During times when the body or mind is under stress, yoga can be a very powerful tool for resilience and healing – pregnancy is one of those times. Here, lead yoga instructor Louisa Craig explores why and offers instructions on poses for pregnancy
According to studies, practicing yoga during pregnancy can have a positive impact on both mental and physical ailments. Yoga gives expectant mothers strength and calm in a life changing time. It is a tool that all mothers, both expectant and new, can use to take care of themselves starting this Week of Awareness of Maternal Mental Health.
A pre-birth yoga class focuses not only on the mother-to-be, but also on the unborn baby and the upcoming contractions. Prenatal yoga alleviates the physical ailments of pregnancy and prepares expectant parents mentally and spiritually for the birth.
The reality is, while the journey to parenting is often a joyful, precious time, it is not uncommon for women to experience increased levels of stress during pregnancy. Hormonal and physical changes, childbirth worries, and the challenges of preparing for a newborn can all be fearful in parents-to-be. This is especially true for the last year, in which the uncertainty and the risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic led to increased stress in expectant mothers.
Regular yoga practice can help manage these stressors. Breathing work is an important part of prenatal yoga classes as deep breathing exercises are used to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. This in turn lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol and enables the practitioner to achieve a state of relaxation. These yoga techniques can be used throughout pregnancy in moments of discomfort or distress. Becoming aware of internal tensions and learning how to resolve them in prenatal yoga classes can then be repeated during childbirth.
Additionally, taking prenatal yoga classes is a great way to connect with other expectant mothers. The shared experience of these women creates a sense of community and support, which can help alleviate parenting worries. In this way, prenatal yoga classes enhance the pregnancy experience and empower expectant mothers to connect with the inner wisdom of their body and motherhood.
Prenatal yoga also addresses some of the most common physical ailments associated with pregnancy. Symptoms such as hip pain, sciatica, SI joint pain, swelling and nausea can be relieved by regular yoga practice. Gentle yoga poses and relaxation techniques can help relieve pain areas, while the use of props such as bolsters, blocks, blankets, and belts will help you move in and out of poses mindfully. Yoga props give expectant mothers additional physical support and alleviate discomfort while reducing the risk of injury or stress.
As the unborn child grows, pregnant women have to adjust to the extra weight and build muscle to be able to take care of themselves. Poses that build less physical strength, like Warriors One and Two, are especially important for this reason.
A regular pregnancy yoga routine can also strengthen the muscles used during labor and delivery. Most prenatal yoga classes include movements that work the groin, pelvic floor, abs, and hips to prepare the body for childbirth. In this way, practicing yoga during pregnancy increases endurance and strengthens endurance, thus contributing to an easier birthing experience.
Recommended yoga poses for pregnancy
Mula Bandha / Root Barrier: This pose tones and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, which are heavily used during pregnancy. Practicing this position can help prepare the person for childbirth and improve physical recovery afterwards. Childbirth is often associated with pain or discomfort. The best possible preparation of the expectant mother in advance helps to overcome such fear of childbirth.
Bridge position / Setu Bandhasana: This gentle back bend stretches the chest, neck and spine and strengthens the gluteal muscles and the back at the same time. Lingering in the position briefly (three minutes or less) clears pelvic congestion, improves digestion, and relieves stress when integrated with conscious breathing. The bridge pose can be modified by using a block under the sacrum for support; Maintaining this position for an extended period of time can help turn a breech baby. Keep in mind that this pose doesn’t always feel great, especially in the third trimester. Always respect your body and how it feels at all times.
Goddess Pose / Utkata Konasona: The Goddess Pose strengthens the entire lower body, especially the glutes, hips and thighs. Tightening these areas is important in holding the weight of a growing belly! In addition, this pose opens the hips and makes work easier. Practitioners should stand with their legs straight, with heels pointing inward and toes pointing outward. Your knees should bend in the same plane as your toes. If necessary, a chair can be used as a support. Holding this position for a few minutes allows the body to get used to the position of birth.
Go to the Knee Pose / Janu Sirsasana: This sitting stretch prepares the pelvis for labor and delivery. With a strap around the foot of the outstretched leg, the practitioner pulls his chest gradually forward, stretching the hamstrings and pelvic muscles. Using the breath to relax in the pose also strengthens the spine and elongates the sides of the body. Use a blanket or cushion to sit on for extra support.
Warrior I / Virabhdrasana I: A standing pose, Warrior I, strengthens multiple areas of the body as well as strengthens balance. Holding this position works the legs, arms, and shoulders. It is an empowering position that builds trust in the practitioner, a must for expectant mothers! This position also stretches the hamstrings and pelvic muscles, relieving any tension that may arise during pregnancy.
Warrior II / Virabhdrasana II: This standing pose also strengthens the legs while opening up the hips and upper body. As a result, Warrior II extends the back and relieves back pain. Focusing on your breath during this pose can help improve mental resilience.
Shavasana / corpse pose: Lying in Shavasana, supported by supports and pillows, helps the practitioner to relax and unwind completely. The padding serves as gentle support and allows the body to relax completely. Expectant mothers should focus on each inhalation and exhalation and watch their bodies rise and fall without judgment. Staying in the present moment in this way releases physical tension and stress. A blanket can be placed over the doctor for additional comfort.
Remember, listen to your body and stop when an attitude is causing discomfort. Always seek advice from your doctor regarding your individual physical preparedness before beginning any exercise program.
Louisa Craig is a Senior Yoga Teacher at Yoga Alliance Professionals and the Director of the LKY Yoga Teacher Training.
Yoga Alliance Professionals is the UK’s leading professional association for yoga teachers and trainers. Founded in 2006, the organization helps yoga teachers stand out in their careers and offer the highest quality yoga that the industry has to offer.