As doulas, we are commonly asked by clients, “What can I do to prepare myself for the birth of my baby?” Regardless of where a client is delivering her baby or with whom, many women describe their ideal birth to include being calm and relaxed, coping well with contractions and having their labour progress in an efficient manner (amongst other things). Introducing a prenatal yoga practice into your pregnancy self-care regime can help you achieve all of the above!
Yoga is a practice that focuses on bridging a connection between mind, breath and body. Prenatal yoga also shares this focus and adds the connection with baby. It is a time when a pregnant student can put all of her attention on herself, her changing body and her growing baby. For many, their prenatal practice becomes a cherished time with nothing else to focus on except these very important things.
Let’s further explore how these elements of yoga can help you in your pregnancy, labour, delivery and the transition into parenthood.
Most prenatal yoga classes begin with a short meditation, encouraging students to let go of anything from their day or week, letting go of expectations, letting go of any to-do lists or anything waiting for them after class, allowing themselves to be fully present in the moment. Students are guided into a state of deep relaxation as they inhale intention and exhale fear, feeling their bodies grow heavier, softer, more relaxed onto their mats with each breath. As students become aware of their surroundings and their physical bodies, their minds tend to become calm and quiet. This sense of calm serenity is felt by the baby growing inside, as are all of a woman’s emotions. The more the student practices creating this sense of calm and peace within her mind, the easier it will be for her to access this same state in times of stress or exertion, particularly in the labour and delivery of her baby and also in the first days and weeks as a new parent.
Every prenatal class will encourage students to become aware of their breath. Just this very simple practice of focusing on each inhale and exhale has the power to ground you, bringing you into the present moment, helping you cope with contractions one breath at a time, or life in general one breath at a time. There are many different forms of breathing that can be taught to pregnant students, all of them with the intention of bringing the student back to her breath, back to the present moment, creating something to focus on and calm her mind. Of course, the deeper and slower the breath during labour, the more oxygen-rich blood crosses the placenta and reaches baby, helping baby to cope with contractions as well.
In prenatal yoga, the focus of postures changes. The focus is not how deeply you can go into a posture. In pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is produced, making soft tissues in the body more pliable and elastic. This mean that many women will be able to stretch further and deeper than normal, with the potential risk of injury. Instead, the focus of prenatal yoga postures becomes one of strength and endurance. Students are encouraged to only give 70-80% of what they would normally. Moving your body mindfully in a prenatal yoga practice allows you to become more aware of your changing body, noticing the subtle differences occurring within from week to week. Postures are taught that can increase the diameter of the pelvic inlet, making it easier for baby to move into an optimal position before labour has even begun. There are postures to help increase the diameter of the pelvic outlet, which becomes important as baby moves through the birth canal. Many standing postures are practiced to increase strength in the body, while being mindful to avoid any extra pressure on the abdominal area, regardless of how far along in your pregnancy you are. As students hold strengthening postures, they build endurance within the muscles of the body and this endurance is essential for dealing with the physical demands of labour. Each posture allows the student an opportunity to draw her attention inward, focusing on her breath, calming her mind, strengthening her changing body.
In prenatal yoga, students are encouraged and given many opportunities to notice their growing bellies and the sensations that are created within. Many classes will guide students to place one hand on the heart, one on the belly, knowing that with each beat of the heart, baby receives everything they need. Cues are given throughout the class to remind pregnant students to “lift baby from below”, engaging the core muscles to help stabilize and support the weight of the growing baby. Most classes end with another meditation, relaxing the physical body, giving students yet another opportunity to connect with themselves, their bodies and their babies.
Edmonton and area has many wonderful yoga studios offering prenatal classes year-round. Ask your favourite doula for recommendations!