Written by: Sherry Longbottom, RN, CYT, Holistic Fitness Nurse
Why should a woman consider doing yoga during her pregnancy and after? Is it safe? Well, yoga has numerous health benefits for everyone, especially women preparing for labor and motherhood. It is absolutely safe when it is taught by a knowledgeable, certified, and experienced prenatal & postnatal yoga instructor. Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga has many health benefits such as preparing the body for labor and motherhood, relaxing the mind while becoming more aware of your breath, and improving your emotional state while reducing anxiety bringing a calmer, peaceful feeling.
The pregnant woman’s body undergoes drastic changes and prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to prepare the body for labor as well as the stress put on the body from carrying, nursing and holding your new baby. After the birth of the baby, postnatal yoga is a great path for the mother to continue receiving the benefits of yoga. The strengthening of the abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor, and performing kegels are extremely important. Yoga addresses and strengthens these loose areas while fostering self-confidence. During pregnancy, the body is constantly changing which can affect alignment of the spine. Yoga encourages pelvic awareness which teaches the pregnant woman to make adjustments in her spinal alignment while her body is changing (Freedman 20). With an ongoing prenatal yoga practice, the body will eventually gravitate toward spinal alignment giving the pregnant woman a feeling of relaxation and less muscular tension. Her breathing will improve due to the twisting poses which encourage the rib cage muscles to stretch leading to greater expansion of the lungs.
Thus, deeper breathing is a benefit of prenatal yoga and the shortness of breath experienced by many women will decrease when they practice yoga during pregnancy. Yoga poses, such as the twisting poses, also aid in lower- back pain and reduces neck pain (Jordan 82). The Cat and Cow poses also works wonders in helping to alleviate lower-back pain during pregnancy and associated with labor. Many pregnant women experience sciatica and the Pigeon pose may bring some much needed relief from this medical condition. Poses need to be altered and adjustments made during the different stages or trimesters of pregnancy for the safety of the mother and growing baby. Props such as cushions, blankets, blocks, and the wall are needed as well as positional changes. For example, after the 4th month of pregnancy, all back-lying poses should be discontinued due to the weight of the uterus posing a problem on blood supply to the mother’s brain and the uterus (Jordan 5). The safety of the mother and baby is top priority and should always be on the mind of a prenatal and postnatal yoga instructor. Yoga has numerous health benefits to a non-pregnant woman, but the health benefits that it offers a pregnant and postnatal woman are even more! Pregnancy wreaks havoc on the pelvic floor muscles as well as the abdominals and yoga is a marvelous way to get the body and these stretched muscles toned again and back to where they should be for the rest of your life. Yoga is an ongoing practice and show be continued throughout pregnancy, after consulting your doctor, for the greatest benefit. Many women are concerned about any form of exercise during pregnancy and halt their yoga practice when they become pregnant, but this is the time yoga can help them the most! It is important to have a knowledgeable, certified instructor that ensures the safety of the mother and baby, though. Not any yoga instructor is suited for this type of instruction and it is important to find one that is qualified to lead this type of class. The physical benefits of prenatal yoga are more than one can imagine as well as the amazing benefits to the mind and spirit.
The relaxation of the mind and breath awareness is a very important part of yoga. In all areas of life, the mind is a powerful thing that can cause intense fear with shallow, rapid breathing or we can learn to be more aware of our breath in order to slow our breathing for more effective, deeper breathing which in return calms our mind and body all at the same time. Amazing, huh? Yes, I am amazed at how our breathing is taken for granted and many don’t pay any attention to it at all. Yoga is extremely effective for bringing awareness to this giant overlooked area of our lives that is as important as our physical body, if not more important! As a registered nurse of nearly twenty years, I have seen firsthand how breath and breathing can quickly change a health care implementation. Breath awareness and meditation is huge in pain control as well as during labor or minor surgical procedures. I am very blessed to be able to work in an integrative medical field where I have an impact on patients and am able to see and demonstrate firsthand how breath and meditation truly work and should become more greatly used in the traditional medical setting in the West. During pregnancy, women can decrease their tension, stress level, and overall feeling of relaxation by focusing on their breath and practicing meditation and relaxation poses daily. This is extremely important for pregnant women because stress can cause preterm labor as well as many other problematic health conditions during their pregnancy that could lead to a negative outcome in their pregnancy. Learning to relax the mind helps during pregnancy, labor, and beyond. Throughout our lives, breath awareness will aid in every type of situation you could possibly present. Women who practice yoga and meditation will benefit greatly during the labor process. Visualization is a marvelous technique that can be used during contractions to take your mind off the pain during labor (Freedman 117). Visualizations show how powerful the mind truly can be and putting yourself in a different place mentally is effective and proven to work. This meditation is proven to be effective not only in labor, but in vast other types of medicine and treatment. The mind is a very powerful thing and one should always remember to take time every day of their lives to quiet the mind and relax with becoming aware of his/her breath. This will not only make for a calmer, happier individual, but also a much healthier one at that.
