“You shouldn’t do twists anymore, you could cut off the blood supply to your baby.”
I was about eight months pregnant with my first child and taking my regular vinyasa yoga class that I had taken for years. I was in the middle a modified parivrtta parsvakonasana, twisting side angle, when the teacher announced that I was suffocating my child.
Should I not twist at all? Is there another way to do this?
She didn’t explain and continued teaching. It seemed like the 20+ people slowly turned their drishti gaze in my direction. That was my last vinyasa class of my pregnancy.
The yoga instructor had increasingly become concerned about my burgeoning belly in her class and started making it a habit to call out, “And if you are pregnant you shouldn’t be on your belly (or back or have your legs up or do core work).” I was clearly the only pregnant chick in class and I was mortified of being called out again.
I felt like I was not welcome there anymore and noticed that I started to overexert myself again and again to try to prove that I was feeling great and I could still continue to take this vinyasa class.
I decided to seek out a prenatal yoga class, which was a blow to my self-esteem. I was a former athlete who had continued to stay active with yoga and workouts and a prenatal yoga class seemed like I was giving up and sitting around with a bunch of inactive pregnant women complaining about their pregnancy.
But, I was wrong.
I did not realize how much I was able to relax and not try to prove anything to anyone. There was the option of doing regular poses but I chose to use the props and modifications to help me in the poses and just let go and feel good. It encouraged strength building, stretching, mental centering and focused breathing all specifically tailored for me—a pregnant mom-to-be.
I learned the importance of breathing to relieve stress and anxiety, which led me to check into how I felt and how that correlated to the health of my baby. It helped me prepare for labor and promoted the health of my baby by creating a bond between us.
One of the biggest surprises was the feeling of being supported. I was the first of my friends and family to become pregnant and I had moved away from my hometown. Being in this prenatal class helped me find a community. It was nice to know other women were going through the same feelings or discomforts.
After the birth of my daughter, I wanted to bring this same sense of support, information and relaxation to other pregnant women. So, I became a prenatal yoga teacher.
Prenatal yoga has increased in popularity in the seven years since I began teaching both prenatal and vinyasa yoga. I would have thought that the majority of women would have taken advantage of this mind/body connection during this special time in their lives. It still astounds me that I encounter many women with various reasons why they do not need to take prenatal yoga classes:
“I’m still taking my regular yoga/workout classes.”
“We’re already taking some childbirth classes.”
“I’ve already given birth before, so I already know what to expect.”
And my personal favorite excuse:
“I am having a c-section (or getting an epidural) so I don’t need to take prenatal yoga.”
Whether you are an experienced yoga practitioner-or have never stepped foot into a yoga class- prenatal yoga is open and accessible for all pregnant ladies.
No matter how early or far into your pregnancy, there are still lots of benefits to be reaped from a prenatal class that you can apply to your pregnancy and subsequent labor and delivery. I encourage all pregnant women to continue their regular workout activities that feel good to them but also to try and incorporate a prenatal yoga class as well and here’s why:
This is so important to build a bond with other women who understand what it is like to be pregnant right now. There is lots of information sharing and I was almost giddy with relief as I realized other moms are going through the same feelings and discomforts that I was experiencing. Especially in this age where women are not around family and friends as much and therefore do not get that tribal support, a prenatal yoga class is a great time to bond and support with other expecting mothers.
There are poses that address common ailments of pregnancy, like relieving low back and shoulder pain. There are various modifications that can be addressed for each individual body type and ailment.
I embraced these modified poses for twists or options to avoid being on your belly and felt more confidence when taking regular yoga or workout classes because I knew I had safe options and I did not feel out of place or worried if I was bringing harm to my baby.
I tried out a prenatal yoga DVD in my first trimester and decided since it was so easy and I need to continue my regular vinyasa practice. I tried the same dvd in my third trimester and had to double check if it was the same dvd. It felt like a totally different workout- I broke a sweat and had to take break! Prenatal yoga classes continue to work on arm and leg strength but they also help to build a better sense of balance and posture by working on strength from the foundation up.
Simple balance poses strengthen ankles, knees and hips. Modified pushups, squats and lunges promote strong trans-abdominal core strength which then helps to facilitate a better posture.
Preparation for Childbirth
Childbirth requires a woman to be incredibly strong while also being incredibly relaxed. Prenatal yoga teaches a woman to be physically strong and holding a pose like Goddess- or even Pigeon- while also relaxing and surrendering into the moment.
But what if you are planning to have a c-section or know you want an epidural? Guess what? Childbirth does not always go as planned. You may go into labor before your scheduled c-section or an epidural may not completely numb you. A good prenatal class will have given you options for breathing, laboring, and giving you various coping methods.
I never really knew the importance of the breath until I was pregnant. There are numerous studies about the negative effects the baby faces while in utero when the mother is constantly stressed or anxious.
Deep, cleansing breaths help to counteract stress and help regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Subsequently, I never really knew the importance of the breath until I was in labor. You have a small amount of time in between the intensely mind blowing “waves of labor” (contractions). You have to harness and control your breathing as quickly as possible to help calm both you and your baby down and to replenish your body and brain with oxygen to then get ready for the next wave.
I tell my mothers-to-be that there are two things they have control over despite anything that comes up in labor and delivery- your breath and your attitude. Those two things go hand in hand.
You are learning, week-by-week, about your changing body. In a prenatal yoga class you see the various stages of pregnancy and body types. Seeing all of these different bodies and bellies helped my body confidence because I realized even in pregnancy we are all different genetics and sizes. Own your body shape and size. Our bodies are amazing, capable of holding and supporting this precious little life inside of us. You should be proud of your body and continue to take care of yourself.
It is important to tone the pelvic floor muscles—by doing kegels—so you are aware of when you are contracting those muscles and then what it feels like to completely relax those same muscles. Having a relaxed pelvic floor allows the labor process to progress much smoother. When you strengthen the pelvic floor muscles- urinary tract, perineum and vagina- before childbirth the post-natal recovery process is shortened. The muscle memory helps bring the muscle tone back. Kegels are also highly recommended to speed recovery for c-sections.
Benefits of Meditation and Visualization
Prenatal yoga allows you a few minutes at the beginning and end of class to reset, refocus and center yourself. This promotes the chance to bond with your baby. This bonding helps increase your levels of endorphins and clear out the clutter, stress and anxiety that bogs you down. Visualizing having the best possible birth—no matter the method of delivery—helps to bring back the main focus and goal of prenatal yoga which is to ultimately have the best possible labor and to have a healthy baby and happy mother.
A mother-to-be is providing a life sustaining environment for her baby and a good prenatal yoga class provides the opportunity to nurture the nurturer.
There are so many emotions and hormones that course through our pregnant bodies and those emotions can get to be so overwhelming. A prenatal yoga class can help enhance the experience of your pregnancy- no matter if you are just out of your first trimester or just a few weeks shy of your due date.
You will learn how to tap into all of your potential and find serenity to build a deeper connection to your own body and spirit. You realize you can have a positive birthing opportunity by having the presence of mind to expect the unexpected and to be fully in the present moment for the miracle of bringing your baby in the world.
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Assistant Editor: Jen Weddle / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Darko Kovac/Pixoto