Your active lifestyle has hit a bump in the road. You can no longer continue your former workout routine and your doctor recommends that you try prenatal yoga. But last time you took a yoga class you felt like you were in a bizarre game of twister. How is this going to help you during pregnancy and what does yoga have to do with giving birth?
When you break down the meaning of the word yoga it means union, the conscious connection between the mind and body. Yoga helps bring awareness to one’s self, the slight intricacies of the body, the way it moves through space, and how our minds react and judge the entire experience.
The union explored in prenatal yoga transcends the self and taps into the conscious union of mother and baby. Pregnancy is a unique and sacred time in your life and being able to journey with another living being through 40 weeks of ups and downs is a wonderful honor. Prenatal yoga looks to enrich your pregnancy, everything from the euphoric first kick to the nagging pain of sciatica. In your prenatal yoga class, you are amongst a community of women that can rejoice in your excitement and lament the lower back pain that ails you.
When looking at the practical, physical side of class, you are guided through asanas (yoga poses) that help alleviate and combat the aches and pains related to pregnancy. You are also faced with difficult poses that, while not necessarily advanced, are challenging. This is so that you build stamina. You may be thinking, why do I need to build stamina during pregnancy? While each labor is unique, there is one common factor that you cannot escape labor is challenging and takes work!
In almost every class, standing poses like Virabhadrasana II, (warrior 2) and uttitha parsvakonasana (extended side angle) are incorporated, building strength in the legs and buttocks. More importantly they demand physical stamina and mental commitment. When faced with challenging, uncomfortable asanas, you practice staying focused, breathing and relaxing. You explore how to work, without over working. You learn that difficulties do not last forever and there is always an end in sight. You may find all of these discoveries to be beneficial and when you finally come out of the pose (or labor), you just might be pleasantly surprised at how strong you really are!
Yoga is a continual study in balance and on the flip side of building stamina and strength is knowing when and how to let go and surrender. This is often discovered and practiced during more intense stretching poses. Keep in mind that you never want to push yourself to injury, but walking the line of strong sensation is fine. Poses like kapotasana (pigeon pose) help you experience a strong opening in the outer hip, inner thigh and buttocks. Instead of tensing up, holding your breath and willing the pose to be over, you are encouraged to focus on the movement of your breath and to relax into the sensation. Sometimes it feels really good to let a big sigh or deep sound out, releasing the pent up pressure. Some women like to repeat a mantra (repetitive words, traditionally a religious or mystical syllable or poem) and then take this mantra into the delivery room with them to use when they are in labor. One student from class reported that she spent 5 hours of her labor simply chanting “Let go.” This helped her breathe, focus and relinquish physical and mental pain.
Images throughout history from all different cultures show the strength and power that a laboring woman possess. We all birth from an innate, powerful wisdom within. Your prenatal yoga practice can help awaken and instill the confidence to trust your body. It will help create the willingness and strength to ask questions and to make conscious decisions on how you choose to birth your baby.