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10 incredible benefits of prenatal yoga

Pregnancy is the best time in a woman’s life to practice yoga. It is a time when not only her body changes to prepare itself for a new life, but also her sensibility is higher and she is more receptive. Pregnancy is a journey and so is yoga. Merging the two of them together in such a significant moment in life prepares mums-to-be mentally and physically for birth, but also leaves precious habits and tools for the rest of their life. In fact many women who start practicing yoga while pregnant come back to it afterwards and those who are already on that path appreciate the transformative power of yoga even more

Asanas, meditation, visualization and breathwork are the set of yoga tools that help maintain great physical and mental health during pregnancy as well as prepare for birth and the recovery phase after. Asanas help expecting momas build strength, endurance, flexibility and balance, while meditation and breathwork help them relax and cope with stress and tiredness.    

The benefits of prenatal yoga are numerous, but let’s break them down and look closer at how mums-to-be can benefit from yoga during pregnancy.

1. Prenatal yoga breathing helps to calm down and release tension

“The breath is the bridge between the physical and the energetic. This bridge is the connection between our flesh and blood and our feelings,” writes Uma Dinsmore-Tuli in Yoga for pregnancy and birth. Mindful breathing is our biggest ally when pregnant and during birth. It helps the body to relax, loosen and discharge tension. 

Stress is bad both for mum and for her baby and to keep it at bay, yoga teaches a future mama to live in the present by connecting her mind to the breath and the breath to the baby. Becoming mindful and conscious of her body, she then understands more clearly what is right for her pregnancy. Slow deep breaths activate the parasympathetic system, improve sleep, enforces immunity and helps digestion. 

Releasing stress is crucial during pregnancy and yoga helps to achieve that on many levels. Contrary to other yoga types where we inhale and exhale with closed mouth, during prenatal yoga classes it is important to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. In this way, the exhaled air carries all the tension and stress out of the body. When exhaling mouth should be relaxed and shaped like an “O”, as mouth muscles correspond to vagina muscles, which relax respectively.

Yoga in pregnancy also helps reduce shortness of breath. While the baby grows, more pressure is put on the diaphragm and breathing comes with more fatigue. To make breathing easier, prenatal yoga offers many standing chest opening asanas and side bends that open the heart, ribs and diaphragm. There are also breathing techniques such as full yogic breath, deep exhales from the mouth, heart-womb breathing  and Nadhishodana that greatly improve this discomfort.

2. Developing more intimate connection with the baby

To make the relaxing property of the breath even stronger, breathing with visualisation is a marvellous way to calm down and connect with the baby. A simple exercise of visualising how each breath nurtures the baby can deepen the bond with the little one. Speaking to the baby and sending him/her tender thoughts and feelings produces loving energy that the baby feels and profoundly appreciates. Mum and baby come into symbiosi and both prepare for new life ahead of them.

3. Learning to relax during pregnancy and in labour

Stress is bad for mum and the baby and yoga is the tool that brings calm and peace. It connects the mind to the breath and breath to the movement. Most asanas in prenatal yoga have that relaxing quality – especially forward bends and lying asanas. Here a special mention also goes to inversions, which stimulate the highest endocrine glands and the most important nervous systems, which alter mental state and bring the organism into deep relaxation.  

During prenatal yoga practice, the heart rate slows, the blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, deep and regular and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol dissipate. This state of relaxation is not just temporary. The ability to relax is a skill which turns very useful throughout labour and childbirth. Staying calm and relaxed helps to cope with the sensations of labour. It teaches to recognise tension and to consciously let it go.

4. Prenatal yoga helps to develop physical and mental balanc

Pregnancy requires a mum-to-be to find new balance on both physical and mental level. As the uterus grows, the center of gravity shifts forward. The curvature of the spine gets more accentuated, which in turn adds more pressure to spinal joints, making them tighter. Prenatal yoga helps find the new center of balance in the body and maintain a correct posture.     

Yoga also brings emotional harmony. When pregnant, a woman is more sensitive to what others say. Hearing (not always welcome) advice on pregnancy, birth and motherhood often adds to emotional pressure. She may be worried about work, home, baby’s future, her own health and hospital experience. Here yoga breathing techniques, like Pranayama (without Kumbhaka, breath retention) and full yogic breath come to play. They have an equilibrating effect, raise the levels of vital energy and help to recognise and control emotions.     

