Prenatal yoga is big business these days. With all the celebrities bouncing back from their pregnancies so quickly, more and more women are staying active throughout their nine-month gestations in the hopes of shedding the extra weight more easily. But there are far more important reasons to try prenatal yoga than vanity. Advocates say that beyond being a great, safe form of exercise, yoga can actually help reduce pregnancy complications and actually make labor easier.
One of the main components of a prenatal yoga class is improving stamina. My prenatal instructor always made us sit in supported chair pose for a minute – “how long is a contraction?” she’d ask, reminding us that our minute of perceived torture was actually pretty relevant to our not-too-distant futures. We’d breathe through the pain, the burning in our thighs, the screaming of our muscles.
When I took Lamaze classes later on in my pregnancy, we learned similar breathing techniques. I was already ahead of the game, having breathed my way through twice weekly prenatal yoga classes. But all this breathing would help me when it came time to deliver my baby. According to BabyCenter.com, “learning how to do ujjayi breathing primes you for labor and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may decrease the production of oxytocin, a hormone that makes labor progress. A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and show you how to relax instead. “
I found another parallel between my yoga class and my childbirth classes – many “labor positions” resembled yoga poses. Cat-cow was a biggie; those pelvic tilts can help reposition a breech baby or keep an expectant mom from suffering from debilitating back pain. And whenever anyone in my prenatal class had a specific complaint, my yoga teacher had an asana that could help.
There was a camaraderie in my class, too, that became an invaluable part of my pregnancy experience. I met tons of pregnant women –some earlier in the process than me, some farther along – and we formed friendships, helping each other through the trials and tribulations of pregnancy. Prenatal classes were therapy, exercise, and birth preparation all in one healthy package, and I would not have given up my twice-weekly sessions for anything.
If you are expecting and considering taking yoga, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Find a class that is specifically for pregnant women. Any kind of gentle yoga is probably fine, but there are some restrictions depending on what trimester you’re in, and a qualified prenatal instructor will know about these. For example, in the third trimester, you shouldn’t be flat on your back, so you’ll need to prop a blanket or bolster under your heart while in bridge pose. And for those in the first trimester, bridge pose in a no-no, so you’ll need to sit that one out. Twisting asanas are also not recommended during pregnancy.
- Take it easy on yourself – your practice may not be at the same level is was at pre-pregnancy. I found that my balance was really affected, especially as I got farther along and, well, quite a bit larger in the belly. My tree pose was just not what it used to be, and it was rather frustrating. You also might find you tire more easily. Don’t stress – your body is going though a lot of big changes and you need to just listen to what it’s telling you. The great thing about yoga is that it’s adaptable. Do what you can and ask your instructor for modifications if you need them.
- The later in pregnancy you get, the less you might be able to do. Now’s a good time to focus on the relaxation and breathing aspects of your practice, and concentrate on poses that alleviate common aches and pains – especially those that open the hips and ease tension on the sciatic nerve.