In this week’s post I have a very special guest talking about why pregnant moms should try prenatal yoga. Yoga has a world of benefits, especially for expecting moms. Learn more with the Mother Strong League’s own Yogi, Sarah Shiplett.
Sarah Shiplett is the yoga instructor who helps the members of the Mother Strong League members feel centered and renewed with her amazing on-demand classes created especially for our members. This includes Pregnancy Yoga, which I have always felt most women don’t understand how important and how much of a difference this type of yoga can bring to their physical and emotional health in such a special stage of life.
As a mother of two and a pre and postnatal certified Yoga instructor with her 500-hour yoga teacher training (which is the gold accomplishment of the yoga world), Sarah understands the struggles of motherhood, and today she is going to share with us how yoga can help expectant moms, and why pregnancy yoga is different from regular yoga.
Why pregnant moms should try prenatal yoga
Did you know that most women find yoga during pregnancy to cope with either physical discomfort or mental stressors? Yoga isn’t a one size fits all modality. Some of us find ourselves on a yoga mat to clear the chatter of the mind and learn to relax. Others find that certain poses linked with gentle movement alleviate back pain, headaches, even countering swelling, reflux hemorrhoids, and headaches. Whatever reason you are considering moving through a prenatal yoga practice, it will all be useful. The breath. The mindfulness. The movement. The stillness. At its most basic level, a yoga practice inspires mindful thoughts, diaphragmatic breath, and movement to cultivate better mobility and healing; think of it as placing your body and breath somewhere new in a special way. It is self-care. It is a connection.
There is power in tapping into these ancient templates of yogic energy while we are carrying a child. The power of breath, meditation, and movement might even become a steady practice staying with you long after the baby is born. Here are the top 5 reasons why pregnant moms should give prenatal yoga a try. Trust me, I’ve been a certified yoga teacher for almost a decade and have been using yoga and meditation as tools to assist in pregnancy, delivery, and even postpartum.
I love starting with the science to back up the benefits of a yoga practice. Let’s start with why most women find themselves in a yoga class. The number one benefit of prenatal yoga is to improve breathing.
1. Improved Respiration By Way of Mindfulness & Posture
Yoga teaches us how to manage shortness of breath during pregnancy and help ease the pain of contractions during labor.
As we approach the second trimester, the uterus has already begun to shift a woman’s center of gravity forward. The curve of the lumbar spine increases and the pelvis is anteriorly tilted. We have all of these shape changes happening as organs are being squished to make room for baby. Couple the shape change along with the respiratory and circulatory changes, a breath holding pattern will probably happen simply because the uterus’ pressure on the diaphragm will limit full lung expansion. Proper posture training will help to allow for opening of the heart and ribcage.
Let’s try it together to find a successful breath to counter a collapsed for weak breathing pattern.
Try it right now: Come to standing. We will use this posture as a self-inquiry into how the body is showing up, all of the intricacies at work to keep mom and baby safe. It’s here we take a moment to tune in.
Tap into your natural breath. We are in no hurry to get anywhere too quickly, notice how the breath moves in and moves out through the nose. Like you’re taking your own pulse, check in.
Let’s start with our base (our feet) and work our way up.
Press firmly into the ground with active feet, lifting the inner arches and root through all 4 corners of the foot.
Take the awareness to the backs of your knees. Soften your knees and engage the front of the leg, your quadriceps will start to gently fire up.
Drawing the tailbone down towards your mat, you are relieving the pelvis and the weight of your baby from your front ligaments.
Even though we can’t see them, your abdominals are at work all day long, supporting your growing baby. Lift through your core and keep abs engaged.
Upper back is strong and supportive.
Open your chest and draw your shoulders slightly back into your back pockets.
Draw chin in and lengthen the back of the neck.
Take your occipital lobes up.
Arms rest at side body or on your belly.
With this posture, start to bring an awareness to the room we are creating for our breath and for our baby simply with posture. This is a mindfulness practice you can weave into your entire day—this is posture for two (or more, for multiples!).
2. Counter Aches and Pains of Pregnancy
Yoga can help ease low back pain w core stabilizing techniques and spinal articulations. A set series of poses linked together with breath can help ease a changing body into shapes that feel good. A good prenatal yoga class will always leave room for stillness, rest and relaxation. Yoga poses can assist in relieving pressure and pain associated with carpal tunnel, headaches, muscle tenderness and joint pain. Do you have those pesky pregnancy symptoms like nausea, ankle swelling, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids? Yoga has poses for that too.
Viparita Karani, quite possibly my most favorite yoga pose ever is literally translated as legs up the wall. If you have a wall nearby, put a pillow under your hips and prop your legs up a wall. One hand to heart, one hand to belly, take 1 to 5 minutes here enjoying the fresh blood traveling to the lower extremities.
While simple alignment changes, yoga poses and mindfulness techniques may not be able to alleviate ALL the uncomfortable moments of pregnancy, yoga can put tools in your toolbelt to counter these changes to become a more mindful mama as you move through your pregnancy.
3. Prepare for the Birth Process & Recovery
Many types of births exist. The one you choose will be the right one for you and your baby. While no birth is the same, all births require the same things: flexibility & strength. Breathwork, awareness, mantras, and even pelvic floor and perineum muscle strengthening can help aid the birth process and post-partum. In yoga, we practice shapes, thoughts, stillness, even emotions on a safe space that is our yoga mat. In the practice of yoga, we are physically and mentally preparing for delivery. Mula Bandha, think bathroom muscles (pelvic floor muscles that support bladder and bowels, uterus included) is something we learn to engage, control, strengthen and release in prenatal yoga classes.
