The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Beyond Boot Camp
Most people who come to prenatal yoga have never done yoga before. This is unique from most other kinds of yoga. The word has gotten out that yoga is something good to do in pregnancy, but the true reasons why prenatal yoga is beneficial might surprised you.
The analogy that birth is like a marathon gives many the mindset that prenatal yoga should be all about physically training for the big event. Many pregnancy fitness classes tout this with their boot camp-style classes. Sure, there’s a place for exercise in pregnancy. And birth is like a marathon because it requires endurance, inner and outer strength. But pregnancy and birth can move you through a profound personal and spiritual transformation, as well. Rather than focusing on whipping your body into shape (which may cause more harm than good), prenatal yoga is a practice that offers teachings on all parts of the self–not just the physical—guiding women through this life-changing journey.
Prenatal yoga is a practice for mind, body, spirit, and baby. The true benefits of prenatal yoga are not just that it’s a good exercise, an alternative to running, or hitting the gym. In the next three blog posts I’m going to reveal my trade secrets on the true benefits of prenatal yoga. These include the 3 C’s: Connecting, Contractions, and Community.
Connecting: Mind, Body, Spirit, Baby
Life is busy. Life is loud and very distracting. Prenatal yoga is a set time (calendar it in, people) to go within, to cultivate a connection with your baby. I use the word “cultivate” because I know not everyone feels oneness with her unborn right off the pregnancy stick. How do you cultivate connection? Start by listening. By getting still, and quieting the mind. When you turn off the reactive mode of the mind, and become present with what is, that is connecting with your baby. Cultivate a connection with your baby while freeing yourself from judgment. Feel nothing? That’s ok. Motherhood is a process. With my first pregnancy, I was deeply connected to my child. Not a day went by that I didn’t center every thought on, “I am pregnant!” As my child got older, I went through times of wondering if I really knew him. I wasn’t sure who he was. I lost my connection. It hurt. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But, with time, we moved through it and reconnected. Patience and non-judgment was my yoga practice during that time. A huge benefit of prenatal yoga is the dedicated time to breathe, to listen, to come home to yourself, as you are now, free from critique. Call it meditation. Call it centering. Call it just sitting. Each class I teach includes time for you to cultivate a connection with your baby. It is a practice, and I believe it’s vitally important.
One tool we often use to cultivate connection is belly breath. The breath is a wonderful tool for calming the mind, tuning into the present moment, and connecting with your baby. “Belly breathing” is a technique that applies both to pregnancy and labor. Place one hand on your belly and one hand over your heart. Inhale breathing down into your belly and baby. Let the belly rise, breathing to your baby. Exhale to your heart. Cycle this breath pattern for 10 breaths, feeling the connection of your breath bringing oxygen and love to your baby. Use this technique in pregnancy to connect with your baby, reminding yourself of how interconnected you both are. In labor, especially during contractions, the baby needs more oxygen. Use controlled deep breathing, imaging you are sending oxygen to your baby, to keep the baby’s heart rate strong throughout labor. As a birth doula, I have found many moms respond receptively to this technique, realizing the importance of the breath and their physical connection with their baby.
Asana (yoga poses) enhance the experience of living in your body—even with a big pregnant belly. Moving your body into different shapes acts like gestures for emotions, creating subtle energy and mood changes. This is simply body language taken to another level. Yoga is an awakening to the deep layers of the body and spirit—to feel your body in ways you haven’t in a long time or ever before. Breath, body, and mind all flow in alignment. The nervous system begins to move you into a relaxed state. Ease takes over, and actual bliss becomes possible. Feeling bliss in pregnancy? Yep, it can happen. Prenatal yoga poses are specifically geared to bring your pregnant body back into alignment. There are plenty of aches and pains in pregnancy. The body takes on weight and changes shape with heavy pressure on the pelvic floor. This can create low back pain, sciatica, pubic symphysis dysfunction, and many other physical issues. Yoga is not a cure-all, but it can do wonders for some. There are simple poses for nearly every symptom that comes up in pregnancy. Swelling legs and feet? Try Legs Up the Wall pose. Leg cramps? Try Triangle pose. Round ligament pain? Try Puppy pose. I can go on and on … but that’s for another blog post. Prenatal yoga poses open you up, to help you feel comfortable and at ease in your rapidly changing body.
There are remedies beyond poses that yoga offers. Mantra is another very useful tool through pregnancy and especially through birth. Mantra acts like an invocation to the spirit. Chanting a mantra, such as “Om”(primordial sound of life), through a contraction (more on that next in part two), either out loud or silently, can help focus the mind and open the cervix. A great mantra for pregnancy is, “I trust my body.” Any time you notice yourself running a mantra of stress and negativity, try replacing it with trust and love. Mantras are a great tool for connecting to your higher self, reminding yourself who you truly are.
I have noticed both of my babies responded to mantra. When my first born was barely two years old, he chanted “guru dev,” over and over, latching on to part of the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” that I would sing throughout the day. Listening to me sing and chant mantra has been a part of my kids’ lives since they were in the womb. I believe it brings continuity to them when they chant the Oms with me, a sound that always was and ever will be. In prenatal yoga we chant the Oms for ourselves, for each other, and for our babies. Babies begin to hear around Week 18. Chanting a mantra is a great way to connect to your babies. Studies have shown that babies can be calmed by hearing familiar songs that were routinely sung in utero! Read more on the benefits of singing in pregnancy here.
Prenatal yoga is competition-free. Comparing yourself to another mom doesn’t help either. Prenatal yoga is a safe space for being honest and open, working through the social pressures and expectations that come with motherhood in our culture. For many, pregnancy brings up a lot of emotions. Pregnancy is a time of great sensitivity. Rather than sweep this sensitivity under the rug and marginalize it as “just hormones,” this is a great opportunity to get in touch with what is coming up for you. Fear, sadness, grief, insecurity. These are all feelings that are very common in pregnancy. Working through these feelings is important inner-work, that helps to shape the mother you will become. In many classes I teach, we discuss what’s coming up for us. We normalize these feelings and allow for them. Sound like therapy? In a sense, it is. Prenatal yoga is a safe space for these feelings and a practice for connecting with your truest self to guide you towards what you need.
There are amazing tools for pregnancy and birth taught in prenatal yoga: breathing, mantra, yoga poses, meditation are all practical, accessible ways to connect with your baby, your body, your mind, and your spirit. Next week I’ll post part 2, True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Because Contractions. Stay tuned!