you to notice changes in the growing baby and in your own body. The practice of mindfulness and building a bond with baby prenatally can aid in preventing postpartum depression.
Build confidence: When dealing with a growing belly, hormonal changes, back pain, swollen feet, and constantly having to pee, it’s easy to get frustrated with the constant physical changes in your body. It’s important to remember that your body (even with all the discomfort you feel) is strong, healthy, and capable. Practicing yoga — whether it’s finishing your regular sequence, or doing a particularly challenging pose when you’re pregnant — can give you great feeling of accomplishment, and build your confidence and trust in your body and its innate ability to labor and give birth.
Be part of a community: The first few minutes of a prenatal class usually consist of introductions where you’ll be able to discuss issues, discomforts, and concerns with others. As the conversation goes around the room, you’ll hear how others are dealing with the same issues that you’re facing. This creates a space for sharing and learning from each other, and also allows the instructor to customize each class to fit your needs. Most of all, you’ll meet other parents who are experiencing the same challenging, wonderful changes as you, while pursuing a practice that helps ensure the safest, healthiest, and most joyful outcome for you and your baby.