Yoga is unmatched in its versatility, spanning across many realms from ancient to modern, from movement to stillness, from outside guidance to self-practice…
As such, yoga can easily be adapted to accommodate pregnancy, and the practice of prenatal yoga dates back further than you might think. Over the years, it has been refined to offer a sanctuary of balance and vitality during this transformative phase.
In this article, we will explore the key aspects of prenatal yoga, including:
- What is Prenatal Yoga?
- Brief History of Prenatal Yoga
- 4 Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
- Tips and Contraindications
- 6 Prenatal Yoga Poses
- Prenatal Yoga FAQs
Intrigued? Let’s dive into the beautiful world of prenatal practice.
What is prenatal yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a specialized form of yoga designed to cater to the unique needs and changes experienced by expectant mothers. It’s a modified practice adapted to support the physical, emotional, and mental well-being throughout the pregnancy journey.
Prenatal yoga features purposefully selected yoga poses that take into account the various physical and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, such as the shifting center of gravity, increased flexibility, and the influence of hormones like relaxin, which can make joints more pliable.
The primary goals of prenatal yoga include relieving pregnancy symptoms, maintaining physical fitness, reducing discomfort, and preparing the body for labor and childbirth.
In addition to the physical asanas, the prenatal practice features breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help parents-to-be achieve those goals.
If you’re nurturing a new life within you, or even thinking of expanding your family, prenatal yoga is an excellent way to make your pregnancy a pleasant and memorable experience.
Brief History of Prenatal Yoga
Medical professionals tend to agree that physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or adaptive yoga practice, enhances the mothers’ well-being and improves the chances of a more efficient labor process.
It is worth noting that some archeological evidence suggests that the tradition of encouraging movement during pregnancy predates modern medicine.Renowned archeologist Marija Gimbutas made some groundbreaking discoveries in regard to matristic (female-centered) civilizations dating back to Paleolistic and Neolithic Eras. Scattered all over the territory of modern Europe, there is evidence of communities that practiced yogic meditation postures.
It stands to reason that in a female-led and female-centered civilization, pregnancy and childbirth were held as significant events. As such, what we now know as yoga may have been used to guide women throughout their prenatal and postnatal stages.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line things took a turn. Along with other misguided medical advice, women experiencing pregnancy in the 17-19th centuries were mostly expected to stay indoors, idly waiting for the child to arrive.
It is only in the early 21st century that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) publicly changed its stance on exercise during pregnancy. And, over the next two decades, the popularity of prenatal yoga has soared as a result.
4 Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Engaging in prenatal yoga practice brings a multitude of benefits, nurturing the body and spirit during the incredible journey of pregnancy. Below are the most commonly reported positive effects of the prenatal practice.
1. Reduced Discomfort
It is no secret that for most people, pregnancy is far from a cake walk. From backache and swollen ankles, to nausea and heightened sensitivity, it’s like a very unfair lottery.
The good news is, many practitioners report that prenatal yoga was the key to alleviating the unpleasant symptoms and easing the overall discomfort.
2. Decreased Stress
Pregnancy is a stressful experience, both physically and mentally. However, it is more important than ever to be able to manage this stress in a sustainable fashion.
Prenatal yoga may provide practitioners with tools to manage their stress and anxiety. Studies that focused on the benefits of prenatal yoga found that participants generally reported lowered levels of perceived stress, which has a positive effect on the quality of sleep and overall well-being.
3. Physical Health
Naturally, many changes that occur during pregnancy are physical. For instance, pregnancy hormones cause the ligaments to become more elastic, which means the joints may need extra support during and after pregnancy.
The new human growing inside you may also compromise balance as the center of gravity within your body changes. Pregnancy may wreak havoc on your digestive system or your blood circulation too.
These are just some of the aspects of pregnancy that prenatal yoga can help manage in order to ensure that both the mom and the baby are healthy.
4. Preparing For Delivery
Just as pregnancy culminates in birth, the largest impact prenatal yoga may have is preparing the practitioners for labor and delivery. A systematic review that included 31 studies highlighted commonly reported positive effects on the mode of birth and the duration of labor.
In addition to physically preparing the body for birth with hip-openers and pelvic floor activation (mula bandha), prenatal yoga can help mothers-to-be feel more calm and collected throughout labor.
Furthermore, breathwork plays a huge role in the birthing process. Typically, prenatal yoga includes pranayama techniques that would be helpful in labor and delivery.
Tips and contraindications
Just like any other types of movement, prenatal yoga comes with certain risks. These are just a few things you can do to have a safe and fruitful practice:
- Always consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any exercise during pregnancy.
- If you are new to yoga, it is best to find a dedicated prenatal yoga class with a teacher who specializes in pregnancy yoga.
- Listen to your body and err on the side of caution. Sometimes it’s better to forego the pose entirely than struggle through it.
- Comfort is key. Use as many props as you feel is necessary!
- Be sure to drink plenty of water, eat before class, and even take bathroom breaks throughout the session if needed.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Students in your prenatal class may have a different level of experience, be at a different stage of their pregnancy, or work towards a different goal.
6 Prenatal Yoga Poses
Before we move on to the actual prenatal yoga poses, it is worth noting that as you progress through your pregnancy, your practice may change quite drastically. It is important to listen to your body and take those changes in stride.
1. Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bilitalasana)
Cat-Cow is an excellent yoga sequence to include during the first trimester of your pregnancy. This gentle back and neck activation relieves tension and improves spinal mobility.
The great thing about Cat-Cow is that it can be adapted to your current range of movement. It is also a good warm-up option for other types of prenatal exercise.
2. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
An asana that is typically only suitable throughout the first trimester, Happy Baby is such a wonderful hip opener and a soothing position for one’s back.
With the appropriate use of yoga props, this pose can be made even more comfortable and accessible within the realm of prenatal yoga.
For instance, you may lay a soft blanket under your back for extra comfort. Additionally, if you can’t easily grasp your feet, a yoga strap can help to bridge the gap.
3. Garland Pose (Malasana)
With the exception of individual restrictions, this pose can be practiced throughout the entire pregnancy. Not only does it improve hip mobility, it also boosts digestion and promotes balance.
Best of all, Malasana can be modified to accommodate the needs of your changing body.
For instance, you may choose to place a folded blanket under your heels to reduce ankle flexion and help your balance. You may also rest your seat on a block (or a stack of blocks) for support.
4. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
The second trimester is when your ligaments begin to loosen due to the reproductive hormone called relaxin. As such, it is important to stay mindful of your practice and avoid overstretching.
When it comes to second trimester prenatal yoga poses, Balasana is a safe and pleasant option. It stretches your chest, shoulders, and back, while also accommodating your growing belly.
5. Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Although lying on your back is typically not recommended past the first trimester, there is a modified version of Reclined Bound Angle perfect for prenatal yoga.
This variation only requires a partial recline, as the upper body is supported by a “fort” of yoga props. You can use a combination of bolsters, blankets, cushions, and blocks to create an appropriate support system for your back, neck, and head.
As you relax and open your hips, this also puts you in a perfect position to rest your hands on your bump and enjoy the moment.
6. Side Corpse Pose (Parsva Savasana)
An alternative to traditional relaxation in Savasana, this prenatal yoga pose involves the practitioner lying comfortably on their side. This restorative asana would typically take place at the end of the practice as it relieves fatigue and promotes relaxation.
In my experience, both as a yoga teacher and as a woman, no two pregnancies are the same. Naturally, the way prenatal yoga impacts your body and mind may also be different from another person, or even your previous pregnancy.
Remember to listen to yourself and trust your gut. You’ve got this!