Author: Jade Franklin
For many women pregnancy is the first encounter they have with yoga. For other women their regular yoga practice continues into pregnancy. Either way, the benefits of yoga become particularly relevant during pregnancy and careful yoga practice, specifically adapted to the first, second and third trimesters offer numerous ways to help women meet and enjoy the physical and emotional changes and challenges that occur during this time. The multifaceted approach of yoga through asanas, pranayama techniques and meditation also offer excellent preparation for a natural labour.
Labour is one of the most intense physical experiences that a women is likely to experience in her lifetime. It is logical to prepare the body and mind for this as best as possible. Prenatal yoga teacher Angela Gallagher tells Yoga Journal “you would not run a marathon without preparation: why would you go into labour without preparing for it?” (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/prenatal-yoga_n_3038138.html?ir=India)
Making time for self-care in pregnancy is known to be vitally important but sometimes difficult to achieve. Through yoga classes mothers-to-be can make protected time and mental space for themselves, in order to relax and be more in tune with the mind and the body. The baby will experience this turn of attention through chemical change in the body and will greatly benefit.
In order to practice prenatal yoga safely and gain maximum benefit, attendance of specific prenatal yoga is highly recommended. It is very important to learn from a teacher who has specialised knowledge of the changes that occur in the body systems body during pregnancy.
A prenatal yoga class will generally focus on asanas that relate to strengthening and increasing the flexibility of muscles that are specifically altered during pregnancy or used in childbirth. Pranayama can help manage energy levels, either invigorating the body and mind or bringing it into a relaxed state as needed. Learning to use the breath as a tool is particularly useful for childbirth. Meditation practices can help mothers-to-be become more aware of their patterns of thinking, realising what is helpful or otherwise, and learning to let go of negative self-conceptions. Emotional stability and stamina is also improved through meditation and more mental ‘space’ created. Yoga practice as a whole helps to bring the mind to the present moment, a place where the body always resides, in order to be fully aware and in touch with the body during the uniqueness of a pregnancy journey.
Benefits of Yoga during Pregnancy
Benefits to physical health:
– reducing morning sickness and feelings of nausia during the first trimester (especially through Pranayama practice)
– stimulating the bowel to reduce common problems of constipation
-relieving tension around the pelvis and opening the cervix and birth canal
– managing fluid retention and cramping in the third trimester
– influencing the position of the baby and helping to turn it in advance if required
– strengthening and massaging the muscles of the abdomen
– correcting posture during pregnancy
– balancing out energy levels helping ensure energy is levels are there when required
– reducing incidents of headache
– improved sleep
– helps to prevent complications during pregnancy (Mayo clinic: 2012)
– help with shortness of breath
Benefits to mental and emotional health:
– managing mood swings
– reducing stress and anxiety levels
– decreasing risk of prenatal depression
What to expect from a prenatal yoga lesson?
Of all the styles of yoga gentle Vinyasa, Hatha yoga are most appropriate. Flowing movements are particularly welcomed during pregnancy as they help to ease the muscles and joints and calm the mind.
Gentle stretching of the whole body thoroughly in its full range of motion before asana practice is particularly important to avoid strain coming from unusual movements. Asanas aimed at developing strength, flexibility and balance will be preformed standing sitting or lying, although most asanas are completed in sitting during the third trimester to avoid stain on joints and pressure on the back. Putting pressure on the abdomen is always avoided in prenatal yoga. Thorough use of props during prenatal yoga helps to increase the comfort of asanas and provide bodily support.
Pranayama exercises may follow asanas to gain full benefit from the practice and distribute energy throughout the body evenly. These practices also help increase awareness of the function of the breath in relation to managing emotions and stamina.
A prenatal yoga session will always have a particular emphasis on relaxation at the end of the class, bringing the heart rate and breathing patterns to normal and coming to full awareness of any sensations, emotions or thoughts that have arisen during the practice. A guided meditation, the chanting of mantras or simply resting the body in a conscious stillness will help to calm and stabilise the mind in preparation for entering the world outside the class with a relaxed and revitalised mental state.
Prenatal Yoga asanas
All asanas in yoga will have a different beneficial impact on the body and mind. As with all exercise yoga will lease endorphins that mother-to-be and baby will both enjoy. Below is an examples of an asana to practice in each trimester.
Poorna Titali Asan (full butterfly)
Sit with legs outstretched, bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together, keeping the heels as close to the body as possible.
Relax the inner thigh muscles and clasp the feet gently with both hands.
Gently bounce the knees up and down, using the elbows as legs to apply slight pressure on the knees. Do not use any force.
Repeat the up and down movements about 20-30 times.
Opens the hip joints and relieves pressure from the knees.
Removes tiredness from legs and relieves inner thighs muscles.
Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose)
Kneel on the floor and separate the heels, bring the toes together.
Lower the hips so the heels meet the hips on either side.
Place the hands palms down on the knees. Keep the back and neck straight.
Enhances digestive function and is best practiced after meals. Can help control hyperacidity.
Strengthens muscles around the pelvis to assist in labour.
Supta Udarakarshanasana (sleeping abdominal stretch pose)
Lie down on the back.
Link hands and place behind the head.
Fold the knees and place the feet on the floor.
Drop the knees to one side and look towards the other giving a stretch to the entire spine.
Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Relieves constipation and improves digestion.
Relieves stiffness and strain on the spine.
With the help of a qualified prenatal yoga teacher a programme can be designed according to each woman’s needs, taking their health, experience in yoga and preferences into consideration.
As well as the health benefits, prenatal yoga can be an excellent way to meet and bond win other pregnant women, united throughshared experiences and an enjoyment of yoga practice.
As always in yoga, but particularly important during prenatal yoga, practice needs to be taken slowly and with full awareness of any tendencies to push the body too far. As Elena Brower, author of ‘Art of Attention’ says, “you always want to be in a place of support for yourself when you’re pregnant”. (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/prenatal-yoga_n_3038138.html?ir=India)
Pregnancy is one of the most unique and precious times of a woman’s life. Yoga can be seen as an unparalleled tool in helping women to fully enjoy and make the most out of this special time, physically, mentally and emotionally.