Practicing yoga during pregnancy is a wonderful way to ease the discomforts of pregnancy, prepare your body for childbirth, and bond with your baby-to-be. Prenatal yoga requires no previous yoga experience; suitable for beginners, it’s a low-impact, full-body form of exercise geared toward the changes a woman's body goes through during pregnancy. A prenatal yoga flow emphasizes yoga poses that strengthen and relax while easing pregnancy symptoms. Breathing techniques and quiet meditation also facilitate baby bonding and awareness.
A prenatal yoga practice is an empowering way to strengthen the body and prepare it for the physical demands of labor and childbirth, while calming the mind and reducing stress. Plus, it's a great way to gain friendship and support, not to mention have some time away from the demands of everyday life to be present with your growing baby. Whether you're a first-time mom or have several children already, prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga are great support systems for pregnant women.
Some benefits of prenatal yoga:
- Reduced or eliminated pregnancy discomfort and back pain
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increased energy and decreased fatigue
- Improved focus and concentration
- Stronger muscles and increased flexibility
- Improved posture
- Improved overall health and wellness
- Baby awareness and baby bonding
(Disclaimer: Be sure to speak with your doctor before practicing yoga, especially if you have any pregnancy-related health concerns such as preeclampsia, placenta previa, or gestational diabetes.)
Reduced or Eliminated Pregnancy Discomfort
While pregnancy can be a wonderful and enlightening time in a woman's life, it also has the potential to be extremely uncomfortable. Yoga's gentle movements, combined with simple breathing exercises and meditation, can help relieve many annoying pregnancy symptoms, including swelling, sciatica, nausea, constipation, varicose veins, leg cramps, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and fatigue.
The slow and smooth exercises of pregnancy yoga help to increase circulation, which reduces swelling and stimulates the digestive system. The use of props and restorative yoga poses help to deeply relax the body and mind.
Reduced Stress & Anxiety
One of the benefits of any yoga routine—not just prenatal yoga—is a calmer mind. Practicing feel-good moves and conscious breathing during a yoga workout can lead to a greater sense of awareness and peace in the present moment. Worries about the future and regrets about the past slip away more easily both on and off the yoga mat.
A group prenatal yoga class also provides community and support, which can help to ease concerns, provide perspective, and build a foundation for life-long friendships—all of which are proven stress-busters!
Increased Energy & Decreased Fatigue
By learning yoga postures and mind-body techniques, such as breathwork and meditation, moms-to-be also gain tools to help regulate their energy throughout the day. Practicing a few restorative moves before bed can alleviate physical discomfort that may be preventing deep sleep; calming the mind with meditation can subdue insomnia. Sleeping well during pregnancy is a gift that leads to increased energy overall.
Improved Focus & Concentration
Anything that requires attention and conscious involvement can be especially challenging, especially when dealing with the fuzzy-headed state known as "pregnancy brain" or "momnesia"—a common occurrence of lapsed memory and brain fog possibly brought on by increased hormone production. Lack of sleep and daytime multitasking only increase the odds of forgetting your keys, your parking space, or your middle name.
A distraction-free yoga and meditation practice can give your brain the break it needs. By focusing your awareness on your breath and your body, and moving on your mat, you can regain the ability to filter out nonessential thoughts and replace your current mode of thinking with one that's tranquil and centered.
Stronger Muscles & Increased Flexibility
It may be no surprise that yoga can help you gain physical strength and flexibility. But if you haven't had children yet, you may be shocked by how much they demand from you physically. Many prenatal yoga stretches focus on building upper-body strength—the "baby-carrying" muscles. Flexibility is vital for chasing young'uns around, but lower-body flexibility and strengthening the pelvic floor is also helpful during labor and delivery.
Just remember that yoga is not a competition; the amount of strength and flexibility you'll gain may be relative to your current level of fitness and overall health, while your neighbor's is relative to hers. So take it easy and allow yourself to enjoy whatever physical benefits you gain.
Improved Overall Health
So, you're stronger, calmer, sleeping better, and your legs are less swollen. What else can prenatal yoga do for you? Well, it may be one of your only chances to relax deeply before your child is born. Many prenatal yoga classes use restorative yoga poses to help students unwind—a practice that benefits your entire being.
Restorative yoga poses fully support the body with props such as blocks and bolsters, which allows the limbs and muscles to completely rest. This deep relaxation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our bodies' involuntary “rest and digest” responses (as opposed to the “fight or flight” stress responses of the sympathetic nervous system). Blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows, and digestion is activated. Regular and consistent stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system results in an overall state of health and well-being in the body, mind, and spirit.
Baby Awareness & Baby Bonding
The most unique aspect of prenatal yoga is the opportunity to bring greater awareness to your growing baby, bonding with your little one as he or she develops inside of you. Every prenatal yoga teacher will approach this in different ways. Some may include guided meditation, visualization, or even storytelling to help ease fears, inspire intuition, and encourage unconditional love.
As expecting moms face the unique challenges of each trimester, yoga can be an ally, gently guiding them toward labor, birth, and motherhood. The tools you gain in prenatal yoga can continue to benefit you postpartum—and will allow you to share the wonderful gift of yoga with your little one for years to come.