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Pregnancy Yoga:The Ultimate Exercise for Pregnancy & Birth Preparation

Posted on January 26th, 2013 by | 4 views
by Patricia Grube

 

Women often wonder if they are able to continue exercise throughout their pregnancy. Provided the woman has received medical clearance from her Obstetrician or midwife, most pregnant women are able to continue some form of mild exercising up until the baby is born. According to Dr. William Sears, the best pregnancy exercises are swimming, stationary cycling, brisk walking, and low impact aerobics. Although these exercises are safe in pregnancy, please consult your doctor or midwife before you begin any exercise program.

Swimming is an excellent, all-body, activity which helps condition the heart muscle and increase oxygen intake to both mother and growing fetus. When a woman swims, belly down, throughout her pregnancy she is helping the baby obtain optimum fetal position as the heaviest part of the baby (back of the body) is encouraged by the hammock affect of this position. In addition, swimming helps to relieve back and hip pain as the weight of her growing body and baby are buoyant in the water. Stationary cycling and brisk walking are also aerobic in nature and by their very action of moving the femur bones, keeps the pelvis and hips limber in preparation for birth.

Yoga falls into the category of low impact aerobics. However, pregnancy yoga offers women more than just low impact aerobics. Yoga literally means “to yolk” and in pregnancy yoga, women learn to bring in balance their body, mind, and spirit in preparation for one of the most important transitions in her life! Her physical body will change in ways she has never experienced before. The practice of pregnancy yoga helps women assume good body alignment and awareness of the breath with the added benefit of conditioning muscles and other tissues directly involved with birth. The principles of classic yoga – a good alignment of the spine from a solid leg foundation, and relaxed stretching intensified by deep breathing involving inner muscles – form the basis of many gentle yoga practices.

Benefits of prenatal yoga include:

  • Safe physical practice during pregnancy
  • Stress release/reduction
  • Labor preparation and Pain Coping skills
  • Increased flexibility and muscle tone
  • Supports OFP
  • Soothing discomforts in pregnancy
  • Building endurance and mental focus
  • Encourages awareness for conscious pregnancy, birth and parenting
  • Provides a supportive environment with other expectant mothers

The Body:

The practice of pregnancy yoga utilizes body positioning/poses which have been credited for in helping a pregnant woman achieve optimal fetal positioning (OFP) in late pregnancy. OFP is a term coined by Jean Sutton, midwife and Pauline Sutton, childbirth educator, which suggests that a woman’s body positioning in late pregnancy can increase the likelihood that the baby will be in the most optimal position which is head down (vertex) and tummy-to-mummy (anterior). According to Jean & Scott, encouraging OFP in late pregnancy increases the likelihood of an uncomplicated, straightforward vaginal delivery.

Since pregnancy yoga is a gentle form of yoga, it is suitable for beginners.  Many of the yoga postures are already taught in childbirth education classes and In pregnancy yoga, the physical postures (asanas) taught are ones that specifically encourage OFP and labor progress. For example, tailor sitting and frog squat condition the pelvic floor and in labor can help widen the pelvis. Another lovely pose for opening the hip flexors is butterfly pose.

Dr. Elliot Berlin, prominent Chiropractor in Los Angeles who treat many pregnant women comments, "We see a substantial correlation between women with tight hip flexors and breech presentation, presumably because the tension in the muscles and tendons presses into the space where the baby's head should be." As a restorative pose, you can also practice a wide-knee child’s pose to give your body a feeling of folding at the hips and knees. In labor, child’s pose can be used to calm the mind by blocking out light and sensory overload to allow the laboring mom a feeling of privacy.

Poses like Downward Facing Dog stretches the calf and hamstring muscles to help open and release the backs of the legs and alleviate sciatica. Women often complain about knee pain in pregnancy. This is partly because the leg muscles may not be toned enough to support the extra weight and therefore the knees bear the extra weight. Standing yoga poses like Warrior I and Warrior II can help cultivate leg strength.

 Doing pelvic rocks and cat/cow tilts on all-fours helps reduce back pain in pregnancy as the weight of the baby is able to move off of the spine. The Labor Progress Handbook by Penny Simkin and Ruth Ancheta describes using the cat/cow position to help alleviate back labor caused by a baby in OP position and resolve fetal malpositions.

Finally, pregnant women also will learn how to perform Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscle reducing the likelihood of tearing.

The Mind:

Learning the art of relaxation and breathing (also known as pranayama in yoga) is also an essential component of a pregnancy yoga class. Learning to relax calms the sometimes worried mind of an expectant mother. In pregnancy yoga classes women learn the significance of Grantly Dick-Read’s Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. In labor, we understand that a woman’s ability to relax her body and mind during the process can actually reduce pain. 3 Slow and rhythmic deep yogic breathing has a way of accessing and affecting the central nervous system therefore releasing muscular tension. Even if a mother chooses to receive an epidural, analgesic drugs do not relieve neuromuscular tension. Relaxation enhances pain medications. 4 At the conclusion of yoga class, students enjoy 5 to 10 minutes of final relaxation either to soft music, breathing exercise, or visualization.

 The Spirit:

At the end of my pregnancy yoga classes, we sing a lullaby for the babies.  I encourage the mamas to connect with their unborn babies when they are in the womb. Women wrap their arms around their bellies and send love to their babies. It is not unusually for women to shed a few tears during the lullaby. Women also form new friendships which continue into the postpartum period; often delivering meals for the new mothers who have arrived back home from hospital.

Conclusion:

With all the benefits pregnancy yoga has to offer, I think many doulas, midwives, and childbirth educators agree: Pregnancy yoga is an excellent way to prepare for birth. Women who practice yoga tend to have babies in the vertex anterior position at the start of labor and spend less time in labor as a result of their strong mind/body connection. It is more than their physical conditioning and preparation for birth that makes a difference.  These women have great body awareness and are able to relax their strong bodies when labor requires them to be soft and just breathe; and then they able to be find strength to stand up and squat, if required, to push out their babies even when the length of labor has taken its toll. The practice of pregnancy yoga is a great way for expectant mothers to relieve stress, create physical comfort and emotional balance, as well as prepare for birth.

In conclusion, with all the benefits that pregnancy yoga has to offer, it proves to be the ultimate exercise for pregnancy and birth preparation.

 

Patricia Grube has been a certified pregnancy yoga teacher for 6 years and has taught yoga in Los Angeles as well as in England, U.K. She is also a certified childbirth educator and birth doula through CAPPA. For more information on Patricia’s pregnancy yoga classes, please visit www.noplacelikeohm.com

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