14 Jan The benefits of prenatal yoga
by Sally Parkes
Pregnancy and childbirth is the largest emotional and physical change that a woman’s body will undergo in her lifetime. It’s a time when we become far more aware of the workings of our body and a time when women need to be even gentler with themselves especially if juggling work and home life due to the extra stress.
It’s now widely recognised that there are many benefits if you can move freely during the labour. Upright positions can help to reduce discomfort and help your contractions be more effective. These positions also increase the blood supply, benefiting the baby. The downward pull of gravity when in a squat or wide leg pelvic position makes for an easier and faster delivery. The challenge for you in the months leading up to the birth, is gaining and maintaining the physical strength and stamina to adopt and hold these positions. This is where the practice of appropriate yoga asana is very beneficial.
As the baby grows in the womb, the extra weight results in an altered centre of gravity and also affects your posture; these changes can lead to a variety of aches and pains in the lower back and pelvic region. My advice during this time is to maintain a regular practice of gentle Hatha Yoga in conjunction with breathing exercises to help balance your body and mind. The holistic approach of yoga can also help bring about balance of your ever changing hormonal system during pregnancy as well as reducing common ailments including morning sickness, heartburn, slower digestion, fluid retention and muscle cramps.
Beginning to practice
It is useful to remember that when beginning the practice of, or teaching prenatal yoga, every pregnancy is different and so what may suit one mother may not suit another. Very flexible practitioners need to be aware of overstretching, a hormone called relaxin is produced during pregnancy which helps the body to stretch and allows room for the baby, but this can also leave the joints more prone to injury. Because of this, asana involving deep back bends should be avoided as the lower back is more vulnerable due to instability during pregnancy and is already slightly compressed in the lumbar region. The focus should be more on chest and shoulder opening postures as this area often carries extra tension, especially in the third trimester when the mother is more tired.
The hips and lower back also need gentle stretching to encourage healthy mobility as well as strength work to keep the joints stable. Asana to be avoided include closed twists such as Marichyasana A, B, C and D and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, as these will obviously compress the uterus and be of no benefit. Similarly, strong inversions such as Sirsasana and Pincha Mayurasana should not be included in a woman’s yoga practice during pregnancy as this puts strain on the spine, partly due to a lack of core stability and partly due the altered centre of gravity and extra body weight. Prana or ‘life force’ is also directed away from the pelvic region, when during pregnancy we should be focusing on increasing the vital energy in this area of the body, so the mother is more grounded and in tune with her ‘Kapha’ energy.
Appropriate pranayama can also be used to increase mental focus and reduce fatigue by harnessing the mother’s prana. Ujjayi breathing, also known as the ‘Victorious Breath’, is particularly useful during labour whilst Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing is useful to calm the nervous system. Breath retention and Kapalbhati pranayama should be avoided however as these are too stimulating for the mother and baby.
In addition to the physical benefits that yoga for pregnancy can give us, yoga teaches us to be strong enough to mentally ‘let go’ and encourage us to go with the flow. It helps us to realise we cannot control everything and prepares us for the unexpected, allowing us to adapt to unforeseen situations. These skills can be applied at any time of life but are especially effective during pregnancy and birth, leaving us with more space to enjoy the journey into motherhood. www.sallyparkesyoga.com
About Sally Parkes
Sally Parkes BSc, has degree in Sports and Exercise Physiology and has been teaching since 1998. She runs Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher training programs in Vinyasa, Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga in Europe and Dubai.
She has presented fun and upbeat master classes and workshops at various health and well-being conferences including The Yoga Show and YogaFest Amsterdam, and writes regular yoga related articles for Ultra Fit, Yoga Magazine, Om Magazine and Gurgle Magazine. Sally is also the author of ‘The Students Manual of Yoga Anatomy’ and a book editor for publications such as ‘The Healing Yoga Bible’.