I spend a lot of time on a message board for pregnant women and new mothers, and the topic of prenatal yoga comes up often.
I quite enjoyed my prenatal yoga experience, so I wanted to share 9 awesome things about practicing while pregnant, and hopefully those of you who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant can find a few nuggets to use for yourself.
And P.S., I don’t usually like to post photos of myself for public viewing on the interwebs, but I had a little giggle looking back at the belly pics I took after yoga class every week. I can’t believe I had a REAL BABY in my belly who’s now 6 months old. WHAT?!?
Here we go…
1. Squatting moves labor along. Whatever you can do to open up your hips and pelvis, especially nearing your due date, will help the baby drop and create more space for the grand exit. This means a lot of squatting and letting gravity do its work! And did you know that hospital birthing beds have a squat bar attachment in case you prefer to push in a squatting position? Embrace the squat.
2. Yoga helps alleviate lower back pain. When the sciatica gets really bad, child’s pose and cat/cow are life savers. Those poses feel really yummy for any backaches, actually. I also did a lot of downward dog but with my hands against a counter top (like a standing version of down dog). Even better, I had my husband press down on my hips while in this position, and it helps to stretch out the lower back even more.
3. Vinyasas keep you strong. While I have chunky arms to begin with (thanks, genetics), I kept doing my vinyasas in ashtanga so that even when pregnancy bloat kicked in, I kept the extra flab at bay. Doing vinyasas with an extra 25 pounds in front was a challenge, but I needed that arm strength for when helpless baby arrived and couldn’t even hold his head up! 🙂 Make sure to modify as needed with knees down in chaturanga if you feel any strain in your back.
4. Standing postures keep your balance in check. As soon as that belly gets growing, your balance starts to shift, and you risk falling from everyday movements (no good!). Putting on pants, trying to shave your legs in the shower and bending over to pick something up can all make you topple over if you don’t work on your balance. Standing postures like triangle, tree pose and wide legged forward bends help you slowly gain the strength you need to maintain your balance with the added belly.
5. Ujjayi breathing keeps nausea at bay. The slow inhale and exhale through your nose somehow keeps you from upchucking. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve used ujjayi breathing on airplanes during turbulence too just to keep my stomach from being in my throat. Beyond the morning sickness, ujjayi is also a super helpful tool during labor. Just breathe through the contractions – slow, methodical, in and out.
6. Finding your drishti calms your mind. This is another one you want to go to during labor. They tell you to bring a sonogram picture to focus on or something special you want to give your baby to look at. But if you’re like me and totally forgot to pack something like that (and are hurried to the hospital because your water broke), the practice of finding your drishti in yoga works exactly the same way.
7. Yoga props help you get comfy. Remember my post about props and how bolsters and blocks can set you up for amazing restorative positions? All true. Get a bolster angled with blocks underneath and enjoy that reclined position for savasana. It’s the closest thing to sleeping on your back!
8. Yoga builds up your stamina and tolerance for pain. You know those classes where the teacher has you in utkatasana (chair pose) for 10 minutes and your thighs are burning, your arms are shaking, you’re sweating into your eyes and you kind of want to cry? And all the teacher says is “breathe” and “hold it for one more minute”? The teacher is your L&D nurse and stupid chair pose is labor. But thank goodness you went to yoga class and got that training in stamina and pain tolerance! You’ll be in good shape for labor.
9. Yoga throughout pregnancy makes postpartum recovery easier. When other people told me that during my pregnancy, I thought it was all wishful thinking. I’d heard the horror stories of feeling bad and achy for weeks and having a hard time getting back into your old body. While I don’t think my body will ever truly get back to pre-baby form (the separation between my ab muscles is still bizarre), my recovery was a breeze. I guess that would be somewhat true if I had continued ANY physical fitness and conditioning throughout pregnancy, but yoga has so many wonderful benefits that affect your stress levels, your mind and your breath that I don’t think running would’ve given me the same results.
So there you have it. A good prenatal class (or DVD) keeps your body well conditioined throughout pregnancy and prepares you for the marathon event called labor and delivery. Make sure whatever you’re doing feels good. Pregnancy isn’t the time to experiment with new challenging postures or deepen ANYTHING. Back off your practice, modify and honor your body. You’re growing a human being, after all.