Yoga is truly a gift to motherhood. Studies have shown that women who exercise during pregnancy have easier and less complicated labors and births. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that pregnant women should create a goal of 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. A study of active duty women in the Marine Corps showed that those who were physically fit requested less epidural anesthesia than those who were less fit. It is clear in most concerns of health that unless contraindicated because illness or conditions prevent it being a safe practice, exercise is of great benefit to our overall well-being. In pregnancy, birth, and parenting it is no different.
These studies point to exercise in general as being of great benefit. Why do I call yoga a gift to motherhood?
In pregnancy, our bodies are going through tremendous change over a relatively short period of time.
If we entered pregnancy without being physically fit, we often begin to worry about getting fit for the health of ourselves and our babies. Many of us are concerned about maintaining a healthy weight in pregnancy and achieving a certain fitness goal postpartum. If we entered pregnancy fit, it might concern us that we could become less fit in pregnancy, or we might feel limited or inactive. Knowing that physcial activity is safe for the pregnant woman experiencing a low risk pregnancy, and that the benefits are far reaching, we can absolutely say that whatever the physcial state you entered pregnancy, that pregnancy is a perfect time to begin or maintain regular physical activity.
There are three means of exercise that I recommend to expectant mommmies – walking, swimming, and yoga. Walking and yoga are accessible in nearly all weather, and to all levels of income. Swimming, while not as easily accessible, is simple and a total body workout, not to mention the awesome feeling of weightlessness for the pregnant body. All these exercises encourage the baby to move into the optimal position for birth, and can be modified as your body changes. And… they all can meet you where you are - fit, unfit, or somewhere in between.
While I utilized all three forms of exercise during my pregnancies, prenatal yoga was by far the easiest for me to maintain. I found prenatal yoga during my first pregnancy, and during those final months of waiting and anticipating, yoga helped me to relax. I connected with my baby by feeling her move along with me, and slowing down long enough to feel subelties that I was not aware of day to day. Yoga helped me to feel like I was working my body. I felt healthy.
During my second pregnancy, I continued to do yoga. I went to a studio class this time, along with using DVDs at home. I loved the time that it gave to just me and my second baby. It was our quiet time. Again, a time to connect. Importantly for this pregnancy, yoga kept me comfortable. My daughter was a larger baby, as genetics and other things figured in to help me grow an above average little girl.
I developed pubis symphsis dysfunction, which at times made walking very painful. Yoga kept me moving, and when the day of my daughter’s birth came, I was able to walk a mile in early labor.
Yoga was also a benefit to me during labor. It helped me to find focus through contractions, helped me keep my breath deep and full, as well as helped me to find a comfortable position for labor. Hands and knees positioning and pelvic rocking were the two movements that allowed me to cope with the pain of labor.
This study provides evidence that regular yoga practice in the last 10–12 weeks of pregnancy improves maternal comfort in labor and may facilitate labor progress. The researchers offer several theories for these effects. First, yoga involves synchronization of breathing awareness and muscle relaxation, which decrease tension and the perception of pain. Second, yoga movements, breathing, and chanting may increase circulating endorphins and serotonin, “raising the threshold of mind-body relationship to pain” (p. 112). Third, practicing yoga postures over time alters pain pathways through the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing one’s need to actively respond to unpleasant physical sensations.
Wow! Yoga has the potential to prepare those of us laboring naturally to experience pain either by decreasing our perception of it, or actually helping us to feel less pain. Yoga postures can be used during labor and even the pushing stage to help facilitate progress reducing the possibility of you requiring medications or interventions to help your labor progress. Even if you find yourself needing or wanting intervention such as epidural anesthesia, yoga can help you through that as well. The breathing techniques will assist you in remaining still and working through any pain you might be feeling while the epidural is being placed. Breathing and focused attention can counter some of the side effects of such medications such as increased or lowered blood pressure, anxiety, dizziness, and nausea.
While walking doesn’t need instruction, yoga is a way of moving the body that you can do despite sluggishness, feeling all filled up, or just wanting hang out at home. Yoga moves the body in such ways that it helps you locate and practice using the muscles you will need for labor and birth. It helps you gain flexibility, working along with the hormone relaxin, your body can achieve and maintain a greater state of flexibility than in its pre-pregnant state.
My recommendation is to find a yoga class with a certified instructor, and to purchase one or two accredited pregnancy yoga DVDs to use at home. The time you spend with your instructor will ensure that you are practicing safely at home, and they will be available to answer any questions that might come up for you. The prices of yoga classes vary, but many instructors are willing to work with you and some even offer donations based classes. Even if you can only afford to attend one series of classes, the benefits will be lasting into your home practice. If you reside in southeastern, Kentucky, Birth True is now offering prenatal yoga at Hazard ARH beginning Nov. 23rd. Pre-registration is now open for that class!
The following two videos are my favorite recommendations for in-home use.
Both of these videos can be found on amazon.com along with various other places across the web. Gurmukh has also released a more recent video that I haven’t had the chance to preview yet.
I hope you will have the opportunity to try prenatal yoga during your pregnancy. If you have already, please share your experiences with us by leaving a comment. Hope to see or hear from you soon.
Many blessings to you and yours,