The benefits of prenatal yoga
Prenatal yoga classes are more popular than ever. When paired with a cardiovascular exercise such as walking, yoga can be an ideal way to stay in shape during your pregnancy. This age-old practice keeps you limber, tones your muscles, and improves your balance and circulation, with little, if any, impact on your joints.
Yoga is also beneficial because it helps you learn to breathe deeply and relax, which will come in handy as you face the physical demands of labor, birth, and motherhood. In fact, one of the first things you learn in a yoga class is how to breathe fully. The breathing technique known as ujjayi requires you to take in air slowly through your nose, filling your lungs, and exhale completely until your stomach compresses.
Learning how to do ujjayi breathing primes you for labor and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labor progress. A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and show you how to relax instead.
Along these same lines, according to a report in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, rigorous studies have found scientific proof that yoga helps the body deal with stress by slowing heart and breathing rates and lowering blood pressure — which can benefit new moms after the baby’s born, too.
The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to your physical well-being. “Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women — to become part of a community,” says Cynthea Denise, a registered nurse and prenatal yoga instructor in Oakland, California. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others like you can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.
First-trimester yoga tips
Seek out an instructor who is specifically trained in prenatal yoga, but if that’s not possible, make sure your instructor knows you’re expecting, says Denise. You probably don’t have many restrictions this early in your pregnancy, but remember to follow the rules of safe pregnancy exercise such as drinking lots of water before, during, and after exercising to keep your body hydrated.
Breathe deeply and regularly as you stretch. If you’re a pro at yoga, recognize and accept that your regular routine will require modifications as time goes on.
“Listen to your body and trust what it tells you,” says Denise. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, make an adjustment or ask your instructor to recommend an alternative position.