Shortly after accepting an invitation to teach a prenatal yoga class, I myself became pregnant with baby number four. I believe nothing could have proved a more helpful teaching aid than being simultaneously pregnant along with my students.
It’s always difficult to reply in a succinct manner when people ask me the benefits of prenatal yoga, but here is my list of the main points.
- Pain vs Fear
My students usually say that their biggest fear is the actual physical pain of childbirth. Who can blame them? So we spend time in class focusing on the difference between pain and fear and trying to recognize which is which and separate the two. We focus on the yogic idea of being fully in the present and experiencing only what is currently happening – not what may or will happen in the future. We also experiment with our ability to “place” or “move” discomfort. If, for example, we do a squat with our backs to the wall and our feet hips width apart and under our knees, can we lessen the building tension in the thigh muscles by pushing our feet more firmly into the floor? What happens when we consciously lean our backs deeper into the wall? We try to explore and determine what pain we have control over and what we don’t. Sometimes simply sharing anxieties is enough to aid in their alleviation.
- Relaxing and Releasing
Interweave the fingers of both hands in front of your chest. Rotate the palms down towards the floor and away from the body until the elbows straighten and the thumbs point down. Shoulders down, chest lifted, you are now in Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana or Upward Bound Knuckle Pose. This aids in lengthening the torso and toning the arms. Now check in with your face. Is your neck or throat tight? See that your breath is not restricted by any of the tension you may have been creating. We practice poses like this one in prenatal yoga because aside from the physical benefits it is enlightening to explore relaxed isolation. When we unnecessarily activate a part of our body, we are sending energy to a place where it is wasted. We want to conserve and increase our strength so we can direct it to where it is required.
Of course, breathing is a prominent part of both yoga and childbirth. I remember being in the transition stage of labor with my first baby and knowing beyond a doubt that I was not going to survive and couldn’t do anything more. Fortunately, I had a wonderful nurse who bent low to my face and whispered, “stay with your breath”. There on the birthing table a lightbulb went off for me. That cliched sentence made perfect and total sense for the first time in my life. I immediately felt there was something left I could hang on to and I remember my breath actually tasting sweet to me. Riding the breath was a lifeline I was thrown and it empowered both my mind and body to move forward and finish my labor. In prenatal yoga, we practice two or three specific breathing techniques to assist in deepening the breath and relaxing the body through the breath.
The act of childbirth is called labor because it is a lot of work. I was floored on the birthing table by how much stamina labor demanded and just what herculean strength it required. I was aware that women pushed and the baby came out, but I don’t think I really grasped just how effortful the pushing would be. We address that in prenatal classes and incorporate poses that will help maintain and build strength in the quadriceps. There are wonderful poses to assist in widening the hips, which is helpful for labor, and poses that focus on lifting the chest in preparation for the hours of baby holding and feeding in the upcoming months and years.
I am a student of the Iyengar method of yoga which focuses on proper physical alignment as well as the use of yoga props (bolsters, blankets, chairs, etc). Experiencing a pose with the proper support can allow for deeper and healthier physical and mental benefits. This clearly lends itself well to pregnancy, where the body is continuously changing and requiring different support. Having the equipment and know-how to adapt the poses to best suit each student can provide continued comfort during the pregnancy. A prenatal yoga class provides both literal and figurative support.
One of the most beautiful aspects of a prenatal yoga class is the sense of community for the special women it attracts. It’s not uncommon for students to exchange names and numbers by the end of their first class together. They are on the same journey and find it helpful to validate their experiences and to learn how extremely different the same journey can be for others. Unfortunately, my students often say there is not much time for conversation in their prenatal doctor visits. Many students express a desire to know more, but do not have knowledge of where or how to find the information they desire. Quite frequently they don’t know what they don’t know and the community of their fellow pregnant teammates can help to empower, enlighten and inform.
I find that prenatal classes primarily attract first-time moms. Sadly, I hear moms find it difficult to take the time for themselves once they have little ones back home. There are so many demands on women (career, home, children), which is really one more reason why prenatal yoga should be an essential for them. It gives much needed permission to sit and be still. Take time. Breathe.
You may also want to read the following related post in Pregistry’s blog: Most Yoga Postures Are Safe During Pregnancy.