Breathing exercises and meditation favour mental focus and help concentrate on the present moment, freeing the mind from external stimuli and instead listening to what’s happening within the changing body.

5. Developing flexibility and strength

Apart from better balance, yoga also builds up muscle strength and flexibility, which play an important role during labor and birth. Asanas are designed to tone the whole body, but special importance is given to pelvic floor, hips and abdominal core muscles. They help achieve the right degree of muscle strength and flexibility with the right balance between length and strength, neither too weak nor too tight. Lunges and gentle backbends build and maintain muscle tone and minimise various types of aches during pregnancy.

When working on strength, standing asanas are a must-do. They enforce and lengthen joints and muscles, root to the ground and help find the right alignment. With a good alignment and a flexible body, a woman can easily adapt to various positions during labour, while elastic ligaments lower the labour pain.   

What is more, a toned body will come back in shape quickly after delivery and will be ready to support the weight of the baby in mum’s arms.

6. Working on flexible and strong pelvic floor

Pelvic floor is rarely addressed in a typical exercise routine, yet it is crucial during childbirth as well as for long term health of vital organs and even for the quality of love life. A strong and flexible pelvic floor can minimise the discomforts of pregnancy and make the delivery easier. Often though these muscles are very tight and need to be relaxed first before toning. 

What is causing tightness of pelvis muscles? Hectic lifestyle and lack of attention to deep nourishing breathing. Short breath contracts the pelvic muscles and over time they become rigid and hard to lengthen. It is important that they are long and strong, as they support vital organs and the baby. With conscious deep breathing the pelvic floor muscles relax and lengthen.   

Apart from breathing, also asanas are important. Prenatal yoga incorporates a wide range of pelvic floor exercises. They integrate undulatory movements of the hips, which are like a gym for the pelvic floor. Rotations, oscillations and rocking of the pelvis, rotations of the hips, abdomen work, Mulabandha work, activation of the leg muscles and typical movements of oriental dances are all excellent for stretching and toning the pelvic floor. 

Add to it breathing to the side rib and Supta Baddha Konasana for lengthening and asanas like Virabhadrasana II, Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana for strengthening and we have a perfect recipe for a healthy pelvic floor.

7. Helps in correct positioning of the baby

Standing positions in prenatal yoga gain additional importance. Woman’s body placed in a natural vertical position gets used to using the force of gravity and prepares for natural birth.

Vertical position helps the baby to position itself correctly at the entrance of the pelvis and if it does not turn, inversion asanas may help with that. With extra care and attention and with respect of the body, soft inversions are very beneficial for mum and her baby. They bring relief to the pelvic floor and help alleviate edema and groin pain. When it comes to the baby, inversions are especially recommended when it finds itself in breech position, as they invite it to turn around and position itself correctly for birth. 

8. Relief from common pregnancy symptoms

Each phase of pregnancy is characterised by common and less-common discomforts that mums-to-be share and yoga is an excellent instrument that helps alleviate them. 

In the first trimester, the hormonal changes in a woman’s body cause nausea, the first and very often the biggest complaint during pregnancy. To address that discomfort, it is recommended to use breathing techniques like Nadishodana and full yogic breathing as well as to practise heart opening yoga asanas with slight backward bend (e.g. Ustrasana with props and Supta Baddhakonasana).  

The hormonal change also causes back pain which feels uncomfortable especially in the lumbar part. With simple spine lengthening asanas, the gravity compresses, the pelvis opens and the body relaxes. It’s fundamental to lengthen back muscles and tone the deep muscles to release pressure from ligaments that connect internal organs and bones. Yoga asanas that address this issue are for example pelvis rotations, cat pose, chair pose against a wall, Malasana, lying positions with bent legs, pelvic floor exercises and Mulabhanda.     

In the second trimester, as the baby grows in the belly, new discomforts arise and sciatic nerve pain is one that pregnant mums commonly complain about. In its umbrella of asanas, prenatal yoga may considerably alleviate the symptoms of sciatica by doing asanas that lengthen the lumbar back.   

From the second trimester onwards it is also common to experience cramps in the legs, especially at night when the body is relaxed. The best way to prevent them is to do leg lengthening exercises that allungate the calf and the arch of the foot. 

