The Benefits of Mindful Movement and Breath Work During Pregnancy
by: Julie Macedo 200RYT, Registered Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga teacher, Registered Fertility Yoga Teacher
Yoga means “to yoke.” Often it is interpreted as a practice of yoking the mind, body, and spirit. Pregnancy is an opportune time to use the practice of yoga in deepening connection with one’s own body, as it changes rapidly and experiences new sensations. The pregnant mind and spirit are also unique in that the woman prepares to assume new roles, partnerships evolve, and she knows life will be forever changed. It is common for joyous excitement and fear of the unknown dance simultaneously. With a plethora of planning and forward thinking, it can also be difficult for the pregnant woman to settle into the present moment; yoga asana (poses), meditation, and pranayama (breath work) help bring her into the now.
With heightened attention inward – a fuller awareness of the body, stronger intuition, full-spectrum emotions, and existential questions arising, it is as if the mind, body, and spirit are all pregnant with opportunity for change, breakthrough, and personal growth. What an appropriate time to develop or deepen a yoga and mindfulness practice!
What is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is designed to address the uniqueness the pregnant mind, body, and spirit as mentioned above. In a prenatal yoga class, you learn the tools of pranayama, both strengthening and restorative asana practice, and calming meditation. Physically, this three-fold approach is designed to make your pregnancy a more comfortable journey, to provide tools for labor, and to prepare the pelvic floor and abdominal walls an easier birth and postpartum period.
Aims of prenatal yoga:
- Increase blood flow to the uterus and fetus
- Improve posture and alignment
- Relax the central nervous system
- Prevent or reduce sciatic pain
- Prevent or reduce leg cramping
- Prevent or reduce lower back pain
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase energy levels
- Strengthen mind and body with endurance work
- Stretch the oblique abdominals to create more space for breath and reduce pull on the linea alba
- Stretch the pelvic girdle, with special attention to the psoas
- As baby takes up more space in the abdomen, practice heart openers/chest stretches to increase space for breath
- Draw awareness to the pelvic floor by creating “soft strength.” We work with pranayama to find engagement without tightness, but focus mainly on full relaxation, softness, and opening.
- Empower women with confidence in their capacity for physical strength and endurance
- Foster community among women in a similar stage of life
Who is prenatal yoga for?
Prenatal yoga is for any and all pregnant women who are cleared to exercise. A yogic background is not necessary. In fact, many women come to yoga for the first time during pregnancy. As long as your pregnancy is healthy and you are cleared to exercise, prenatal yoga is a very safe and effective form of physical activity.
Why attend prenatal yoga class instead of a general yoga class?
Women with a yoga background may be inclined to continue attending their general studio classes instead of seeking a specifically prenatal class. For these students who have an advanced practice and would rather continue attending the traditional yoga class, I recommend coming to a few prenatal yoga classes to learn about key modifications and to ask a trained instructor about contraindications and a few specific practices to incorporate on her own.
- Abdominal twists
- Heated classes
- Inversions (there are exceptions under professional guidance)
- Poses that increase intra abdominal pressure
- Rapid, abrupt movements such as jump backs to plank
- Lying on the belly, such as in Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
- Deep backbends such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose)
- Kapalabhati and bhastrika pranayama
What does the research say?
- In a study of women participating in a 70 minute prenatal yoga practice twice weekly from week 16 – week 36 gestation, women showed reduced salivary cortisol and increased Immunoglobulin A compared to control. This is suggestive that prenatal yoga reduces stress levels and bolsters immunity. (Chen, et al., 2017)
- A study of 200 pregnant women concluded that the women practicing prenatal yoga had statistically significant lower incidences of labor inductions, cesarean sections, low birth weights, and postpartum discomfort compared to control. The group practicing prenatal yoga also had a shorter first stage of labor compared to control. (Bolanthakodi, et al., 2018)
Prenatal yoga is a mind-body-spirit approach to making your pregnancy more comfortable and
Bolanthakodi, C., Raghunandan, C., Saili, A., Mondal, S., & Saxena, P. (2018). Prenatal Yoga: Effects on Alleviation of Labor Pain and Birth Outcomes [Abstract]. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 24(12). Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2018.0079?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub=pubmed&.
Chen, P., Yang, L., Chou, C., Li, C., Chang, Y., & Liaw, J. (2017). Effects of prenatal yoga on women’s stress and immune function across pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial. Elsevier, 31, 109-117. Retrieved February 27, 2019.