My friend Sinead, owner of Kula Mama Yoga writes about why prenatal yoga can improve your pregnancy. She is a mom of 3 boys, a yoga instructor and a pre and postnatal specialist.
Yoga; is it me or is it everywhere right now? Yoga Studios seem to be popping up all over the place, we are in the midst of an explosion in the Yoga industry and there seem to be classes for every walk of life; Yoga for Kids/Teens, Seniors, First Responders, Stroke Patients, Hot Yoga, Warm Yoga, Cold Yoga (well maybe not yet but soon, I’m sure!), Yoga Therapy for Healing…and most importantly (to myself at least!) Prenatal Yoga, Fertility Yoga and Postnatal Yoga. So why all the fuss? What makes Yoga so universally accessible and a cure-all for everyone? Read on and I’ll try to enlighten you!
Yoga is adaptable to all body types, abilities and energy levels and has numerous medical benefits which are increasingly being proven in clinical trials. One of the key components in Yoga is the ability to control your breath and turn your sight inwards as you move through your poses, which has a calming and restorative impact on the mind and body. Reducing stress levels is often a key factor in tackling health issues and so Yoga can tie into that. By gently and mindfully moving into postures and focusing on correct alignment, we can improve posture, flexibility and strength and the additional release of endorphins, our ‘feel good’ hormones, means we can leave class feeling awesome. Add in a lovely relaxation at the end of class and what's not to love?!
Why Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal Yoga creates a sense of calm, relieves stress and provides an opportunity to connect to your body and your baby through movement and breath. Studies have proven that an integrated approach to Yoga - postures, breathing and meditation combined - can improve birth outcomes such as higher birth weight, lower risk of pre-eclampsia and reduced blood pressure. Midwives can usually tell if a Mom has taken Yoga classes due to her breath work and labour postures. Prenatal Yoga reduces stress levels, provides an environment of safety for Moms to talk and connect about their concerns, experiences and joys of pregnancy and most importantly it forms those early motherhood friendships which become vital further down the line in creating support networks and alleviating isolation in new Moms.
Prenatal Yoga instructors work within a body of knowledge around pregnancy-related ailments so that the poses are safe, mindful and will strengthen Mom without creating any additional stress in the body, whilst relieving some of the more common aches and pains of pregnancy. You will also learn breathing techniques for labour and for safe movement of the pelvic floor, which will also aid in your postnatal recovery. And some of the poses can help during labour and can even help to reposition a breech baby!
Trimester by Trimester guide to Prenatal Yoga:
During the first trimester, prenatal yoga can help to energize the body with a gentle workout that can relieve lethargy and help reduce feelings of nausea through breathing exercises.
In the second trimester, energy typically increases and we use prenatal yoga help to safely work into the areas of stiffness in the body, as your body grows and changes and natural movement patterns become restricted. We work on opening the hips, stretching the side body, improving core strength safely without using the intra-abdominals, strengthening the thighs and legs to improve balance, relieving tension on the pelvic floor and focusing on the breath to encourage healthy movement of the pelvic floor.
In the third trimester, we continue to stretch any areas of stiffness in the body; we work on squatting postures and we learn some tools for labour - using poses such as toe stretches to demonstrate how the breath can help us work through moments of intensity. We will work in poses that can help to relieve pain in labour, and some that Mom can come back to post labour to relieve aching shoulders, to open the chest, and to gently stretch the legs. In the third trimester we also focus on meditation to overcome physical intensity, and to find inner calm and peace as well as connecting to baby and the breath.
Not Just a Great Stretch
Prenatal Yoga can help with edema, low back pain, gestational hypertension, improved birth weight, carpal tunnel syndrome, pelvic discomfort, rib discomfort, pressure on pelvic floor, muscular stiffness, heartburn, constipation, sciatica and morning sickness. It can improve balance as body weight distribution shifts, teach methods of breathing that enable correct movement of the pelvic floor muscle in preparation for birth and post-birth repair, decrease stress, improve sleep, and give an essential time out from the stresses and strains of daily life in pregnancy - a session just for mom and baby, of calmness, peace and tranquility through flowing movement.
Prenatal Yoga 101
Choosing the right class - any qualified Yoga instructor can teach a Prenatal Yoga class, but only those with an 85-hour Pre and Post-natal qualification can teach a class with all the correct knowledge of risks and alignment in pregnancy, so seek an instructor with the RPYT 85-Hour Certification.
Online classes - exercise caution if you’re trying online free classes online and seek out a Pre or Post natal fitness specialist. If a yoga instructor is a very practised Yogi then the poses might be too strenuous and it can become risky. Listen to your body and obey it’s limitations, and if you are in any doubt then perhaps try an in-person class where your instructor can modify poses for you and keep an eye on any risk factors.
What time of day is best? - choose a class that works for your time of day - if you are exhausted after work, try and find a weekend session that works for your schedule so you can get the most our of the class. As much as the class should be restful, you don’t want to fall sleep after a long day at work!
What to expect - most instructors will include a number of different props - blocks, bolsters or pillows, straps, and blankets are common props to ensure Mom reaches her ultimate comfort level!
Can beginners do Prenatal Yoga? Absolutely - most ladies coming to Prenatal Yoga are Yoga beginners so this is never an issue. this is where many ladies find their first connection to Yoga, as Prenatal is such an addictive session.
Will I have to work hard and get sweaty? No, Prenatal classes should not be strenuous - the poses are modified and gentle; while you might feel some post-class stretching in your legs or or hips you should not be exerting yourself or moving too quickly.
Sinead O’Connor is a Yoga Instructor RYT-200, RPYT-85 Hour working and living in SE Calgary, and the owner of Kula Mama Yoga.