What do you think of when you hear the word yoga? An aged Indian man performing body contorting poses while chanting? Thin, muscular yogis in amazingly complicated asanas while sweating profusely in a Bikram class?
For many of us in the West, yoga has come to mean something that isn’t attainable in the everyday dance of life. But the fact is, prenatal and postnatal yoga can be great for helping you during your transition into motherhood.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal recovery are taxing on a woman’s emotional, mental, and physical health. Gentle stretching and breathing exercises performed during yoga can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, therefore causing a relaxation response in the body. Poses with a focus on the breath also create the feeling of looking within, which allows the digestion of difficult emotions and stress. And nothing spells stress on the body and mind like birthing a tiny human.
Common symptoms. Uncommon relief.
Of course, there are other fun parts of pregnancy besides the childbirth. These can include physical discomforts such as low back pain, sciatica, carpel tunnel syndrome, aches and pains, nausea, fatigue, and many more. Once again, yoga can be a great tool in easing these more common symptoms. Stretches can lengthen muscles, reduce tension, and cause an increase of blood flow to achy places in the body.
Yoga has also been shown to provide relief in childbirth, as stretching and strengthening of the muscles and joints can help the baby work its way through the birth canal. Breathwork performed during a yoga class can help to increase a woman’s ability to breathe deeply during both pregnancy and childbirth, increasing the relaxation response and decreasing a woman’s pain levels.
It’s best to search for a yoga class specific to pregnancy, but if you don’t have many options and must attend a general class, make sure you follow a few guidelines. Don’t perform any deep twists or lie on your belly or back. Also, make sure you are gentle in how deep you perform your poses, as your ligaments and joints are more prone to injury during pregnancy and postpartum. Deep forward folds or inversions should also be avoided. Online options abound, so if you feel comfortable practicing at home, this is another option.
Yoga benefits for new mothers
The many benefits of yoga can follow a woman into the postnatal recovery period. Sore and enlarged breasts, lack of sleep, bleeding, possible recovery from abdominal surgery, an increase of demands with a new infant, and postpartum mood swings are all part of the fun cocktail of recovery. Postnatal yoga and “Baby and Me” yoga classes focus on this experience and help to create a community for women recovering from childbirth. The community aspect is actually one of the best parts of these classes, as isolation can feel overwhelming to new mothers.
Postpartum classes also focus on healing the body with gentle strengthening exercises. If you can’t find a postnatal yoga class in your area, there are online options available, including free videos and tutorials for new mothers.
Yoga is defined as the union of body and mind. The truly feminine form of yoga resides deeply in the trenches of motherhood. Whether you are growing a baby or caring for one outside of your body, you are involved in a deep form of yoga. Add in breathwork and postures that can help to keep your body healthy and whole, and you have the ingredients for an easier pregnancy or postpartum recovery.