Benefits of prenatal yoga

Many newly pregnant women want to continue with their normal activities for as long as possible. Some are very fit and prefer maintaining their regular exercise routine or yoga practice without giving up their usual pace and intensity. Others experience the need to move more gently and find themselves practicing yoga for the first time.

During pregnancy, body, mind and soul go through an epic transformation. As the pregnancy progresses the body experiments almost daily changes. All anatomical systems suffer adaptations including hormonal changes that enable the connective tissue of the pelvis to become lax in order to allow the baby to grow, the development of an entirely new organ – the placenta, that will nourish and provide the baby with oxygen, and the expansion of the uterus more than five times its pre-pregnancy size,[1] just to name a few.

Accepting that one’s body, lifestyle and possibly the relationship with one’s partner will never be the same again is part of the process of becoming a mother. It is also important to remind ourselves that yoga is not a trendy work-out, rather – using one of my mentor’s words – a work-in. First-time mothers usually experience a natural fear of diving into the unknown, evoke their own experiences as daughters and revisit their relationship with their own mothers.

Pregnant women might feel as if they are in a new body, with increased or lowered abilities. It takes some adjustment to get used to the changes. Understanding what those changes are is key to make the most out of your practice.

Is there a better time to move with extra care and attention than during pregnancy?

No matter how well trained a person is, a normal yoga class might not be adequate for a pregnant body. During a “traditional” yoga class, where more often than not the focus is on the physical aspect of the practice, teachers will be possibly distracted guiding the rest of the students, may not offer props or modifications or even have no idea about contraindicated poses and breathing techniques not suited for this stage.

Conversely, a holistic prenatal class will focus on caring and supporting a mother-to-be at many different levels.

What are the benefits of a prenatal Yoga class?

1. Calms the mind

Even a short practice reduces stress and anxiety. Studies indicate that a sustained level of stress are related to lower birth weight, prematurity, pre-eclampsia, and other health problems that arise during pregnancy or after birth.[2] Keep stress at bay doing a weekly 60-minute class or shorter sequences at home.

2. Strengthens key muscles and increases vitality

It tones the core muscles and therefore improves postural alignment and pelvic stability preventing lower back and pelvic girdle pain. It boosts energy levels which is especially helpful during the first trimester.

3. Increases pelvic floor awareness

This part of the core plays an important role throughout pregnancy as it supports pelvic organs and bears the baby’s weight and will stretch greatly during birth.

4. Improves flexibility

Adapted asanas can increase the range of motion while promoting joint stability.

5. Expands breathing capacity

As the pregnancy progresses, abdominal organs are pushed up and back limiting the movement of the diaphragm causing shortness of breath. Safe pranayama practices can help breathing more deeply.

6. Helps to relieve common ailments

A regular practice will help you manage conditions such as constipation, heartburn, leg cramps, insomnia and sciatica.

7. Provides mental resources

It gives pregnant women mind tools and enables them to use breathing techniques to control pain and fear, especially as the birth approaches. It also prepares the mother-to-be for emotional and mental work. It allows her to access her own wisdom and helps her to trust her inner teacher.

8. Creates body and emotional awareness

It enables pregnant women to identify and verbalize emotions and physical sensations, to move with intention and to avoid practices or habits that are not beneficial or healthy.

9. Helps to connect with the unborn baby

Visualizations, breathing techniques, sound practices and mindful movements will facilitate future mothers bonding with their babies after birth.

10. Creates links with other expectant women

Attending a class or signing up for an online course can awaken a sense of belonging to a community, feeling less isolated, finding relief and comfort, and even forging friendships. In addition, a network of pregnant women and/or new mothers will enable them to ask for support, guidance or help when they need it.

11. Sets a positive example

By creating time for themselves and making space for their own needs, expectant mothers will be able to connect with their babies from a healthier place. Practicing self-care during and after classes will help them establish a pattern of behaviour that they can later replicate with their babies.

[1] Johnson, Kimberly Ann. 2017: The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing your Emotions and Restoring your Vitality. Boulder, Shambhala. P. 145.