Discover the Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Nine years ago, when I discovered I was pregnant for the first time, I joined a prenatal yoga class in Los Angeles. A friend recommended the teacher, a certified prenatal instructor named Rocki, and I walked into her yoga studio the very first day with much trepidation. After that first class, I was hooked. It wasn’t just the breathing, stretching and relaxation techniques — it was the chance to share this miracle with other women, in varying stages of their pregnancies. It was the connection I felt with the life inside me. And it was the nurtuing love and calm expressed by the instructor through yoga practice. That class instilled in me, a love for yoga that continues today — well beyond my child-bearing years.
Yoga is more popular than ever and for expectant moms it can be an ideal way to stay in shape and prepare for labor and delivery. It would be unfair to call yoga a trend, since this ancient practice, known to have restorative and healing properties, dates back to 3000 B.C. The benefits of prenatal yoga include toning muscles and increasing flexibility, balance and circulation minus the high impact and presenting little risk of injury when practiced mindfully.
Alyson Faber, director of Empower Yoga & Fitness in Matthews says, “Most women who join a prenatal yoga class are unsure about how their bodies and minds will react to pregnancy. As their bodies change and the baby grows within them, there is a wide range of reactions that take place. Yoga’s foundation in the breath and movement helps new moms calm their minds, strengthen their bodies and feed their emotions with positive thought patterning.”
Finding a Yoga Class
For first-time moms interested in practicing yoga, the task of finding a prenatal class can be daunting and the proposition of joining a new yoga class, overwhelming. Don’t let this discourage you. You don’t need to be a fitness buff or yoga expert. All you need to get started is to show up.
Susan Farnick, a certified prenatal/postnatal instructor at Yoga One and owner of Charlotte Prenatal, a company that brings prenatal workshops and classes to various locations in Charlotte says, “I tell people if you show up and you’re breathing, you’re a qualified student. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting there.”
A good prenatal class will focus on maternity-appropriate poses (asanas) and practices to keep you and your baby safe. And you’ll meet some other moms to share your progress.
Here are some tips for finding the right place to express your inner yogi-mama:
• Research all the options. Visit yogafinder.com to browse through the many yoga studios in the Charlotte area. Also check non-traditional locations. The YMCA branches offer many prenatal yoga options, some churches sponsor classes and baby boutiques such as Baby Elan and Destination Maternity, often offer classes. Some talented yoga instructors are independent, teaching at multiple locations.
• Visit the studio and ask for a free demo class, or just ask to observe a class.
• Ask the instructor or studio for references, specifically students who went through the prenatal program.
• Find a prenatal yoga class where instructors are educated in prenatal yoga or, better yet, are certified in pre/postnatal instruction by a yoga alliance.
• Always consult with your doctor first, when starting an exercise program during pregnancy.
“A great prenatal yoga class gives students new tools to work with throughout their pregnancy and prepares them for labor and delivery. Yoga also allows the union of the mind, body and spirit through breath and movement.” Faber adds.
“The No. 1 benefit I see in prenatal yoga is community,” explains Farnick. “Women stay connected with us long after their babies are born. And the most healing and transforming thing I’ve seen as a teacher has been the really supportive network of women going through the exact same thing.”
Joining a class is a great way for expectant moms to meet others. Moms in prenatal yoga form a common bond. The class becomes a place to share joys, concerns and discomforts. “Being in a community yoga class can help give her (a new mom) a sense of community and a public forum to express herself,” says Faber.
Relax and say Ommm
“The calming and soothing effects of yogic breathing bring a sense of peace and tranquility,” Faber says. “The yoga postures allow a pregnant woman’s body to become more prepared for having a baby.”
High on the list of benefits is stress reduction and relaxation through breathing. Yoga teaches a deep calming through controlled breathing that may help first-time moms overcome the fear and anxiety of the delivery room. It’s the breathing exercises and slowing down of the mind.
For many women during maternity, it’s anticipation that creates stress. “The stress I see the most is in first-time moms. It’s the anxiety of the high expectations of motherhood. Some women are already planning for college,” says Farnick. “I tell them to slow down. Be in the moment. Pregnancy is about restoration, reflection and nurturing the body inside. It’s OK to come to a class and take it easy.”
Savasana, the final resting pose that signals the conclusion of most yoga classes, is an example of relaxing and letting go. It is a quiet moment of complete relaxation that borders on sublime for many women (pregnant or not) in today’s busy world.
My Aching Back
The positive effects of yoga go beyond relaxation; yoga actually offers relief from the common discomforts that accompany pregnancies. Backaches and sciatica are often reduced as a result of common yoga poses that stretch muscles and tissue in the lower back, hips and hamstrings. And the focus on lengthening the spine and creating fluidity in movement, many times, will provide relief to muscles strained from the burden of extra weight and a woman’s changing body.
“I inspire women to embrace their pregnancies through love, light and humor,” says Farnick. “And [prenatal yoga] offers tools and techniques that have been proven to alleviate common discomforts associated with pregnancy.”
The Finish Line
Instructors and students claim prenatal yoga is instrumental in preparing women for the physical demands of labor and delivery. Farnick explains how yoga addresses effective breathing techniques (called pranayama) that help in those final moments to connect women to their bodies. These techniques, like the simple “alternate nostril breathing,” offer added benefits of restoring balance, relieving mood swings, reducing anxiety and helping remedy sleep disorders, all common complaints during pregnancies.
But there is more to the story.
“In her physical body, a mom who practices yoga is more aware. Her hips are more open and legs are stronger, making baby’s descent easier and more fluid. Her breath is attuned to her body so that contractions become less frantic and more relaxed,” says Faber.
There are many good reasons to consider whether a prenatal yoga practice may be right for you. The recurrent themes are connect, relax and prepare. As Faber explains, “Prenatal yoga has helped many women through the physical and emotional challenges of having a baby.”
Eve White is the editor of Charlotte Parent Magazine.