Many women are drawn to yoga during their pregnancy as it offers a safe and gentle way to stay fit and toned in pregnancy, while respecting the restrictions pregnancy places on your body’s ability to cope with the stresses and strains of exercise.
But pregnancy yoga offers so much more than just exercise suitable for pregnancy, and many mums discover they are reaping many more benefits than they imagined they’d gain from their yoga class.
As a pregnancy yoga and birth preparation teacher I am often asked what the benefits of pregnancy yoga are, and my eyes glaze over wondering which benefits to start with!
Here is an overview of the 5 key benefits of pregnancy yoga, particularly from a class that includes elements of birth preparation, as Birthzang’s pregnancy yoga class does each week.
1. Helps the mum’s body
A universal benefit of yoga whether it is in pregnancy or not is that it gently stretches and tones muscles. The beauty of the slow and focussed yoga postures help to increases flexibility in the body while also generating great strength. This also helps calm the body’s nervous system and improves circulation.
Practising yoga weekly, or ideally daily, in pregnancy can also help to reduce back pain experienced by many women in the later months of pregnancy, and is also really beneficial in aiding the treatment and of and ways to cope with Pelvic Girdle Pain – sadly a very common problem in pregnancy caused by the pelvic ligaments and muscles not being able to properly support the torso.
There are also a wide variety of other pregnancy-related symptoms that can be eased and improved through regular yoga practice, such as sciatica, restless legs, fatigue, indigestion and heartburn, carpel tunnel syndrome, headaches, cramp and constipation and swollen ankles.
The combination of yoga postures, deep breathing and relaxation in a pregnancy yoga class can help foster better quality sleep, and reduce insomnia – both things often experienced by women forwards the end of their pregnancies.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is to help bring balance to the body, allowing it to return to a more neutral, stress-free state.
2. Helps the mum’s mind
Yoga practice brings strength through the combination of breathing and focus. Ironically this focus on the moment, on the now, actually allows the mind to become more flexible, opening to new ideas, not least coming to terms with the changes that are happening in a pregnant women’s body, but also the changes that will happen in their life once their baby is born.
There is also some scientific evidence that regular yoga practice in pregnancy can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, through relieving tension and stress in the muscles. Postnatal depression is a common concept but many mums suffer severe anxiety in pregnancy and can feel isolated and depressed, particularly if they are suffering a lot of pregnancy symptoms and they are not enjoying the experience.
3. Helps mum & baby bonding
Pregnant women, particularly in the first 4 months, can sometimes find it hard to register that they have a baby growing inside them. If their bump is quite small, or if they have not started feeling any movements, it can be difficult to feel a sense of connection with the unborn baby. Yoga starts this conversation with their baby through bringing awareness of their body, and allowing their focus to be directed in towards their baby.
Babies also love many breathing exercises or relaxation and respond by moving around or kicking more, helping women to realise their baby is experiencing what they are experiencing.
A weekly pregnancy yoga class also offers mums a safe place to send their focus inwards with no distractions, creating a special mum and baby bonding time – something that can be hard to do in your own home as part of your busy life.
The reduction in anxiety mentioned above also has been shown to have a positive impact on the baby as well. As well as this if a mother has a good bond with her baby before birth, then the chances are it will be easier to bond after birth, reducing the possibility of postnatal depression.
4. Helps mums prepare for labour
In labour women need to be able to connect with their body, to listen to it and to allow it to guide them into making intuitive movement and positions. In our modern society, very few people are able to listen to their bodies and connect with what it is telling them and so when it comes to labour, often women simply don’t know how to do this.
Yoga encourages this dialogue with the body through focussing on a posture, through breathing into it, and finding stillness there. This opens up a wonderful conversation between the mind and body, allowing women to make friends with their subconscious, and helping them recognise the way their body is talking to them. This conversation is carried through into labour where mums bodies will often encourage them to adopt certain positions or movements that will help their baby be born based on their unique circumstances – such as baby’s position, size, etc.
Practising yoga-based birth preparation techniques – such as dynamic positions for birth that combine movement and yoga postures – helps to create intuitive muscle memory so that during labour, a mum doesn’t have to think about what position might be comfortable or how she might move, her body already has that knowledge to draw upon. This helps her to keep her rational mind at bay during labour, enabling the primitive brain to take centre stage and this has a very positive impact on birth hormones.
Pregnancy yoga also tends to be all about opening the body and so a regular practice encourages the mothers hips and pelvis to be ready to open for labour.
The breathing techniques practised in yoga help to teach mums how to breathe not just for labour, but also for life. Specific breathing techniques can be very beneficial in labour to help cope with contractions and stay focussed and grounded, but these techniques can be applied in many every day situations, helping us to find balance and peace when everything around us seems chaotic and hard to cope with.
5. Helps mums prepare for parenthood
Attending a regular pregnancy yoga class provides a safe and non-judgemental place for mums to share their experiences of pregnancy. Whether it is delighting in news of a baby’s gender or sharing scan pictures, or being able to moan about swollen feet and indigestion, having a place to vent fear, anger, anxiety and happiness is an incredibly important way for pregnant women to be able to enjoy and cope with pregnancy.
More often than not, when someone shares something, the others will nod in agreement and they realise as a group that they are not alone, and there is support for them by people who are going through exactly the same experience. I witness the power of this support every week in my classes and it delights me to see women exchanging numbers and making friends.
This support network they are creating tends to be local to them, with mums who will have babies around the same age, and lifelong friendships can be made in class.
It goes beyond the classroom
So although I have mentioned “just” 5 benefits of pregnancy yoga, the benefits stretch well outside of the classroom and into the daily bodies and minds of the mums who come.
You are never too stiff, or too inflexible, or too heavy, or too inexperienced to enjoy all of the benefits that pregnancy yoga can bring. So what is stopping you finding a class?
Birthzang runs weekly pregnancy yoga classes in Reading. For more information click here.