What is more, the growing uterus also requires more support from the round ligament, which holds the womb within the belly. With progressing pregnancy this ligament becomes softer and longer and the nerves living nearby may get irritated and cause pain. Pelvic floor exercises and Mulabhanda are the remedy for this condition.  

In the third trimester, on the other hand, a pregnant body often starts to swell. Thankfully yoga improves blood circulation, helping alleviate discomforts like edema and carpal tunnel syndrome – swelling caused by fluid blocked in body tissues. For edema it’s recommended to shake legs, rotate ankles, auto massage the sole of the foot and go into gentle inversions with legs up to take the pressure off the lower body. Whereas in case of the carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to frequently lift the arms up, do soft wrist and hand exercises as well as wrist auto-massage.

9. Preparation for birth

Prenatal yoga is a journey in itself that takes a woman throughout the phases of pregnancy, step by step leading her to childbirth. Yoga aids a mum-to-be both on a physical as well as mental and spiritual level. 

The body needs to be ready for labour and prenatal yoga practice makes the body strong, and flexible and in all the right places – pelvic floor, hips, core and lower body.  

Wonderful asanas in the latest phase of pregnancy are kneeling and quadrupedal poses. They help rotate the baby, bring relief for back pain and soften the pelvis. The position is very comfortable for mum and especially for her baby, as it moves to the soft part of the uterus and feels rocked like in a hammock. What is more, an asymmetric quadruped position (e.g. with one leg open to the side) opens up the space between the pelvis bones, making room for the passage of the baby – a great position for childbirth. Here also come to action the pelvic floor and gluteus medius muscles, which are key supporters during the second stage of labour, when a woman starts to push in order to direct the baby through the birth channel.  

Apart from physical preparation, yoga also helps a woman to deal with childbirth on a mental and emotional level. Dealing with labour pain is like riding ocean waves. A woman needs to be calm and present in order to overcome them, especially if she would like to experience birth with minimal or no pain medication. Yoga breathing techniques help working through contractions during labour and take a woman to a dimension where she can trust her body and let it follow her most natural of all instincts – the instinct of giving birth. Along with that, yoga also teaches the willingness to surrender to the experience of pregnancy and birth. It teaches us that we cannot have everything under control. During labor it means going with the flow, releasing tension rather than resisting physical sensations. The skill of surrendering also prepares for unexpected events during labour. In case child birth doesn’t go as planned (e.g. when a natural birth turns into a cesarean) a mum-to-be is mentally prepared to accept and embrace that challenge.

10. Building new friendships and support group in prenatal yoga class

Prenatal yoga class also has a very important side effect – friendships. It is an excellent moment to meet like-minded mums, exchange experiences and share thoughts, advice and fears. Nobody understands an expecting mum better than another expecting mum. And it’s not only about their relationships, but also about their babies’ first friendships. All the bellies in a yoga class carry potential new friends to play together when they grow up a little.

After birth

The benefits of yoga in pregnancy are countless, but this journey doesn’t end with childbirth. The long expected birth is over, the baby is home and the new mum faces a new reality where often she may feel disoriented, tired and a little lonely. If yoga was her comfort during pregnancy, there are post-natal yoga classes that may be nourishing at this phase of life. Post-natal yoga will help to regenerate new mum’s spirit and body. At first, Pranayama, relaxation and meditation are wonderful tools for self-care and after around 40 days, if the body heals well and a woman has a green light from her doctor, yoga asanas may be introduced. As is physical work on the body important in pregnancy, so it is post-birth and a professional yoga class will address all the body areas that most need attention – pelvis, abdomen, back – to make sure that new mums come back to shape in a healthy and happy manner.     

Yoga in its integral approach can benefit each and every one of us, but is especially precious while new life is about to come to light. The quality of pregnancy often reflects the quality of birth and later coexistence with the baby. While the baby is in the belly, it feels and hears his mum and senses her emotional state. Prenatal yoga, therefore, with its calming effects on the soul and mind and toning effects on the body leads mums-to-be into a well-balanced, harmonious and serene journey towards a new phase of their lives.   

 

If you are not pregnant and would like to discover general benefits of yoga, read 7 reasons why yoga is good for you and if you are intersted in yoga diet don’t miss Eat like a Yogi, 10 rules of a yoga diet.

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