This will both help move the baby down and out for the biggest elimination of your life AND help with urinary incontinence, organ prolapse, a more toned vagina, and more postpartum. Prenatal yoga introduces different laboring positions, as many are yoga poses themselves! Prenatal yoga has even helped flip breech babies to easily move down the birth canal. A simple Cat-Cow flow can be used to move a breech baby into head-down position within a few days. *Always consult with your physician or midwife before engaging in prenatal yoga practice.
4. Mental and Emotional Benefits
Prenatal yoga is a time to teach and train the mind and body about the ins and outs of relaxation. It’s not a time to overstretch, although your ligaments with the help of the hormone called Relaxin make them the stretchiest they’ll probably ever be. No, it’s a time to move into rest and digest mode.
Evoking the parasympathetic nervous system is as follows:
- your heart rate slows down
- breathing rhythm is more natural
- able to foster a mind-body and perhaps Mother/baby connection
- feel inner peace
- find calm to experience labor with whatever type of birth you choose
Meditation, mantra, and mindfulness practices are all wonderful tools of a prenatal yoga class to help you slow down, focus fully on the present moment, and cultivate a connection with your body and your growing baby. Caveat: not all women who practice yoga while they’re pregnant feel the same connection with their babies. If that is the case, do not fret! Some feel the shift upon delivery, while others feel it upon conception or when you feel the first kick or see him the first time on the sonogram screen. All that to say, no expectations or judgments on what you are experiencing on the yoga mat while you are pregnant. Let go of what you think should be happening and enjoy right where you are. You are right where you need to be.
5. Modifications: Why They’re Needed & How to Use Them
If something hurts in your yoga practice, that is your first cue that something is not for you. A good rule of thumb, if a pose feels uncomfortable, you should modify or avoid it. Modifications can come in all forms. You can use bolsters, pillows, blankets, blocks, straps to help ease the body into shapes, always remembering our goal of comfort and relaxation.
You can also modify group yoga classes but keep in the mind the temperature of the room and your heart rate should always be top of mind.
Avoid hot rooms
In a hot room, say 90-100 degrees, you would sweat and that is your cooling mechanism. However, your baby in utero has no way of cooling himself off. Instead, opt for a warm room (around 84), a room temperature yoga studio or home practice. If you are in a cooler room, make sure to wear layers so you can comfortably heat up the body from the inside out and shed layers when you start to heat up.
Avoid Deep Twists
Deep, closed twists will compress the uterus. We typically use deep twists as a detox pose in yoga, almost like wringing out a washcloth. In prenatal yoga, we really should only be using open twists in the upper spine. Our uterus needs to stay nice, open, and safe during pregnancy. If you come across a deep twist across the midline in a group yoga class, focus on breathing space in-between each of your vertebrae first and twisting through the upper back only. A good rule of thumb: leave room for the belly to stay open! Open twists are safe and effective twists to use during pregnancy.
Avoid Belly Down Poses
Lying on the belly puts too much pressure on the abdomen and uterus. Remember, leave room for the belly to stay open! Also, it’s just really uncomfortable to be on your belly while pregnant. When in doubt: if a pose feels uncomfortable, simply avoid it.
Avoid Lying Flat On Back
Avoid poses that require lying completely flat on the back for more than a few minutes. I always have prenatal yoga students pad the hips any time they visit a supine pose. Keep it simple and use a rolled-up blanket or pillow right underneath the hips to make sure there is the proper blood flow of and to the vena cava. If the uterus puts too much pressure on the vena cava, the mom’s blood pressure will decrease and less blood will flow to the placenta.
*ICYMI: The vena cava is the largest vein in the body. It delivers deoxygenated blood to the heart.
Core work and any abdominal strengthening yoga exercises can be done on hands and knees or belly down to keep mom and baby safe with optimal blood flow. It is vital to keep strengthening the abdominals throughout the pregnancy so that as you carry and recover, core is engaged and strong. This will help everything from proper posture to minimizing mommy pooch.
Be Mindful of Overstretching
- Avoid Deep Back Bending
- Avoid Deep squatting
- Any pose that pulls or puts excessive pressure on the belly
Excessive stretching on any part of the body can cause ligament tears, pain and pressure. Think: overstretching a rubber band. At one point, the rubber band isn’t going to snap back. Avoid injury by not putting supple and overly flexible joints and ligaments in compromising positions.
A prenatal yoga class can help you move through your pregnancy a little softer, a little less in pain, and more in control with how you’re showing up both emotionally and physically. Little tools and tricks you learn along the way will help ease you into this beautiful new life stage. Approved poses, sometimes modified, are tailored to fit your pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga classes are usually heavy prop intensive classes focused on breath with shapes meant to strengthen posture, abdominals, pelvis, hips, and the SI joint. Prenatal yoga includes heart and hip openings, meditation, and of course lots and lots of relaxation.
Ready to start your own prenatal yoga journey?
When you join the Mother Strong League you get immediate access to Sarah’s classes (we have both: for expectant moms and regular yoga for those who already have kids with adequate modifications for the moms who are experiencing diastasis recti as well as pelvic floor issues) as well as access to monthly workouts to the specific stage of pregnancy (and motherhood ) you are in.
The Mother Strong League also offers Nutritional guidance with our state-of-the-art calorie and macronutrient calculator that is suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
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