by Suzanne Swan
Knowing that you are going to have a baby is a great joy. However this joy is often accompanied by the discomforts of morning sickness, emotional ups and downs and apprehension about the impending labour. Obstetricians and midwives recommend yoga to pregnant women to help promote a healthier, happier pregnancy. They notice that those women who have practised pre natal yoga throughout their pregnancy cope better with the challenges of labour.
The mental and physical benefits to be gained from yoga during pregnancy cannot be overestimated. It promotes general body flexibility and strength and improves circulation. Along with these obvious physical benefits the deeper sense of relaxation and release of stress achieved through specific breathing techniques benefit both mother and unborn child. A regular practice assists women in achieving a more positive experience of pregnancy and birth.
In our yogababy pre natal yoga classes the unborn child is included in the postures and breathing exercises. The practices of meditation, breathing exercises, gentle yoga postures (asanas) and the development of right thinking are all designed to increase and balance the positive benefits of hormones present during pregnancy and labour, making it safer for both you and your baby.
During pregnancy the hormone relaxin is released to allow the pelvis to open wider for childbirth. Therefore it is important to focus on strengthening and avoid over stretching. It is recommended that women avoid vigorous activity during the 11th to 14th week of the pregnancy and always check with their doctors before embarking on a new exercise regime. If you have not done yoga before becoming pregnant you should attend special prenatal classes like the ones offered at yogababy.
As one student from the yogababy classes explained, "For me the prenatal classes were a good balance of relaxation, stretching and challenging the body, breathing and connecting with the baby. They opened and stimulate my mind and body on a mental and physical level."
A gentle yoga for pregnancy class should include:
• Postures that align the spine to make room for the baby and help position the baby for birth. The posture is then corrected and breathing improves. For example the cat posture brings awareness of the pelvic bones and the pelvic floor tissues, increases the flexibility of the spine and strengthens the abdomen.
Cat Posture – Kneel on all fours with the knees apart, directly underneath the hips and the hands directly underneath the shoulders. As you inhale, look between your hands and extend the tailbone behind you flattening the back. As you exhale, tilt the chin to the chest and round the back as you pull the navel towards the spine. Lifting your baby. Make the breathing slow and smooth, in time with the your body movements. Repeat 15 times.
• Standing postures like the horse posture to strengthen the legs and back, helping bring awareness of how to carry the baby in the pregnancy and keep muscles strong to provide support after birth.
Horse Posture – Stand with your feet about a metre apart and bend your knees, tucking your tailbone under to maintain a straight spine. Take your weight downwards through your legs. Press your palms firmly together at throat height with your elbows out to the side. Engage your buttock muscles and hold the posture for between 1 – 3 mins.
• Postures that develop an awareness of the structure of the pelvis that assist in releasing deep aches during pregnancy. For example, the squat posture relaxes the lower back and opens the pelvic bones in preparation for birth. It also encourages labour.
Squat Posture – Stand with feet wider than hip width apart and slowly move down on your haunches. If you cannot get your feet flat on the floor, place a rolled up blanket/towel under the heels for balance or sit on a small stool. This posture is to be avoided if you are experiencing pubic pain, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, knee pain or your baby is in a breech position. Instead you can do a supported squat against a wall. Stay for as long is comfortable. Practise pelvic floor squeezes and releases.
• Practices that use gravity and the concept of yielding to enhance the ability to deeply relax and surrender to the changes in pregnancy and birth. For example, the butterfly posture which stretches the pelvic bones and increases circulation into the pelvic tissues. Practised with abdominal breathing it helps reduce labour pain in early labour.
Butterfy Posture – Bring the soles of both feet together in front of the body with both knees apart (use pillows to support outer thighs). Straighten the spine (use a wall if necessary). Breathe slowly and deeply, using the breath to relax the abdominal and buttock muscles. Stay from 3-5 mins.
• Practices that bring attention to the knowledge that the baby experiences life via the feelings and thoughts of the mother. It's as if the baby is eavesdropping on life outside the womb. This awareness of the important role that the mother's actions play upon the child’s developing consciousness encourages the choice of rewarding and healthy activities. For example, the Golden Thread Breath practice assists in the development of tranquillity and contentment.
The Golden Thread Breath involves sitting in any comfortable cross-legged position, inhaling gently through the nostrils, and gently exhaling through slightly parted lips. Imagine you are blowing out a fine golden thread. Relaxing on the exhalation. Each time you inhale breathe oxygen and energy into your body and baby. Experience the breath flowing in and out, breathe in vital energy and breathe out healing energy to your baby.
During pregnancy, there is an added incentive to develop calmness and contentment – you are calm for two. The peace of heart experienced by the pregnant woman is also felt by her baby. It is not only essential to develop strength and stamina for labour, but beyond. It is also important to be happy and healthy while 'with child'.
"I found the classes to be my little oasis of peace in otherwise very hectic weeks while I was working" reported a regular yogababy student.
Yoga gives much attention to the cultivation of positive emotions through exercises that specifically work with the heart. The quietness of the mind allows you to become more sensitive to your unborn child. This heightened sense of well-being and connection between mother and baby facilitates the best possible experience of pregnancy and birth for both.
"Attending pregnancy yoga classes helps women come together to explore and celebrate the joys and challenges of this precious time in their lives, in a safe and comfortable environment" says yogababy teacher, Suzanne Swan. "Women find a lot of comfort in each others encouragement and many friendships are formed at class".
Suzanne Swan's Biography
Suzanne Swan has been teaching prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga since 1999. She began her yoga studies during the pregnancy of her first child and was inspired by the positive benefits yoga had on her birth and postnatally. She is the Director of yogababy, yoga teacher and birth educator.