Pregnancy is a significant transition for women on many different levels. It is a time of major hormonal fluctuation that can be associated with shifts in mood, appetite, and sleep just to name a few. In addition, expectant mamas can experience uncertainty towards pregnancy and what life will look like post-childbirth.
While being healthy both mentally and physically is important to many individuals, pregnant women in particular may feel increased pressure to lead an uber clean and healthy lifestyle (if not already) given the potential for unhealthy habits to negatively impact the growing fetus. And, every pregnant woman has a unique experience that ranges from completely blissful with little to no complications, to stressful and difficult with significant pregnancy-related symptoms and complications. For these reasons, it is important for pregnant yoginis to have access to information on ways to nurture herself, and to cultivate self-love and compassion. Armed with this valuable information, women can then make informed decisions about how to best support mind and body during this pivotal time.
Yoga During Pregnancy
Yoga benefits during pregnancy overlap somewhat with the general benefits of yoga, notably with respect to stress management, improved strength and flexibility, and mood enhancement.
Scientific research on the physical benefits of yoga during pregnancy suggest that yoga can help to ease labor and back pain, preeclampsia and minimize complications during pregnancy and labor (Mindful Yoga for Psychological and Physical Distress). Anecdotally, prenatal yoga may also be helpful for relieving tension in the shoulders and neck, tightness in the hips, as well as to build stamina and strength to support pregnant women in carrying the additional weight from the growing fetus.
Physiological benefits of prenatal yoga are evidenced in breathwork, which calms the mind and nervous system through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), otherwise known as the relaxation response. The practice of deep belly breathing also helps expectant mamas to prepare for labor and childbirth. Through deep breathing and subsequent activation of the PSNS, digestion, sleep and the immune system are supported.
The Psychological Benefits of Yoga for Pregnant Women
Another important effect of prenatal yoga is evidenced in reduced maternal anxiety and depressive symptoms (Prenatal Yoga for Depression) as well as stress management.
Over the course of pregnancy, women experience significant shifts in the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone, leaving women feeling emotionally taxed. The connection of breath with movement, along with activation of the PSNS via deep breathing, helps to shift perspective and step out of negative mind states. Stepping onto the mat and moving through a practice allows us to move away from the sometimes overly critical or judgmental mind and creates an opportunity to drop into our seat of intuition.
The Advantages of Prenatal Yoga
Another amazing benefit of prenatal yoga classes is the modifications given according to each trimester and the changing body.
Specific modifications are usually provided to address each trimester and emphasize making space for the growing fetus and belly. This is especially helpful for pregnant yoginis who are just beginning to explore yoga, so perhaps do not yet have a sense for the basic asanas. Women who have an established yoga practice prior to becoming pregnant may feel that a prenatal yoga class is not challenging enough; however, it is still possible to derive benefit from a prenatal class. Prenatal yoga can vary in intensity, similar to the traditional vinyasa or power yoga classes. So, while advanced arm balances and inversions may not show up in a prenatal yoga class, other asanas that take into consideration the physical shifts in a pregnant mama’s body can be just as fulfilling. Further, even when practicing online with prenatal yoga videos, the benefits of reconnecting, slowing down, and setting intentions for mama and baby can still be experienced.