As a clinical psychologist with an interest women’s health, I am a big advocate for integrative approaches to support emotional and physical well-being in pregnant and postpartum women. Pregnancy is life-altering for women, both psychologically and physically. As we are unique individuals, pregnancy can manifest itself in a variety of ways, when it comes to the biological, psychological, and physical effects on our minds and bodies. For example, some women may not experience common symptoms of pregnancy – vomiting and extreme nausea, chronic fatigue, back pain, and swollen feet – despite the significant shift towards pregnancy hormones. I personally experienced these textbook pregnancy symptoms, and my yoga and meditation practice was a saving grace in helping me to ride the turbulent waves that came with my pregnancy. The connection to the intuitive wisdom, along with the peace and calm that washed over me post-practice, was motivation enough to step onto my mat to reap the myriad benefits yoga has to offer.
Yoga is a mindfulness-based practice that is traditionally conceptualized as a physical practice that encourages us to link breath with movement as you move through various asanas (or postures). Through this process, the student cultivates awareness of mind, body, and spirit, and for pregnant women in particular, the spirit of her baby. Stepping outside this traditional perspective, the practice of yoga (and meditation) also helps us to to step away from the mental chatter that often dictates our behaviors, creating space from often unhealthy thoughts and emotions, ultimately allowing us to engage in perspective-taking and less reactivity.
Expectant mamas experience enormous physical, emotional, and spiritual changes that prepare them to create and welcome another human being into the world. When your body is healthy, it provides a better environment for your baby to grow and develop. Physically, a prenatal yoga practice is an amazing way to stay healthy and strong, especially with significant changes to the body due to hormonal fluctuations. Yoga for pregnant women in particular can cultivate relaxation and help to prepare a mother’s body and mind for the birthing experience. As a clinician and researcher, I was well-versed in the many physical and emotional benefits of yoga during pregnancy; nevertheless, my own experience of pregnancy forced me to dig a little deeper into these benefits. Because I was over the age of 35 when I became pregnant, a traditional medical perspective would consider me to be of “advanced maternal age.” To add to this, I wanted to have a home birth with a midwife – frowned upon at my age. These two things in concert, I was told, would likely result in an unpleasant childbirth experience. My yoga (and meditation) practice was foundational during this time, as I sat with this feedback and continued to trust that voice of inner wisdom. My practice helped me to step away from preconceived notions of how the advanced maternal age population (i.e., 35+) experiences pregnancy, and to allow my pregnancy to unfold without these preconceived ideas or notions that would typically dictate my decision-making.
Yoga during pregnancy was my lifeline, as it has been during other significant transitions in my life. The beautiful thing about yoga (and meditation) is that it somehow knows exactly what you need in that moment, especially if you can let go of expectations around what your practice “should” look like. Even if you have a well-established practice prior to pregnancy, you may find that during pregnancy, asanas need to be modified to protect your growing belly, or to work with pregnancy-related discomforts such as nausea, fatigue, and back pain. There were days when I would do a more restorative/yin-style practice versus a rigorous flow practice, and times when I would primarily sit in silence, repeat a mantra, and visualize childbirth from a strong, centered self. Eventually, restorative became the dominant theme of my practice, with an intention to cultivate and nurture the intuitive wisdom that would continue to support my pregnancy and the childbirth process.
The practice of yoga during pregnancy can support expectant mamas in tuning into their bodies and trusting that intuitive wisdom. Whether it’s the physical or the emotional benefits you are deriving from your practice, work to stay open to the experience, living from a place of acceptance and nonattachment to any particular outcome.
Author: Melissa Mercedes