Yoga for Pregnancy & Birth
A regular prenatal yoga practice can greatly benefit the expectant mother in a number of ways:
- Physically, a low impact yoga practice can help you stay in shape, while improving your balance and circulation. Its effects are greatest when combined with a gentle cardiovascular exercise like walking or aqua-aerobics.
- A more important, profound, and long lasting benefit of yoga is emotional. Focusing on the breath is the foundation of a true yoga practice that can help you build up strength, confidence, and a sense of calm. When breath is properly coordinated with physical yoga poses, you will be working more towards balance, optimizing the use of attention and energy to where and when your body and mind need it most.
- In addition to the physical and emotional benefits, prenatal yoga classes can benefit you socially. Taking part in classes is a great opportunity to get to know other pregnant women with whom you can exchange your ideas and concerns, becoming part of a community that can motivate you to continue practicing.
Below are some ways yoga can help you during pregnancy and birth:
PREPARING THE BREATH FOR YOUR PRACTICE
When you are settling into a prenatal yoga class, the first thing your teacher will show you is how to breathe fully. There are various yogic breathing techniques that can be safely practiced during pregnancy, but you should avoid those that require the strong use of your abdominal muscles or breath retention.
Practicing a proper breathing pattern is essential to release tension, be it emotional or physical, to reduce stress, and to prepare yourself for the later stages of labor and childbirth. It also helps to remove toxins and waste effectively from your body.
You need to find a comfortable seated position to practice breathing exercises, cross-legged, sitting on a block or on a blanket. The Virasana-Hero pose on blocks or a bolster between your legs is a great posture for this purpose (it provides the basis for a great spinal alignment, and also strengthens the thigh muscles, opens the knees and works on the ankles too).
The following are the main breathing techniques that you can practice. Unless differently stated, both inhalation and exhalation are taken through the nostrils.
- Complete breath: Take a few minutes to slow down your breath, to lengthen it and to go deeper, acknowledging both thoracic and abdominal cavities as the major areas for your inhalation and your exhalation respectively. Inhaling is an expansion that arises from your thoracic area, and exhaling a contraction that initiates from the abdominal area.
- Ujjayi Breath or "ocean breath": Bring the awareness to the passage of the breath through the throat as you reproduce a gentle sound. This is a very calming and soothing breath. Ujjayi is the breath pattern that we keep once we integrate the movement into the breath.
- Alternate nostril breath: This breathing technique focuses on alternating the inhalation and the exhalation through both nostrils. One full cycle is as follows: inhale right, exhale left, inhale left, and exhale right. Use your fingers to close the nostrils.
- Cooling breath technique: The tongue is rolled into the shape of a tube. Inhale through the tongue and exhale through the nostrils. This technique is believed to have cooling effects on the body.
- Si-Si breath: Imagine that you have a straw between your lips, and draw the breath out through the mouth with a hissing sound. The focus is on the exhalation, and it should be very relaxing.
- Bee breath: Close your ears with your thumbs, index fingers on your forehead, the remaining 3 fingers covering your eyes. Exhale through your nostrils using your throat to reproduce a buzzing sound. Take a deep breath in and repeat. This breathing exercise is very effective in quieting the mind.
YOGA POSES FOR COMMON DISCOMFORTS DURING PREGNANCY
Back ache, swollen ankles, heavy leg sensation, calf cramps, sciatica related pain, and urinary incontinence are very familiar discomforts suffered by expectant mothers during different stages of pregnancy.
Respect the different stages through which your system and body develop and modify your practice to meet your needs. The following yoga poses are a great example of exercises that can help you with the common discomforts stated above.
- Cat and Cow: Come on to the hands and knees, start from a neutral spine position. As you exhale, round the spine and as you inhale, return to your neutral position. This is a great posture to warm up your spine, to relieve back pain, and to ease shoulder and upper spine discomfort.
- Standing Warrior Poses (Warrior I and II): These poses can help strengthen your legs and joints and work to improve your balance. They are also very beneficial for backache or sciatica related pain.
- Tree pose: Balance on one standing leg and bring the sole of your other leg to your inner thigh. Place your palms together in front of your heart and draw back your shoulders. This pose helps you improve your balance and focus.
- Squatting: Use blocks to sit on or blankets to rest your heels on if you need modifications. This pose relaxes and opens the pelvis and strengthens the legs. You can practice your Kegel exercises while squatting.
- Cobbler's pose or Baddha Konasa: Come into a seated position and bring the soles of the feet together as you let your hip joints open and the knees open towards the floor. This posture is wonderful in helping you open your hips while releasing and lengthening the pelvic area.
