Anyone who has practiced knows how much of a total body workout yoga can be, as well as a way to quiet down the mind and gain control of your body and more importantly the breath.
Prenatal yoga can be a great way to not only work the body in an essential way for mums-to-be, but also provides a good preparation for the breath and mind for delivery and beyond.
In saying that though there is specific ways and postures for a mama to be and we would always suggest that a a designed prenatal class is the the one to follow as well as as fully trained instructor.
Here is some of the ways yoga can help in Pregnancy and Birth
1. The Breath: Breathing is not something we often think about throughout the day. It is a mechanical function of the body. We never really have to remind our selves to breathe, but we should, especially to prepare our body for the process of labour. Breathing is a very important part of delivering a baby, it helps to relax the body and brings balance to the mind.
That is exactly what the breath work, pranayama, part of yoga will do, even if you are not pregnant. Yogis use what is called conscious breathing to help “still the mind.” Yoga breath work also increases the depth of the breath. By learning “three-part breath,” or “Ujjayi breathing,” we learn to breathe to our bellies, which really means we learn to use the abdominals to breathe and use our diaphragm and really work the ribs to breathe. This allows us to get more oxygen into our bodies. Also, the exhalation of the breath is a natural relaxation for the body. If you notice, when you take a deep breath, on the exhale you can feel the muscles move down and release.
Just think when you start your yoga class and the instructor tells you to connect with the breath, so much stillness comes to the mind, this is a perfect way to enter into labour.
2. The Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that form a bowl attached to the pelvis. This muscle supports the vital reproductive and digestion organs, as well as the baby during pregnancy.
During pregnancy it is especially important to exercise your pelvic floor muscle as it has to support a greatly increased load at this time. Although pregnancy is not the only factor for a weakened pelvic floor, ageing and inactivity can play a role; it can weaken from pregnancy and childbirth. Although not the cause, a weak pelvic floor can be the start of some health problems. That is why it is very important to work with these muscles, especially after childbirth. Like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be re-strengthened.
You will be taught in class how to do this correctly in pregnancy and beyond.
3. The Posture: As the babies and bellies grow and change, so does the centre of gravity. One of the things that allow humans to walk upright is the balance between the lower back muscles and our four abdominal muscles. However, when our abdominals are weak, this can cause our lower back muscles to over compensate and over work, causing pain and strain in the lumbar area. When the belly moves more forward with growth, this stretches the abdominals beyond their original shape, weakening them and this causing lower back pain during pregnancy especially in the third trimester. Although pregnancy is not the time to do major core work, it is recommended to gently work all four abdominals to keep them strong. After your baby is born, it is common for women to find some separation has occurred between the right and left side of the abdominals, exercises that bring the belly toward the spine can help bring the abs back to pre-pregnancy shape.
Yoga can also help alleviate the pressure the lower back is under during the shift in gravity. By stretching the upper leg muscles and the lower back, tension will start to release.
4. The Feet: With the shift of the centre of gravity in your body as your pregnancy progresses, this changes our stance and pressure in our feet and joints. The two most common problems become over pronation and swelling. These problems can lead to pain at the heel, arch, or the ball-of-foot. Many women may also experience leg cramping and varicose veins due to weight gain.
In the class you will be shown how to stand correctly using all parts of the feet that will help you to stand up tall and feel great during your pregnancy.
5. The Hips: Prenatal yoga can help bring back flexibility and comfort to the groups of muscles and bone structures in the front and back of the hips. Hormones released during pregnancy soften and relax joints and cartilage between bones in our pelvis to prepare it for child birth. However, getting the muscles ready is good to facilitate an easier birth for mom and baby.
In front, we have our hip flexors, which work to flex, or bend, the hips. This brings our knee and thigh up and in line with our hip joint and toward our chest. Lunges are a great example of the work of the hip flexors. It is imperative to keep these flexible so we can easily open our legs with out too much strain for delivery, as well as bend the knees close to the chest to assist with birth. Yoga can also stretch the ligaments in the pelvis, hip and leg areas, all making the positions and pushing in labor easier.
A good prenatal sequence will assist in the preparation if the body to get ready for birth.
Practicing yoga while pregnant can also improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth.
It can also decrease nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath, and decrease the risk of preterm labour, pregnancy-induced hypertension and is a great way to bond with your new shape.
And last but not least you will be spending the class time with other Mamas- to- be, some who are having their second or third babies. Their experience and sharing can be a great support to you and often after birth friendships and play dates are formed.
Elaine Stewart is a certified Childbirth instructor with 13 years experience in this field .