Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Yoga for mamas-to-be is all the rage; celebrity moms, city moms, country moms, moms at the community center and moms at exclusive spas are all doing it. It turns out that the tremendous popularity of prenatal yoga is more than a fad or a trend. Mothers are learning that yoga is a wonderful form of exercise for the expecting body, and a way to help your quickly changing body cope with its increased demands and embrace the deeply personal feelings of growing a whole new person.
Good things galore
Prenatal yoga instructor Skylar Hill-Jackson is the director of Baby and Me Fitness in Toronto, Canada, and has been teaching prenatal yoga for more than seven years.
“Prenatal yoga benefits are similar to regular yoga benefits,” she says. “Muscle strength, flexibility, stamina, endurance, inward focus, breathing and relaxation.”
There are benefits specific to pregnancy as well.
“Time for the pregnant woman to focus and connect with her every-changing body, time to bond with her baby, core body strengthening to cope with weight gain and back discomfort, the integration of conscious breathing and relaxation skills in preparation for labor.”
Easy and effective
Here’s the other part of yoga’s appeal: it’s easy. Really easy. No sweating, no grunting, no sore muscles the next day. Prenatal yoga is adapted to fit the pregnant body. It should feel good, and nothing should hurt. Yoga is unlike any other workout, in that the benefits come from gentle persistence, stretching and holding of the poses.
At a prenatal yoga class you can expect to move fluidly from one asana (pose) to another, while breathing in harmony with the movements. Yoga only goes as far as is right for you. You may hold “Proud Warrior” for 30 seconds or 3 minutes; your personal best is your only goal. Yoga also works from the inside out, emphasizing stress reduction, relaxation and breathing.
If a program that emphasizes relaxing, reducing stress and breathing sounds familiar, it’s likely because prenatal yoga shares these concepts with virtually all childbirth “methods.”
Birth benefits, too
Yoga doesn’t just provide healthy stress reduction and exercise for pregnancy, but is preparing you for labor as well. Hill-Jackson tells us, “Many baby & me fitness participants believe their yoga practice positively helped them to prepare for the challenges and rigors of labor and birth. We get a great deal of positive feedback. We don’t know of any studies that accurately measure prenatal yoga and shorter, easier, less complicated births, but there is a perception, and anecdotal evidence, that yoga has a positive influence on labor and birth outcome. Yoga breathing and focusing methods seem to help the laboring woman cope with rigors of labor and the pain of contractions.”
Prenatal yoga scores its biggest points for how easy it is to adapt. No matter what complication of pregnancy you may be experiencing yoga can work for you. “Anyone can do some form of yoga. It is endlessly adaptable to all body types and health conditions,” says Hill-Jackson. “Even with bedrest a pregnant woman can do gentle stretches, breathing exercises and meditation. With severe back problems a pregnant woman would be quite limited in choices of postures but there are always some poses she could still do.”
If you already have an active yoga practice when you become pregnant, you can certainly continue. As the increased weight of your baby stretches your abdominal muscles, strains your back and affects your balance, you will need to make changes. During pregnancy your body releases the hormone relaxin, which helps open your pelvis for birth. Relaxin also affects the other joints of your body, changing what it is capable of. Skylar warns about certain movements that are left out of yoga when adapting for the pregnant body, “forward bends, extended back lying (supine), inverted postures, belly lying (cobra)” are all difficult or uncomfortable for the pregnant woman, and a woman seeking to continue her regular yoga practice should seek advice from a qualified prenatal yoga instructor to protect her body.
Finally, prenatal yoga has non-physical benefits as well. A prenatal yoga class is a good way to connect with other pregnant women, and establish a wonderful support network. Yoga respects and appreciates the human body, and when you have gained 30 pounds, can’t see your feet and have lost touch with “graceful,” a prenatal yoga practice is a way to connect with the beauty and power of pregnancy.