Pregnancy can be a wonderful time in a woman’s life. There is the excitement of starting or adding to your family, picking out potential names for the new baby, decorating his or her room and experiencing the physical changes that come with preparing the body for birth. But some of those physical changes are decidedly not fun. There is the back pain and the sciatica. And the stress of choosing names, selecting the best car seat, getting enough sleep and managing family pressure can weigh heavily on an expectant mother.
For some, yoga can offer some relief. Yoga is an ancient practice that still has a place in today’s hectic world. It is a wonderful way to ease the “not-so-exciting” times, help you maintain a happy, healthy pregnancy and prepare you for a smooth delivery. Even if you have never taken a yoga class before, pregnancy is the perfect time to start.
Yoga can play a major part in helping you enjoy the child-birth journey by providing many benefits, including:
· Body Awareness—Yoga provides quiet time for you to become better acquainted with your body. We are often so busy during the day that we don’t take the time to assess our body’s needs. During your yoga practice, you will also have time to bond with your baby.
· Elevated Moods—The coordination of movement and breathing provides a calming effect on the body. The breathing that is learned during yoga will also be helpful in times of stress and during labor.
· Posture Improvement—The body goes through countless changes during pregnancy. Even the best, ballerina-like posture can be compromised during this time. Yoga opens the chest and strengthens the back, so you can continue to have good posture or improve your current posture.
· Moral Support—If you decide to join a prenatal yoga class, you will be able to meet and bond with other mothers who can identify with exactly what you are going through. But don’t worry if you cannot find a class to join. One of the great things about yoga is that it requires very little equipment and very little space, so it can be done in your home and even in your office or in the car.
To begin, inhale deeply starting in the belly, allowing the abdomen to expand as much as it can. (This is part one.) Now allow the breath to travel up through the ribs (part two). And then let your breath move into the chest and shoulders (part three). On your exhale, bring your belly button into your spine to release all of the used air from your body. You should do this as slowly as you can to bring a calming sensation to your body.
Three-part breathing can be done anywhere and at any time you need to take a break from any stress or discomforts that you may be experiencing. It is also a good way to calm your mind before going to bed. As long as you are practicing your breathing, you are practicing yoga!
Since each pregnancy is very different, it is difficult to say which poses are the “best” or most beneficial to do. However, here are three simple poses that you can do every day to will help you to have a less pain during your pregnancy. (CLICK here to watch a slide show of these poses.)
· Cat and Cow—This pose helps to relieve lower back pain and creates flexibility in the spine. Begin on all fours, with a flat back, wrists underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips. Exhale to push the floor away with your hands, arch your back to the ceiling (cat pose) and move your pelvis back and down. Bring the belly button to the spine. Let your head hang. Inhale to lift your head and tailbone to the ceiling (cow pose). Exhale and repeat. This pose can also be done sitting in a chair or standing.
· Pigeon Pose—This helps to alleviate (or prevent) discomfort due to sciatica while opening the hips. To get into the pose, start on all fours with your knees directly below your hips, and your wrists under your shoulders. Slide your right knee toward the back of your right wrist, and bring your right shin across your body on the floor. Slide your left leg back, straightening the knee. Lower the outside of your right buttock toward the floor. Place a blanket or pillow under the right buttock to stabilize the hips. Push your fingertips firmly to the floor. Lift your torso away from the thigh. Hold the pose for as long as you feel comfortable and then switch sides.
· Chest Expansion—This pose can be done anywhere and helps to open the chest and improve posture. To begin, have a seat in a chair or in a cross-legged position on the floor. You can also do this pose standing. Clasp your hands behind your back with palms facing up. Inhale to lift your shoulders to your ears. Exhale to bring your shoulder blades back and down and expand through the chest. Hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds.
The great thing about these poses is that they can be done every day, and the more you practice them (along with your three-part breathing) the more benefit you will gain.
A note of caution: You should consult your physician before starting this or any new workout. There are also several things to avoid during pregnancy practice, known as contraindications. They include:
· Deep belly twists that compress the internal organs. It is better to twist from the shoulders instead.
· Avoid holding the breath, as this elevates the heart rate.
· Backbends that create too much pressure on the lower spine.
· Lying on the belly.
· Lying on the back for prolonged periods after the second trimester if it restricts circulation to your lower body.
· Hot yoga.
· Double leg lifts.
· Anything that does not feel good.
There are so many things to do to prepare for your new baby. One thing that you should remember to do every day, even if it is only for 10 minutes, is to take some quiet time. Yoga is a wonderful way to do that. Your body will thank you and so will your baby.
Vionna Jones is a fitness professional and owner of The Hot Mama Fitness Studio in Bethesda, Md.