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In Praise of Prenatal Yoga

Veronica was having trouble sleeping. Rachel had sciatic pains in her leg. Melanie was experiencing continuous pain in her lower back. Marcel felt anxious all the time.

fetus

All of these women had two things in common - they were all pregnant and two, they were all advised to try yoga. More and more women are turning to pregnancy yoga (prenatal yoga) after finding out it is one of the safest forms of exercise you can do. For many women the first time they investigate yoga is after they conceive. More and more midwifes, obstetricians, GP's, psychologists and physiotherapists are recommending it for increasing physical strength in the body, dealing with aches and pains and reducing stress.

When exploring a prenatal yoga practice we need to examine the tools yoga provides us with. At the physical level we have Hatha Yoga - Hatha meaning 'sun' and 'moon', bringing together both energizing and relaxing Asanas (yogic postures). When you practice asana, you strengthen and tone the body - which allows you greater physical support during pregnancy and helps you to regain your shape at a faster rate post birth. Performing the postures does not only enable you to stretch and strengthen your muscles, it also stimulates your physiological systems (such as the endocrine/hormonal system) and organs - promoting the circulation of blood and oxygen and ensuring an optimum supply of blood and nutrients to your developing baby.

Some general poses which will be of most use during your pregnancy include selected seated postures - allowing the body to retain a sense of gravity and balance and open the pelvic area; standing postures - particularly squat poses, for strengthening the upper thighs and getting in touch with the 'groundedness' afforded by pregnancy; kneeling postures - the traditional birthing postures, more comfortable for some women than sitting; and lying postures - allowing the body and mind to rest. Some degree of forward and back bends, inversions and very gentle twists may be utilised also, with particular cautions for each trimester. More specific asanas and techniques can be used for common pregnancy challenges, such as weak pelvic floor muscles, back pain and, of course, labour.

In addition to improving our physical state, prenatal yoga can help calm the mind to help us deal with pregnancy related stress. When we conceive we experience a huge influx of hormones, which can leave us feeling somewhat emotional, with periods of often unexplained sadness, anger and great joy. To add to this you may have the pressures of a job, parenting, or both. Practicing yoga can have a positive effect on your ability to deal with stress. Because yoga targets the hormonal (endocrine) system it brings your emotions into balance. When your hormonal system is balanced your ability to deal with any stress that arises is improved.

One of the key yoga techniques for bringing about this balance and reducing anxiety is to focus on the breath. During meditation we focus on encouraging a smooth and even breath. Meditation is the highest practice we can achieve at the yogic level whether pregnant or not. It can help resolve the fears and conflicts which pregnancy can highlight. Meditation brings with it an incredible awareness and focus, which can help you to connect with your child. Meditations involving breathing, visualisations, affirmations, mantra and grounding meditation can bring great peace of mind at this time. Acknowledging and nurturing your emotional health will help you manage the changes in your life and relationships.

Another fantastic yogic practice is Relaxation - usually practised at the beginning or end of a yoga class - resting in adapted corpse or flapping fish pose and using certain relaxation techniques. Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique is a powerful way of gaining the greatest benefits of relaxation. It works so effectively on the mind that it is often called 'psychic sleep' and is particularly valuable during pregnancy for physical and mental relaxation as well as for childbirth preparation. Visualisations are useful as a relaxation technique as well. Common feedback I hear from students is that prenatal yoga classes also give them time to pause and really focus on the reality that there is a new life on the way. Given the busy pace of our modern lives it is often difficult to integrate the fact that this is really happening. Practising Yoga is a way to really connect with your unborn child.

As with all pregnancy exercise it is best to check with your midwife, obstetrician or GP before commencing a yoga program. Some prenatal classes or DVD's will be suitable for all trimesters, however a lot of teachers prefer to take on students once they are in their second trimester. If you have a history of miscarriage or have experienced blood loss, it is better to wait until this time.

It's in your best interests to find a prenatal yoga class, as the program is specifically designed for pregnant women and you get the chance to meet other pregnant women in your area. Searching the web or asking your health practitioner are often the quickest methods of finding a prenatal yoga near you and word of mouth is always a good indication of a appropriate class. If there isn't one in your area or you haven't the time to attend a recommended pregnancy yoga DVD can provide a great alternative.

Written by Allannah Law.

A registered yoga teacher (YTAA) and Prenatal Yoga Specialist, Allannah Law is the director of Yoga Yin - a yoga practice focused on women's health - and the creator of the popular YogaYin pregnancy DVD. A mother of two, to her pre and post-natal classes she brings an understanding of the unique challenges and joys facing today's mums. She conducts prenatal yoga workshops for other yoga teachers and is currently completing her studies in Yoga therapy.

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