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Prenatal Yoga: what you need to know

As featured in Yoga Iowa Magazine Winter Issue 2014

Prenatal yoga: what you need to know by Sandi Hoover, 500 RYT, PRYT

 

What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Prenatal yoga helps a woman become more deeply connected to her body and her growing baby. It can help alleviate and ward off common discomforts of pregnancy such as back and hip pain. Prenatal yoga classes also foster community for mamas to be. Moms can get answers to many of their questions and share ideas and past experiences within in a safe environment. I've observed that many women who have come to my prenatal yoga classes become friends and created a support network for each other both during and after their pregnancy, meeting for tea or sharing a meal, taking walks or setting up play groups.

Prenatal yoga can be beneficial as preparation for childbirth, particularly with breathing techniques. A woman who has practiced focusing on her breath can use this technique during labor, birth and motherhood. Jamie Kirby-Nelson, yoga student, instructor and recent new mom says, "I didn't really have to think about breath when birthing my baby. I had spent so much time practicing this in prenatal yoga it just came naturally. Yogic breathing helped me stay connected to my body and baby with each contraction. I think it gave me more power and strength during labor instead of fear and worry."

Qualities of a good prenatal class include some education and discussion on pregnancy as well as offering a balanced yoga sequence with mindfulness to a women's changing body. Challenging poses are a great help for mental focus and finding a place of power, both of which become a tremendous tool for managing contractions during labor. Conversely, the passive poses allow women to learn how to relax, focus inward and surrender to the natural process of birth.

Prenatal yoga class attendees can expect to slow down, practice self-acceptance, be present with what they're feeling and let go of concerns. One repeat student from my class shared, "I wanted to tell you that your classes meant just as much to me this time as it did the last pregnancy. Not only did my body feel renewed, but my spirit and heart did with each class I took. It was like getting a hug from the inside out."

Can I take a regular yoga class if I'm pregnant?
I advise pregnant women to take a class that is all specially designed with the pregnant body in mind. Regular yoga classes, such as gentle yoga, can be adapted to expectant women; however, it takes an experienced instructor to offer appropriate modifications for your changing needs each trimester. Be sure to tell your instructor before class that you are pregnant and how far along you are.

A good rule of thumb to follow in a regular yoga class is if you are in a pose and need to ask "Is this safe for me and/or my baby?" then you should come out of or modify the pose. If it seems like you are omitting or modifying more poses than not in a regular yoga class then it would be a good time to switch to a dedicated prenatal yoga class. Hot yoga is not advised during pregnancy as overheating is the greatest concern when exercising during pregnancy. Power yoga and advanced yoga classes are not

recommended as vigorous jumping may put undue strain on your vulnerable midline and pelvic floor. Going too deep in poses can lead to over-stretching ligaments. Yoga poses to avoid include deep twists, advanced inversions and deep backbends. For some advanced practitioners scaling back to adapt their practice can be harder than it sounds. However, pregnancy is a time to soften and set aside an ambitious practice. I speak from experience when I say your regular practice will be there for you after baby.

What are some good yoga poses to do while pregnant?
Poses that help to open up shoulders and chest area are wonderful as a pregnant woman's breasts grow heavier. Also poses that hope to bring mobility to the pelvic and low back area can help decrease some of the common discomforts such as low back and hip discomfort during pregnancy. Some simple and safe yoga poses to enjoy during pregnancy are:

  1. CatBackstretch–thisposeinvitesmobilitytothespineandcanreleasetensionin

    the upper back.

  2. Mountainpose–thisposepromotesgoodpostureandhelpswomenfeelgrounded

    and rooted in a present moment – a difficult task even when you're not pregnant!

  3. Seatedwidespreadforwardfold–thisisagreatposeforopeninghipsandcanbe

    done seated on blankets to help create space for your growing belly.

Prenatal yoga is generally considered a safe exercise to do while pregnant. It is always advisable to check with your health care professional before beginning a new exercise regimen. Chances are you healthcare provider will be thrilled that you are taking a prenatal yoga class.

Having a Doula: is a Doula right for me?
A birth Doula is a non-medical person who provides support during childbirth such as physical assistance and comfort. She also acts as an advocate for the woman undergoing childbirth. Doula and prenatal yoga instructor, Melissa Schnurr says, "I teach very similar things to both my prenatal clients and Doula clients. Both clients benefit from connecting to breath. For the woman who practices yoga and is considering becoming pregnant she may ask herself, "If I'm already familiar with breath and I'm already connected to my body then why might I hire a Doula? Melissa says, "The Doula is just as much for the birth partner as for the pregnant woman. The Doula can help the birth partner be more present and enjoy the birth experience because they're not worrying about trying to recall what they learned in childbirth education or questioning how to comfort the laboring mom." 

photo by D.E. Smith Photography


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