Pregnancy is a natural process that we all know and recognize, yet it still takes some of us by surprise. The sickness, the lethargy- the French onion dip and ice cream- it all comes right out of left field. Any vigorous exercise we like to partake in has to be scaled down or stopped or transformed at one point or another during pregnancy. If you’re not much for exercise yoga might surprise you and turn out to be one type of exercise you might just love. Every pregnancy is different and yoga practices can be adapted to fit the needs of each individual. Regular practice of yoga breathing techniques, relaxation, meditation and gentle posture work support the mother during the stages of her pregnancy. This results in increased confidence, strength, stamina and skills to cope with the demands of labor.
Women are the co-creator in the life miracle, having a great effect on the psyche of the child. We know that your thoughts and experiences impact the baby, so you can choose to have a positive effect. Conscious pregnancy and yoga will help your body be healthy and strong, calm and focused, and open to your own inner strength and intuition to connect to and give birth to your baby in the most positive, and empowering way possible.
It’s also important to know that you need to speak with your doctor first before doing any exercises, even yoga. Be sure to tell your yoga instructor that you’re pregnant, and what trimester you’re in. She can also have great recommendations for postpartum yoga.
Anna Getty, founder of Pregnancy Awareness Month and one of LA’s most respected Kundalini-based prenatal yoga instructors told us, “I think if one likes yoga it can open awareness. It depends if yoga resonates with you. [Childbirth] it’s about stamina and strength. You need a lot of energy- especially if you are planning a natural childbirth without any drugs. A lot of women come into class are confused and are surrounded by so many people giving them advice, (often unsolicited advice,) seven months later they leave the class and they are empowered, clear and committed.”
The participation and support for prenatal yoga has been growing especially in the last fifteen years, and the long-term effects are positively astounding. Melissa Cole Essig of Asheville, N.C. started yoga in her early thirties. At forty, she began attempting to conceive, and was finally successful, twice. “I was forty when I gave birth to my first child, and had my second at forty-two. Both times I became pregnant without any medical intervention and had completely healthy and normal pregnancies without needing any special attention because of my “advanced maternal age.” I attribute my success in conceiving and carrying to yoga—my regular practice, my eating, my sleeping, the calm with which I’ve learned to approach life. In my first pregnancy, I developed my own practice; in the second I continued to take regular classes and modify as needed. I definitely drew on yoga during both births. I used meditation techniques throughout both labors and had the strength and flexibility to: 1) avoid a C-section in the first when my son got stuck in the birth canal (he was vacuum-delivered because I was able to push hard enough to allow them to grab his head); and 2) deliver a 9 pound, 6 ounce baby in a total of 3 hours of labor for the second birth. In neither birth did I tear at all. I delivered both babies with the help of midwives, as I don’t believe in the medical approach to “managing” a normal pregnancy.
Melissa tells us that her success in not tearing was mostly due to her breathing method the Ujjayi breath. “During labor it’s the kind of breathing that you are encouraged to practice in yoga- there is an audible sound of the ocean and you breathe deeply in and deeply out. When you or I can hear it, the baby can hear it as well. It has a meditative effect for you and the baby.” Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.
Yoga guarantees something other than body fitness. It guarantees a moment just for you. A moment to search into your soul for a minute, to find the fire that fuels you. Childbirth can bring about so many fears and doubts, it is important to learn how to remove yourself from your mind and to exist merely in your breath. Yoga goes beyond simply stretching or even breathing, Mellissa says, “It has empowered me and made me confident. I understood my body, both when I was trying to get pregnant and through labor and delivery. It made my body strong enough and young enough that I knew I could do this.”
The first trimester
- During the first three months of pregnancy care must be taken to allow the pregnancy to stabilize.
- Relaxation, meditation, simple breath work are recommended for this trimester especially for those new to yoga. These techniques help women to cope with the possible side effects of pregnancy e.g. tiredness, nausea.
- Women who have been practicing yoga for some time may be able to continue a normal asana practice, adapting the pace and the posture work to their needs.
The second trimester
- During the second three months, most women enjoy a new burst of energy and will find yoga postures useful to strengthen the body and improve posture and stamina. Classic yoga postures need to be adapted to avoid constricting the baby or straining the mother.
- Relaxation, visualization, meditation and simple breath work continue to be of value to conserve energy in the mother and develop the bond with the growing baby.
- During the second and the last three months of pregnancy, women practicing yoga find the need to use cushions and props to allow them to be comfortable during posture work relaxation etc.
The third trimester
- During the last trimester the pace must be gentle with emphasis on preparing for the impending birth. It is advisable for her birthing partner to work with the mother in order to know how to support her during the delivery.
- A good yoga teacher will explore positions that will help the mother ride out contractions with breathing skills that support them and make delivery easier.
Whether you choose to do yoga or not during pregnancy, there is no doubt that any form of exercise is important for a person overall well being, and as a birth doula I can guarantee you that the more you move before and during labor you’ll get a better chance at experiencing less pain. As mentioned in Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth , the most important thing to remember is that to have a sacred and wonderful experience during birth you must shift your consciousness from “Labor is happening to me” to “ My baby and I are working together to bringing a new life into this world.” Yoga can teach you how to go into a deep state of relaxation where consciousness shifts are possible.