by Megan Sloan: By now most people have heard that yoga can be extremely beneficial during pregnancy…
So much so, the care providers are now often recommending their patients seek out yoga to help address the myriad of discomforts that can arise during pregnancy. As a result, more and more pregnant folks are seeking out their local yoga studios. Unfortunately, students are not always seeking out classes geared specifically to pregnant people and are often losing out on the many benefits that a prenatal yoga class can provide.
Addressing the Aches and Pains of Pregnancy
Pregnancy has its own special brand of specific discomforts that arise. Some of these aches and pains are due to the changing posture as baby grows and some of these discomforts come at the hands of changing levels of hormones in the body that can elicit physiological responses. Prenatal yoga classes offer poses and sequencing that can address these issues and help provide some measure of relief.
Probably the issue that is pressing for most pregnant mamas is low back pain, its pretty hard to avoid. As baby gets bigger and bigger, abdominal muscles lengthen and weaken. There is more load in the front, but no support for it. This puts a great deal of strain on the low back. Prenatal classes offer a lot of focus for this area, both in stretching and also strengthening. They also avoid poses like plank pose which put undue strain on the low back.
Prenatal teachers also have lots of tricks up their sleeves for addressing issues like hip pain, sciatica, SI joint pain, swelling of the feet and nausea (all fun things a pregnant mama may deal with at some point). A prenatal class will touch on things specific to what your body is currently going through and avoid poses that will aggravate them. You’ll find you leave a prenatal class feeling better, rather than worse, than when you came in.
Preparation for Labor & Childbirth
There is a reason labor is called labor, its hard work! For many mamas labor is a long process (for some people it can last days!). For many people labor takes place in standing and squatting positions during contractions. Prenatal yoga classes offer many poses that focus on legs and glutes to help strengthen these key areas that support us during labor. Labor can be like a marathon. You don’t simply sign up for a marathon and run the next day, right? Yoga is that training that helps to prepare you. Yoga teaches us the power and strength inherent in our own bodies, energy we no doubt want to tap into at the height of labor!
Prenatal yoga classes also provide an exploration and connection to the breath. During labor, there are times where it may seem that the breath is all we have to get us through to the next contraction. I’ve had numerous students tell me that during their labor, their ability to harness their breath was the one thing from their prenatal yoga class they were able to remember and to use.
Lastly, prenatal yoga can help open the muscles around the pelvis. In fact, some teachers even incorporate helpful laboring positions into class (I know I do!) that can encourage baby’s movement into the birth canal. Creating space in the pelvic outlet for baby to have a little wiggle room can sometimes cause a labor to be shorter as baby isn’t trying to negotiate around tight muscles to find their positioning. Yoga helps prepare and make this space.
Being pregnant and preparing to welcome a new little one into the world is not a walk in the park for most folks. There is planning, preparation and decisions to be made, not to mention navigating the challenges of pregnancy, physical pain and lack of sleep. Sound like fun? For many of us there is also added stress if we have had trouble conceiving or lost a pregnancy in the past, and for many there can be fear about the unknown of childbirth (and for some of us the known, depending on what our previous birth looked like).
Prenatal yoga gives us the opportunity to unplug, quiet the mind and take a few deep breaths. Meditation and pranayama appropriate for pregnancy can be soothing to the nervous system and certain support restorative poses can also be beneficial for relaxation during pregnancy. All of these things can help ease anxiety and worry and provide a space for a bit of calm and peace. Certainly not exclusive to those practicing prenatal yoga, this benefit of yoga is for everyone!
Being pregnant can be a lonely a place. There are very few experiences where complete strangers have no problem commenting about your body and even touching your body, yet for so many pregnant folks there isn’t anyone around them who is actually pregnant. Having the connection with others that is the result of common experience can be profound. Or simply having a yoga teacher acknowledge and normalize the changes you’re going through can be a huge benefit to taking a prenatal yoga class.
Peace of Mind
There are many yoga postures that are contraindicated during pregnancy. Some of these postures are not recommended simply because of the changing physiology of the pregnant body that changes our sense of balance, the load on our joints and even our flexibility. But there are other poses that are contraindicated because they can pose a minor risk to the pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga instructors are taught what poses are safe and unsafe during pregnancy and what poses will be must accessible and supportive to the pregnant body. If you take a class taught be a certified prenatal yoga instructor, you can relax into the fact that this teacher knows what you should and shouldn’t be doing and they won’t invite you to do anything that is unsafe. This peace of mind can be immeasurable for a mama-to-be.