The benefits of yoga for pregnancy and birth are innumerable and invaluable. Even if you’ve never tried yoga, during pregnancy can be a beautiful time to dive into this practice of awareness. Make sure you find a teacher with specific prenatal training and a passion for pregnancy and birth as this will make all the difference to your experience. If you’re new to yoga, wait until you’re in the second trimester to begin.
Here’s my top reasons for the benefits of a prenatal yoga practice.
# 1 Promotes relaxation and stress management.
During yoga, which means union, or to yoke, you become conscious of and witness the breath and your bodily sensations.
You become one with what is happening within your body. This intentional awareness, integrated with breath control and techniques, encourages relaxation and is highly beneficial for modulating stress during pregnancy, and the skills learned are transferable to support you to relax during birth too.
Yoga can help birth by training your neocortex to relax. The neocortex is the part of the brain that relates to logic, intellectual activities and language. In birth, this part of the brain should be at rest so that the pituitary gland and hypothalamus (which releases oxytocin and is in charge of vital involuntary functions) can be optimally functioning. By practising yoga you may be more easily able to access this state for birth. Michel Odent, a leading French Obstetrician is an advocate for avoiding stimulation of the neocortex to allow birth to happen naturally and more easefully.
# 2 Improves general fitness and stamina.
If you do a more energizing and stronger yoga practice this will be fabulous training for your cardiovascular system and endurance. This can only be a great thing for birth which can be physically taxing and challenging, like a marathon! Being fit and healthy for birth makes the world of difference.
# 3 For emotional wellbeing.
This is connected to point 1. A yoga practice encourages you to take the time out of daily life to connect deeply with yourself, your baby, and your body. When you cultivate stillness and connection there’s a positive effect on your mood and emotional wellbeing. As you practice presence in your yoga practice the mind quietens and the stress response is reduced.
Studies have shown that yoga positively affects the vagus nerve, which in turn lowers stress.
If you are using yoga as a tool prenatally and during birth to reduce stress you’re giving your body the best chance of efficiently producing oxytocin, which can influence birth and breastfeeding.
# 4 Improved agility and flexibility and improved overall circulation and reducing fluid retention.
A regular prenatal yoga practice encourages blood circulation and helps minimise fluid retention as well as stimulating energy/chi/prana/life force via the energy pathways of the body, the meridians. This is also linked to the physicality required for birth, see point 2. When you’re in the best possible shape, you’ll be better equipped for the demands that you may need to meet in birth and will be able to recover quicker.
# 5 Deep toning of the birth muscles.
Many of the yoga postures support toning of the transverse abdominis and the muscular walls of the uterus and pelvic floor. Prenatal yoga classes should include pelvic floor exercises and awareness of not only toning those muscles but also letting down of the muscles. This awareness supports the relaxation and body awareness of the pelvis area required for birth.
# 6 Improves posture and can help alleviate back problems, or other aches and pains common in pregnancy.
The strength and flexibility focus of yoga, as well as focus on proper alignment, encourages proper posture which can be beneficial for easing discomfort and pain from all the additional mechanical stressors on your body.
Yoga will also improve balance and coordination and the intentional focus on this also encourages better posture and movement that is functionally adaptive.
# 7 Gives you tools to birth more consciously and powerfully!
Yoga is attention.
Yoga is a pathway to become attuned to ourselves, our feelings, our intuition, our body, our baby and what’s true to us. For the rites of passage that I see pregnancy and birth (and subsequently mothering) as, this attunement is really important. There’s a lot of noise out there which can railroad our innate sense of wisdom and a yoga practise can help to keep us in touch with that. This is a path to deep listening and trust of who we are.
Yoga is a container for becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Through the practise of poses (asanas) and breathing, with focus, you will become aware of what’s possible in your incredible body. This is an opportunity to observe your strength, your resilience, or, your distraction, your avoidance, and lean into those spaces, towards the discomfort. This is great training for birth, to embrace the more difficult and challenging moments that may arise with a little more ease and grace.
Yoga is also about non-attachment.
Non-attachment is a very useful thing to cultivate for birthing.
During yoga there’s a constant witnessing of the happenings of the body, spirit and mind. Yoga encourages a detached observation, without judgement or meaning to be attached to a busy monkey mind for example. This is a practise to let go of the story and the meaning and to practise ‘being’ present with what is, in a place of compassionate acceptance.
Just to be clear, when I speak about acceptance and non-attachment in this way, I’m encouraging these states in relation to your internal self and process of transformation that is happening within you during birth – not in relation to the external environment and things that may be done to you, or around you.
External factors can generally be controlled and your wishes about that stuff should be respected. The benefit of cultivating non-attachment with yoga isn’t for a blanket ‘surrender to whatever happens’ or a ‘go with the flow’ mantra. No siree! I’m all about your choices being upheld and respected, so this isn’t a suggestion to surrender and accept changes that you don’t want. Non-attachment is an invitation to enter and accept the difficult places that birth may transport you to spiritually/emotionally/psychologically, etc. By acknowledging and working with the feelings and emotions that may be stirred in you during birth in an accepting and non-judgemental way, you’re working with yourself and not resisting or against your own internal process.
Yoga has many positive qualities that can be drawn on during pregnancy to support you feeling emotionally balanced and well, that can continue to be used in an active way during birth to provide you with empowering coping options and strategies physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Photo: Ingrid Pullen Photography.