Yoga is a wonderful practice with many health benefits for your mind and body. Your body is allowed to recharge while you exercise, breathing is purposeful, and meditation is encouraged. Through measured breathing exercises you can strengthen your lungs as you let your body stretch and relax.
Prenatal yoga can be a great way to prepare for childbirth. It is a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing. This type of maternity yoga can also help pregnant mamas safely adjust to the physical and often stressful demands of pregnancy, labor, birth and even motherhood.
It can aid you in preparing for what is to come and allow you to be more in control of your experiences, both physical and mental. Being more in control of your mental state, and practicing recharging and energizing yourself, can make you a better parent, better friend and better partner. Research suggests it is safe to do and can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies.
Common benefits of yoga are noticeably better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, increased strength, more flexibility and endurance of muscles used in childbirth. It has been reported that many people also feel less lower back pain, morning sickness, headaches and shortness of breath when practicing yoga regularly. In addition to prenatal care, taking a yoga class is also a great way to meet like-minded mom friends!
What to Expect in a Prenatal Yoga Class
Anticipate gentle stretching, breathing techniques and deliberate posturing aimed at developing strength, flexibility and balance. As the body moves through each pose, you may find that some positions are more difficult or uncomfortable than others.
Props can be used to provide support when feeling off balance as you hold a pose, or to provide comfort as you find your body’s limits. Everybody is different, and with props we can safely make the most out of our individual experiences. Props may be made up of blankets, cushions, blocks and belts.
Yogis are taught to focus on inhaling long, slow and deep breaths through the nose while pushing their lower abdomen out, then tightening their stomach muscles as they exhale slowly from their mouth. This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and will strengthen the diaphragm and allow the body to use less energy to breathe. The technique can help manage shortness of breath during pregnancy and help to work through contractions during labor. For anyone not pregnant, this is still a great breathing method to use!
Whether exercising, stressed, or just going throughout your day, this method of deep breathing slows the heartbeat, decreases stress and allows maximum oxygen into your body. You may catch yourself taking a few shallow breaths, or even holding your breath when learning how to do this, but that’s okay! Just like everything else in life, practice makes perfect, and after some practice your body will naturally take to this breathing technique.
Stretching is also important as it keeps our muscles flexible and healthy, and helps to prevent injury. Prenatal yoga encourages overall gentle stretching. This means moving different areas of your body like your neck and arms through their full range of motion.
Set realistic goals and listen to your body as you move. It’s healthy to push yourself and extend your stretches, but don’t overdo it!
Practice holding different postures. Gently moving your body into different positions while standing, sitting or lying down will help develop your strength, flexibility and balance. Remember to use a prop, if needed, to support you in certain positions.
Remember to bend from your hips, not your back as you move. When pregnant, avoid lying on your belly or back, doing deep bends or twisting poses that put pressure on your core. Ask your instructor for a modification of any poses to help avoid these things keeping in mind any physical limitations.
The session will always end with a cool down and relaxation period, giving your muscles a few moments to relax. This also allows your heart to return to its resting rate and your breathing rhythm to slow. Your instructor may ask you to pay attention to your breathing, your thoughts and emotions and generally bring about a state of self-awareness and inner calm.
Types of Yoga That Are Safe to Practice During and After Pregnancy
Hatha Yoga is a type of yoga that is used as an introduction to basic yoga poses. It’s a great class for beginners of any kind as well as pregnant women, as it is a little gentler. It can improve physical strength and posture, both of which may be problems during pregnancy.
Hatha yoga promotes steady breathing, increased awareness and, ultimately, relaxation, which makes it perfect for pregnancy. As your body is growing and changing, so are your emotions as new hormones are introduced. It’s important to practice a balanced state of mind.
Restorative yoga is another, softer class to take. As the name suggests, it is relaxing and energizing as one enters only four or five simple poses throughout the entire class. Props are often used to sink deeper into relaxation without exerting as much effort.
Types of Yoga for Pregnant Women to Avoid
Bikram Yoga (or Hot Yoga) can be dangerous for pregnant women. Bikram yoga takes place in a room heated to around 40°C or 104°F. This can make one sweat profusely, and raise your body temperature much too high, potentially causing a condition known as hyperthermia. Bikram yoga has been found to cause high blood pressure, heat exhaustion and, in severe cases, premature birth and miscarriage.
Power Yoga is widely regarded as the most intense style of Hatha yoga. It is comprised of sequences, meaning poses must be performed quickly one after another, giving little time to rest. Power yoga is a detoxifier, meaning it will also cause excessive sweating which, as mentioned before, should be avoided. Talk to your doctor before attempting any type of practice that may push you too hard. Finding a safe yoga practice is the best way to a healthy pregnancy!