- Pigeon pose: Rest on your hands and knees and slide one knee between your hands. Keep lengthening your back leg, squaring your hips and using blocks underneath your front hip and your back thigh to bring more space if needed. Lean your torso forward and rest your forehead in a block or in your forearms. Pigeon pose eases the discomforts in the lower back and buttocks.
- Head to Knee Pose - Janu Sirsasana: From a seated position, stretch one leg out and bring the sole of the other foot to the inner thigh. Your sitting bones will be in a diagonal line. Flex your extended leg's ankle and wrap a strap around that foot. Lean forward as far as you feel comfortable. This pose will help you with your calf cramps and it also lengthens your back muscles.
- Bridge with lower back supported on blocks: Come into a supine position, bend your legs and bring the soles of the feet hip width distance apart and as close as you can to your body. Lift your hips a little bit and place a block underneath your sacrum. You might need to readjust the block until your find a comfortable space. Relax your arms to the sides. Close your eyes and stay here for a few breaths.
Although lying on your back is not advisable for a long time after the second trimester or when the belly start to become heavy, certain supine positions can be very beneficial for your lower back. Hold them for a shorter period of time and if it does not feel right for you, do not practice them.
- Legs up the wall: Lying on your back, slowly bring your legs up the wall and bring your sitting bones as close as you can to the wall. There are different options for the legs since you can keep them stretched upward, opened wide, or positioned with the soles of the feet together and knees open to the sides. Apart from the benefits to your lower back, this pose can help you with heavy leg sensation and if you combine ankle and foot movements while you are holding the posture, it will help you ease your leg cramps and swollen ankles too.
- Special importance needs to be drawn to the kegels exercises since you want to train the muscles on the pelvic floor area. For more comprehensive information on this subject, please refer to (http://www.bumpsbabes.com/see-all-expert-questions/item/when-how-to-do-kegels).
PREPARING FOR BIRTH
Consistently practicing prenatal yoga and breathing exercises will strengthen your foundation for birth giving. You have built up strength and confidence throughout the previous months and it is now time to put your breathing techniques into practice to help you manage pain as well as fear or anxiety.
It is crucial that you do not waste too much energy in the beginning stages of labor, but rather safeguard it for the later stages when you need it most. Use the soothing breathing techniques – by paying special attention to your exhalations, the inhalations will take care of themselves. Try to remain calm, breathing in and out through your nostrils if possible. Such rhythmical breathing will help you optimize the amount of oxygen you are offering to your system.
Once the contractions arise, you may feel the need to move into a faster and shallower breath pattern. Breath out through the mouth, focus on the exhalation. Go back into a calm breath once the contraction fades away until the next one comes.
It is important to note that you should try to avoid a shift into panicked breathing at any point. While it may be difficult, remember what you have learned during yoga practice and do not let your breath go too fast or shallow (unless you are at the peak of a contraction), or you will get exhausted very quickly.
YOGA POSES TO HELP YOU LABOR
The following yoga postures may help you during the different stages of labor to alleviate the discomfort of the contractions.
From all fours
- Cat stretch. Start from a neutral position (flat back), exhale, round the spine and when you inhale come back into starting position, without arching too much your lower back. You want to encourage a forward and backward movement of your hips.
- Draw 8s. As you inhale open the chest and draw the shoulders back as you move your chest from left to right and when you exhale move your hips back from left to right.
- Move the hips side to side. Use a ball or a chair if you need support for your arms.
Draw small circles with the hips. This exercise can also be performed from standing, or on a yoga or exercise ball. If balance worries you, stabilize your hands and arms with the support of your partner or a bar if there is one available.
In between contractions
Come into pose of the child. Remember to take the knees wider than the belly. This pose can also be performed on the bed, using pillows to rest the chest and arms.
As you near the end
In the final stages of labor, when you want to open more space in the pelvis area, squatting is ideal, it widens the birth canal. You can go into squatting on the floor, on the bed or with the help of your partner or a bar if there is one available.
Remember to keep moving on the hips and pelvis and try different postures to see which one works better for you!
Above all, enjoy your practice. Namaste.
Please note that you should consult with your doctor before commencing an exercise program. Stop immediately if you feel pain, lightheaded or dizzy and contact your health practitioner. Bumps & Babes Co. Limited cannot be held responsible for any exercise program you undertake after reading this article.
The following Expert Answers might be of interest:
Check out our Directory & Resources for Pre & Postnatal Yoga classes in your area.