I firmly believe in the benefits of prenatal yoga, both as a yoga instructor, and as a mom to be.
In most 200-hour yoga instructor certification programs, a portion of the curriculum is dedicated to prenatal yoga. As such, I had some knowledge of modifying my regular yoga classes to suit pregnant women. It was not until I had the opportunity to complete my specialized prenatal yoga training, and take other intensive courses of prenatal yoga study, that I began to realize how wonderful and important a prenatal yoga practice is for women during their pregnancy.
The great thing about yoga is that since there are so many variations of the practice, there is something for everyone, no matter where they are in their lives. I have seen my own personal practice fluctuate between adventurous and powerful to meditative and therapeutic, quite often in the same week! Prenatal yoga has become a new and welcome addition to my repertoire. Before having the opportunity to study prenatal yoga in depth, I assumed I would continue a modified version of my regular yoga practice during my pregnancy, omitting the poses I knew to be unsuitable and taking the appropriate precautions. Although I have enjoyed non-prenatal classes over the past eight months or so, it is prenatal yoga that has become my focus. I can truly say that my own experience of what I believe to be a joyful pregnancy has been largely due to this shift.
Prenatal yoga not only provides moms with the tools to move through the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy, but it can also help them to prepare them for labour and the birth of their babies.
Just as in a regular yoga practice, breath is very important. Although most types of advanced pranayama (breathwork) are unsuitable for pregnant women, being able to control and focus on the breath is particularly helpful throughout the entire experience.
Deep breathing helps with relaxation, which is useful at this time, as pregnancy can bring with it new stresses as well as new joys. A combination of breathwork and guided relaxation techniques are a medically-supported alternative for pain management during labour and birth. These techniques can be taught and practiced in a prenatal yoga session.
Prenatal yoga teaches women to feel capable and powerful, as it strengthens the body through various poses and stretches. Focus is often on strengthening the lower body through squatting (sometimes holding a squat for up to a minute, the average length of a contraction!), and other strong poses like Warriors. The core is safely targeted, as well as the upper body. While lower body strength will be necessary for the labour and birth, upper body strength will be needed post-delivery for picking up and carrying baby!
Moms will learn deep stretches to soothe the body as it compensates for a growing belly. Shoulders will be softened and relaxed, lower backs massaged and released. A lot of emphasis is placed on opening up the hips and strengthening the pelvic floor. A prenatal yoga class will spend significantly more time on these areas than you might typically find in a regular yoga session.
Prenatal yoga also teaches baby awareness. Especially for women having their first baby, the concept of being pregnant can be a difficult adjustment. In a prenatal yoga class, moms are directed to communicate with their babies, to share breath and movement with them. It is a beautiful time to bond!
Practicing prenatal yoga throughout the course of pregnancy empowers women as they approach their births and labours. It teaches them to trust in their body's natural abilities and to know that they are strong enough to birth their babies.