If you are pregnant, or trying to conceive you may have already heard that pregnancy or prenatal yoga is a great way to stay fit and healthy during your pregnancy. But what you might not know is just how far-reaching those benefits are. So, to break it down, here are my Top 9 AMAZING reasons to do pregnancy yoga.
1) The Breath;
Most of the time we are completely unaware that we are breathing. It is a mechanical function of the body. But most of us are not breathing in a way that is optimal for our health and well-being. Bad habits, poor posture, stressful life styles (even when we don’t consciously feel stressed) tend to result in shallow breathing – using only the top part of our lungs. This usually leads to more stress and physical tension, which in turn leads to more shallow breathing and a general vicious cycle ensues. When we shallow breath we are bringing less oxygen in to our bodies and the body moves into flight or flight response, always on red-alert (sympathetic nervous system). Everything tenses up, panic and stress hormones can easily creep in. Perception of pain increases. Obviously, we do not want this to happen either during our pregnancy (which can be a naturally stressful time for many women) or during our labour
In Pregnancy Yoga, the first thing we learn is to breathe with conscious awareness.
We use simple but highly effective breathing techniques like abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing. Using our abdominal muscles and chest wall to aid us, we learn to really use our lungs when breathing so that our bodies move into the rest and relax response (parasympathetic nervous system). Practiced often enough this becomes the norm for our bodies and wonderful changes take place both physically and mentally. We use conscious breathing throughout the class in every pose, breathing in to be aware of the tension, breathing out to release it. We can then very effectively use this in labour too.
Breathing from the belly brings more oxygen into the body which is beneficial for us and our babies. It helps us relax and enjoy our pregnancies more. The simple act of breathing out consciously reduces pain perception and calms our bodies and minds. This helps our babies more easily move down the birth canal and so aids the birthing process.
2) Pelvic Floor Health
Your pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles running from your tail bone right around to your pubic bone at the front. This network of muscles helps to hold our reproductive and digestive organs in place. Pelvic floor health is vital for our health and well-being. Overly weak or overly tight pelvic floor muscles can lead to a series of problems included painful sex, lower back or abdominal pain, bladder and bowel issues and even prolapse of the uterus, bladder or rectum.
During pregnancy and childbirth your pelvic floor must manage the extra strain put on it. Your baby needs to pass through the pelvic floor to be birthed. So, these muscles need to be strong but also able to relax. In pregnancy yoga, many of the poses we practise help to strengthen and lengthen the pelvic floor. Squats and pelvic tilting are particularly beneficial. Even abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing have a positive effect on your pelvic floor health.
3) Relieves tension in lower and upper back, neck, shoulders, chest and hips
As your beautiful baby bump grows in, so too does muscle tension of some form or another. Increased curving in the lower back, growing breasts, growing baby and added pressure on the hips and pelvis all contribute to this near universal pregnancy complaint. The body is very much out of its normal alignment during pregnancy and your relaxed ligaments can no longer support your joints as well as before.
Pregnancy Yoga targets all the areas I mentioned to help encourage good posture, keep the body limber and to relieve tired, aching muscles. Even the breathing and relaxation techniques can decrease the amount of tension and stiffness in your body.
4) Preparation for labour
The breathing and relaxation techniques acquired in pregnancy yoga can be used very effectively to help you work through labour pains. Breathing from the abdomen encourages your body to release more endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) and oxytocin (the hormone of love and contentment) and less cortisol and adrenaline, which can contribute to increased levels of pain perception.
Many of the poses practiced in Yoga class (hip circles and squats for example) are far more comfortable then lying down and allow the pelvis to open fully, making labour and birth easier and quicker and reducing the chances of your baby getting stuck and needing to be helped along instrumentally.
The combination of movement and breath together, along with the empowerment, education and support women receive at pregnancy yoga all contribute to better birth experiences for these women, generally. And now we have actual research to back this up. http://www.ctcpjournal.com/article/S1744-3881(16)30231-6/abstract?cc=y=
I have spoken to many midwives about this and they the can usually tell which women have attended pregnancy yoga classes. This group usually have more coping skills, feel more empowered, more able to cope longer without pain medication or give birth using only natural pain relieving methods.
5) Hip/Pelvic Stability
During pregnancy, and especially in the third trimester, your body starts to release a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin does exactly what it says on the tin. In combination with progesterone, it begins to relax connective tissue including ligaments. This is so that the pubic symphysis joint at the front of your pelvis can stretch and widen and your baby can pass through the pelvis. This relaxation of ligaments and other connective tissues in the pelvis can lead to an increase in back pain, pelvic girdle pain and even a painful condition called pubic symphysis dysfunction (PSD or SPD) when the two sides of the pelvis become misaligned.
Many forms or exercise can aggravate this kind of pain but pregnancy yoga teachers are trained to deal with this condition and can offer many modifications and specific yoga poses and exercises that can help improve the symptoms and stabilise the hips. The breathing and relaxations techniques offered at prenatal yoga can also be of great benefit for women suffering from this kind of pain. Practising the hip stabilising poses from yoga can also help prevent this kind of pain from occurring or getting any worse and used in combination with Osteopathy I have seen great improvements for many women who have attended my classes with this kind of pain.
6) Connecting with your baby
Prenatal yoga gives us the space and opportunity to slow down and become more aware of our bodies and what is happening within. Some classes offer visualizations or affirmations which also help us to connect and start to bond with our babies.
7) Increased strength and stamina
Many of the poses practised help to increase muscle tone and strength and encourage physical and mental stamina. All very useful for giving birth and of course for those first few months of motherhood
8) Sense of community/sisterhood
Most pregnancy yoga classes start with introductions. The teacher moves around the room, getting everyone to introduce themselves, finding out how many weeks pregnant they are and how they are feeling that week. Often the ladies will share tips and advice to help others through whatever symptoms, ailments or feelings present that week. The class can then be themed to help relieve whatever the most occurring symptoms are. Being able to talk to other women about the ups and downs of pregnancy and future motherhood is wonderful therapy. Out of this develops a lovely sense of sisterhood. It is very reassuring to know that what you are going through is normal. If your teacher teaches Mum and Baby Yoga and/or Baby Massage as I do, often the Mums come back and meet up again with their new bundles of joy. The sense of community and sisterhood is even more important at this point and can be a life line for many. I have seen many strong and lasting friendships formed this way over the years.
Your weekly yoga class gives you the time and space to just be, relax, and take on board the fact that you are pregnant! Because of our fast-paced life styles it can be difficult to slow down and just take it all in. For many Mums to be this is the other time of the week they get to truly relax and enjoy being pregnant. This becomes even more important on subsequent pregnancies. I have many second and third time Mums in my classes and most of them say this 75 minutes every week is very important for them because it’s the only bit of self-care, and nurturing time they get to indulge in. It’s often their number one reason for coming back!
Stretch It Yoga has two weekly pregnancy yoga classes around Dublin
Tuesday evenings in Studio 72, Killester 6-7pm
Wednesday evenings in St Fintans Parish Centre, Sutton.7-8.15pm