If you’re pregnant and looking for ways to keep yourself fit and healthy, you might be considering prenatal yoga. If you’ve never practiced yoga before or you’re used to a hot or fairly dynamic yoga you might be wondering what the benefits of yoga for pregnancy are.
The truth the benefits of prenatal yoga are multiple. Yoga for pregnancy has been shown to improve your quality of sleep, increase your strength and flexibility in a way that is safe for your baby, reduce your stress and anxiety and improve your overall wellbeing, making your pregnancy more enjoyable.
But were you aware that prenatal yoga can also decrease back pain and headaches, reduce sciatica and nausea, improve your pelvic floor and prepare your body for birth?
What to expect from a Prenatal Yoga class?
A good pregnancy yoga class will involve:
Your class will generally start with a simple meditation aimed at increasing the bond between you and your growing baby.
2. Breath Work (Pranayama)
You’ll be encouraged to practice yoga breathing techniques which involve slowing down the breath and will help manage breathing difficulties during pregnancy and also enable you to work through contractions during labor.
3. Gentle Stretching
You’ll work with gently stretching all of your body in a way that is safe for your body and releases tension form your back, neck and shoulders and gives your feet a break.
4. Postures (Asana)
You’ll explore a series of different postures performed whilst standing, sitting, kneeling and lying. These yoga positions will be aimed at developing your strength, flexibility and balance.
At the end of the yoga class, you’ll relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and breathing rhythm. You’ll be encouraged to pay close attention to sensations, thoughts and emotions and release them.
How does Prenatal Yoga Help with Aches and Pain?
Back Pain, Headaches & Migraine, Haemorrhoids, Sciatica, SPD, Heartburn
The good news is, your baby is growing. That, of course is what we want, however, it’s very tough on your back. Rest assured you’re in good company- many pregnant women experience back pain, generally starting in the second half of pregnancy.
Pregnancy back ache usually occurs where the pelvis meets your spine, at the sacroiliac joint. Its causes are many and varied. Weight gain, posture changes, hormonal fluctuations, muscle separation and stress all contribute to pain in your back.
Yoga can help relieve these pains by practicing correct postural alignment – this will change from week to week. There are fantastic poses in yoga to alleviate particularly lower back pain – they are simple and easy to practice. They can also help you prevent or reduce muscle separation.
Headache and Migraine
It’s not unusual to get headaches when you’re pregnant, particularly in the first trimester. If you are susceptible to PMS headaches have a greater chance of experiencing them during pregnancy. Increased blood volume and circulation, decreased sleep, hormonal free-for-al (particularly progesterone) and stress are all responsible for the increased tendency for headache. Migraines are a more severe type of headache. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 women has a migraine headache at some time in her life, and up to 16 percent of those women get migraines for the first time when they’re pregnant. Yuck.
But yoga can help. There are certain yoga practices which help balance your endocrine (hormonal) system, one of these being downward dog. Balancing erratic hormones can help reduce the frequency of migraine. Where tension headaches are concerned, working with careful stretches for the neck and shoulders will open up the cervical (upper) spine, decreasing the tendency for pressure to build and cause the headache. Meditation and relaxation are scientifically proven yoga techniques to reduce the worry that causes stress headaches.
Haemorrhoids – varicose veins in the rectum can be painful and itchy and uncomfortable. They come from straining the bowels – constipation – due to the increased progesterone in your system. Piles affect more than half of all pregnant women. By working with particular yoga postures and particularly with pranayama (yogic breathing) you can not only reduce the tendency towards constipation but also heal and reduce the haemorrhoids you may already have.
Sciatica is described as a sharp pain usually running through one side of your buttock (although in pregnancy it can effect both sides) and down your leg which can make it uncomfortable to stand or sit. It can be debilitating, particularly in pregnancy. The causes can be weight gain, increased fluid retention, your baby’s position and expanding uterus placing pressure on your sciatic nerve. Where yoga can benefit you is by practising postures to alleviate this pressure and correcting your postural alignment, thereby shifting your weight, the position of your baby and your uterus.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD)
When you’re pregnant the body produces and releases a hormone called Relaxin. This is an excellent hormone as it enables your pelvic muscles to open during labor and give birth. However, it can also make our pelvic joint – the symphysis pubis – unstable. This can lead to anything from discomfort to severe pain when you open your legs and the need to wear a brace around your pelvic for the third trimester. However yoga can be adapted to be practiced with the legs together, supporting the pelvic region and enabling you perform yoga positions specifically for the chronic pain, making yoga one of the only exercises (pilates being the other) that women with SPD can practice.
Here the culprit is progesterone once again. Progesterone relaxes your stomach valve. The one that keeps the acid out of your oesophagus. Given that your growing uterus is also forcing acid into your stomach, you have a great recipe for heartburn. And heartburn most often affects you when you are lying down, making it quite uncomfortable to sleep. The yoga answer lies in supported postures which open the front of the body allowing the stomach to stretch out comfortably and thereby reducing the flow of acid into your oesophagus and throat. In the case of heartburn these postures can be a life saver.
How can Prenatal Yoga help your Pelvic Floor?
The Causes behind a weak Pelvic Floor
Pregnancy and birth place undue pressure on your pelvic floor. Pregnancy increases the amount of the hormone progesterone in your body, which causes all your muscles to soften. Both pregnancy and birth stretch the pelvic muscles, which are responsible for tightening the bladder, vagina and bowel. Once these muscles have been weakened, they can no longer stop your bladder from leaking or –in a worst case scenario – keep your uterus in place, leading to uterine prolapse.
How you can Prevent this
Kegel exercises can help you counteract this natural softening. To locate your pelvic muscles, simply stop your flow of urine mid-stream. If you can’t, you know your pelvic floor is already weak. Please don’t become alarmed, as it’s not hard to rectify. To exercise these muscles you need to draw ‘in’ and ‘up’. It may take some time to perfect, but practicing whilst on the toilet, stopping your flow, will help enormously. (Please note – not too often though, as this practice can be detrimental if you suffer Urinary Tract Infections, common in pregnancy). Once you contracted your pelvic muscles, hold them for up to 5 seconds and release. Repeat up to 10 times.
A good prenatal yoga class will always place focus to your pelvic floor. By working with the breath and kegels in certain simple postures you can strengthen your pelvic floor and avoid the issues previously mentioned.
Preparing your body for Birth with Prenatal Yoga
Yoga postures and skills lend themselves perfectly during labor. There are poses to help open the body, poses to work through contractions for all three stages stage of birth, poses to help you work with breach. You may have a hard and fast delivery or longer and slower. There are advantages to both. Either way, there are labor poses to suit. You may fall in love with one position , but there are several to choose from. The poses are deliberately simple and easy to remember.
In childbirth, your breath is your best friend, particularly your exhalation or out- breath. Simple breathing and sound techniques routinely practiced before and during labor can mean the difference between tearing whilst giving birth or not. Sound and breath have been medically proven to assist your body in childbirth.
The more you practice these poses and breathing techniques prior to birth, the more like second nature they will be in the moment. And having this yogic bag of tools offers you the one thing birth doesn’t – a measure of control. That doesn’t mean you can absolutely control your labor or birth outcome. It means you can enter labor with confidence knowing you have the skills to get through the difficult moments.