Even for the easiest of pregnancies, preparing for a baby can be stressful. For new moms-to-be the plethora of information about prenatal health to infant care is exhausting. And no matter what child you are on, thinking about how a new baby will affect the family dynamics, weighing child care options, considering the financial impact and listening to all the unsolicited (yet usually well meaning) advice from family, friends and often times strangers can be insufferable. *INHALE* *EXHALE*
Stress provokes the body's sympathetic nervous system causing the body to release adrenaline to defend itself, triggering the “fight or flight” response. The reaction is automatic, meaning your body can’t differentiate between your mother-in-law’s rude comment about your favorite baby name and being chased by a tiger (hold the comments). While a rush of adrenaline is really helpful if you are actually getting chased by a tiger, it is bit excessive for most of our modern-day stresses. Pregnancy is a time to be even more conscious of what triggers your stress because stressful mom equals stressed baby.
Yoga is so unique from other activities or “workouts”, because it uses the connection of movement and breath to create a bridge to the parasympathetic nervous system. When our bodies are governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, we are in a state of rest, digest and rejuvenation (perfect for growing a little human inside you)! If you ever wonder why your yoga friends always seem so “zen” or what is really behind the post-class “yoga-high”, it's because when your body feels it is in a safe space, it can relax. In a prenatal yoga class you learn how to bring awareness to your breath, even in enduring poses as a way to “train” your mind to have a softer response to stress.
2. Strengthen Your Body
People usually associate yoga with flexibility, but building strength is also a part of the equation. When out of balance, flexibility becomes instability and strength becomes tension. During pregnancy, nature is already doing all the work to increase your flexibility via hormones, to prepare your body for childbirth. In fact, because you’ll be more flexible than pre-pregnancy, your chances of injuring yourself from over-stretching increase. When you come to prenatal yoga, more emphasis should be placed on building strength.
Labor and delivery can be like a marathon (from what I hear, I’m still a few months away from having my first). A prenatal yoga class can serve as a low-impact (but highly effective) routine to build up your strength and endurance in preparation of the big day. Powerful standing poses that engage your legs and pelvic floor will create more stability throughout your pregnancy and poses that target your lower back, obliques and transverse abdominis will help against low back pain caused by the shifting the center of gravity as the baby bump gets bigger.
3. Tap Into Your Inner Warrior Goddess
You are growing another human. Do you realize how AMAZING you and your body are? Even if you’ve experienced awful morning sickness, persistent aches and pains, insomnia or fatigue, your body is still working, not only to support all of your essential bodily functions, but also your baby’s. It’s performing twice the amount of work, and you’re still standing! What better time in your life to recognize and celebrate your power.
My favorite poses right now in my pregnancy are virabhadrasana ii and utkata konasana. When I am in a strong and stable Warrior II, I embrace the winning spirit of a warrior queen, courageously ready to face labor and delivery. In Goddess, I envision myself as a conduit between heaven and earth, manifesting a conscious being into existence. A yoga practice can give you space to connect with the strong and powerful woman inside of you.
You may have noticed throughout your pregnancy you’ve begun to develop that “mothers’ intuition”. If you haven’t, or are looking to cultivate that even further, a yoga practice is an incredible way to bring us in touch with our inner wisdom. Just as intentional breathing can stimulate relaxation, it can also help anchor you in the present moment. Mindful breathing will help you focus your awareness to what your body is telling you, whether it is to pause in child’s pose or to move deeper into a particular stretch.
4. Take Time For Yourself
So maybe the metaphor of “putting the breathing mask on yourself before assisting others” is a bit overused and cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The nurturer in us devotes a lot of our energy towards our baby, family and others. While this act is out of love and very admirable, it can become self sacrificial (in a not-so-good way). If we want to give the best of ourselves to others, especially our children, we need to make sure we are cared for as well!
If you weren’t already in the habit of a self-care routine before your pregnancy, what better time to start than now? You’ll need it, but you also deserve it. Your life may already seem busy (especially preparing for your baby’s arrival), but try to carve out time for yourself whether its with a prenatal massage, a restoring acupuncture session, a night out with friends or a yoga class!
When you come to yoga, regardless of how many others are also in the studio, it’s really about YOU. As an instructor, I guide my students through particular poses, but the sequence is to create boundaries for you to have your own experience. Use this space to connect to the present and tune into your own thoughts and feelings. One of the most rewarding and luxuriating times in a class is at the very end in restful savasana. It’s amazing how even a few minutes in a resting pose at the end of an invigorating class can be so restorative.
5. Deepen Your Practice
I found out I was pregnant halfway through my yoga teacher training, which meant I had to take a different approach to the asanas (poses). Many poses are contraindicated (not safe) during pregnancy. (I guess it wasn’t going to be the year I mastered pincha mayurasana or advanced arm balances). What you should and shouldn’t do in yoga when pregnant varies ALOT, not only by which trimester you are in, but also by the individual practitioner. However, no matter who you are, you will have to eventually make some modifications at some point in your pregnancy.
If you already have a regular or advanced yoga practice, stepping out of your favorite Power Flow class in exchange for a prenatal class may be hard to muster. I’d like to remind my fellow practitioners that just because a prenatal class takes a more “gentle” approach, and includes familiar poses that you think you’ve already “mastered”, it doesn’t mean the class can’t be challenging.
Advanced yoga isn’t about doing the most complicated variation of a pose; it's about learning how to be a mindful, discerning practitioner. Have you been mindlessly flowing through your chatturangas? Have you learned to still the mind in down dog? Advanced yoga is like the difference between moving into crow pose to face a fear versus forcing the pose because the ego wants to obtain a certain outcome. It’s the difference between coming to rest in child’s pose because you are afraid of challenging yourself in a pose versus because your body needs time to rest and restore. Yoga practice is about our intentions and how we engage with a pose. As the pregnant body grows and changes, we can create new relationships to familiar poses for a more embodied yoga. If you see yourself as a high-octane yogi, you know, the one that NEVER misses a vinyasa or passes on a chance for an inversion, it may be a sign you need to switch things up.
If you are interested in taking a prenatal class with Lauren, please find more information here
This post's photography was provided by Derek Matias Photography