The emotional state is immensely affected during the prenatal and postnatal time. During pregnancy, hormonal changes occur that cause a flood of emotions from happiness to fear. The fear of what motherhood will bring with increasing levels of anxiety. Yoga can and does help alleviate many of these feelings of inadequacy. Yoga promotes self-confidence and strength physically, mentally, and spiritually. Thus, prenatal and postnatal yoga are a perfect way for a woman to feel confident and meet with others who are experiencing the same type of feelings and changes in their lives and bodies. Change is difficult, but when we experience it with the strength and feelings of confidence yoga brings, then this makes it much smoother and easier to embark upon. The hormonal changes that occur after the baby is born which often lead to postpartum blues can be helped immensely with yoga and attending a mother and baby yoga class. These types of classes not only address the physical aspects of your body and all the changes you have been through, they are monumental for the emotional changes and challenges you are experiencing. The asanas will help with fatigue and tension in the neck, shoulders and back all while enjoying the company of your baby and other moms going through the same situation. The relaxation time is much needed to quiet your mind and truly be in the moment. Taking time out for you is very important, especially for new mothers. They are mentally exhausted and need this time to re-energize and renew their spirit. Yoga is a wonderful means for this during postpartum and beyond.
Pregnancy and motherhood can be affected in numerous positive ways by a daily yoga practice and just ten minutes a day can reap giant benefits. Many new moms don’t have much time during this busy time of their lives, but the positive results achieved from just a short amount of time are well worth it! Of course, it would be wonderful if they could practice yoga and relaxation poses for up to an hour, but many times this is not possible. Therefore, any yoga and meditation is better than none. The West has much to learn from the East in relaxation and slowing down the mind and breathing. We don’t give pregnancy and postpartum the levels of respect and admiration that is needed and in return many women don’t take the time out for themselves to nurture their bodies and minds. Relaxation techniques help with the sadness and other hormonal changes that are normal for women to go through after giving birth (Freedman 136). Motherhood is very isolating for many women initially and thus postpartum blues are more likely to present. Therefore, joining or continuing a mother and baby yoga class is the perfect solution.
You are doing this for your baby, too. A happy, calm, peaceful mother is a great mother and this is what yoga can do! Hormonal levels are more balanced creating a sense of calmness and this is transferred to the baby. The health of the baby is affected by the mom. Therefore, the mother is taking care of her baby by taking care of herself, too. Also, taking your partner to yoga will affect the parenting and overall happiness of the household which will affect the baby. Often, husbands and wives feel as if they have no time together any more after the birth of the baby. Attending a partner yoga class is the perfect opportunity to quiet the minds, reconnect physically and mentally, and leave with a sense of peace. The spirit is affected greatly after the birth of a baby due to all the hormonal changes, body changes, sleeplessness, and loss of self. Therefore, this is a great time to start and/or continue your yoga practice and a wonderful time to incorporate your baby and partner. Also, the relaxation poses are a great way to renew your spirit anytime during your life and can be used whenever or wherever you desire. The health benefits of yoga are astounding during pregnancy and after as well as throughout your lifespan. Pregnancy is a time to enjoy the amazing, life-changing bundle of joy that will soon join you on Earth, but it is also a magnificent time to take care of your body, your growing baby, your mind, and spirit by partaking in an ongoing prenatal yoga class with others to share in this fabulous time of your life. Yoga teaches you something about your body every time and allows you to enjoy this moment of your life and not rush to what’s next. Namaste.
Freedman, Francoise B. Yoga For Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2004. Print.
Jordan, Sandra. Yoga For Pregnancy. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.