Prenatal Yoga for Stress Relief and Relaxation during Pregnancy
Prenatal yoga practice during pregnancy has many benefits. Most people immediately consider the physical benefits, but yoga can also help relieve stress and anxiety, leading to a calmer more peaceful state during pregnancy. Cortisol, our stress hormone, when elevated can affect the baby in the womb, and of course, make the pregnancy experience more unpleasant for mama. Let’s look at how a yoga practice can help with a stressful state in pregnancy.
Understanding the Impact of Stress during Pregnancy
First let’s understand how stress can affect the pregnant mama, as well as the baby. You may assume that eating fast food every day during pregnancy will negatively affect your baby’s health, but it’s usually a harder concept to grasp that our mental health will affect the baby as well. And us! Pregnancy can be a very challenging experience to undergo, and feeling stressed can only make it worse.
Stress can cause a tense body exacerbating pregnancy pain and discomfort. Stress can cause sleep problems and digestive issues, both symptoms that already come with pregnancy, so stress may make them worse. Stress can also lead to perinatal depression, which is not discussed as often as postpartum depression, but is similar. Perinatal depression is having feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, etc. during the pregnancy period, due to hormonal changes and external causes, such as stress.
Stress also affects the baby in the womb. All of the above-mentioned symptoms – pain, discomfort, tension, body, lack of sleep, and digestive issues, can affect the baby’s development. Stress during pregnancy can also lead to developmental or psychological issues later in childhood for your baby (reference). When baby is in the womb, and then on for up to the first 7 years of their life, they are developing their nervous system, and as it develops they co-regulate their nervous system with us, their primary caretakers, since they can’t do it alone yet. So when stress negatively affects our nervous system balance, this can affect the wombside baby as well as an infant or young child.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga for Stress Relief
While there are many factors in your life that could be causing stress, yoga is a definite way to relieve some of the symptoms of your stress. If you have had certain life events occur, or traumas happen, it’s always good to seek out the help of a mental health professional as well. You can speak with your birth team about the level of your stress to determine the type of care you may need during pregnancy to lessen your stress. However, practicing yoga at the same will definitely not hurt and may add some relief!
Prenatal yoga promotes relaxation. Practicing yoga postures while focusing on your breathing can bring you into the present moment and calm your stress, even if just for the hour or so that you are practicing yoga. It also reduces physical tension. We hold so much stress in our neck and shoulders, and many pregnant women in their backs as well, and practicing certain yoga postures can warm, stretch, and relax our muscles.
Practicing meditation along with the physical practice of yoga can invite mindfulness. Meditation can help you keep your mind on the present moment, staying away from worry and other thoughts that might bring in more stress. Practicing breath work, or pranayama can promote a relaxed state of mind, body, and nervous system. Deep breathing can activate your body’s calm state, or your parasympathetic nervous system, bringing you out of a state of fight or flight.
Gentle Prenatal Yoga Poses for Stress Relief
A general prenatal yoga practice of any kind will help with stress relief, but here are some particular yoga postures that may help relieve stress:
Child’s pose – this posture opens the hips, where we tend to hold a lot of emotion and tension, as well as opens up the chest allowing deeper breaths. You can also massage the third eye point, the point between the eyebrows, on your mat while in this posture to help with tension headaches.
Supported forward fold – any restorative, or supported posture, promotes nervous system resetting and relaxation. A forward fold with tons of pillows or other props can help you fully relax your back, neck, and shoulders, relieving any tension.
Legs up the wall, or waterfall – Waterfall promotes blood flow to the upper body, bringing balance to the mind, and relaxation to the head, neck, and shoulders.
Breathing Techniques for Stress Management
Practicing pranayama, or breathing exercises, can help you prepare for labor, keep your core strong, as well as calm and soothe the nervous system. Deep belly breathing is important to learn during pregnancy and birth. Breathe fully into the diaphragm, pushing your belly out and relaxing your pelvic muscles, and while exhaling pull your baby into your spine.
You can also practice alternate nostril breathing to calm the mind and balance the nervous system. Use one thumb to plug one nostril, breathe into the other, then switch your fingers and breathe out the other nostril. Repeat as many times as you like. Focused breathing can lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, calm the mind, and relieve stress and tension. Most people breathe shallowly throughout the day, not getting enough oxygen into all areas of their body, so pausing to breathe slowly and focus on your breath can help relaxation.
Incorporating Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation is another beneficial practice of yoga to incorporate during your pregnancy. In yoga, meditation is taught as a state of being of the mind. It is the state where the mind goes blank, and therefore isn’t doing any thinking. Most people when they practice meditation focus on something, whether that be their breath, a mantra, a guided meditation, or some other sense-based experience. This is technically concentration, but this practice can lead to a state of meditation.
However you practice meditation or concentration, the focus can help calm you down. Sitting and focusing on breathing, or on a mantra, can soothe your mind and release tension from the body. You can practice mindfulness in anything that you do as well to stay in the present moment, and to keep your mind from stress, worry, and anxiety. Remain in the present moment by saying to yourself in your mind what you are physically doing, such as when taking a sip of your coffee, actively slow down and simply think “I am sipping my coffee.” This awareness alone of your actions can help you slow down and remain more present throughout your day.
Self-Care Practices to Complement Prenatal Yoga
There are so many additional self-care practices that you can implement during your pregnancy that can add to your yoga practice! This is where you get creative and find out what works best for you. A spa day with a facial and a massage may be your cup of tea, or taking a warm bath and reading a book. You might enjoy a long, slow walk in nature. Taking time to care for yourself can help reduce stress and anxiety and keep you relaxed.
Seeking Support and Guidance
If you’re ready to feel more relaxed in your pregnancy and let the stress go, it’s time to find a yoga teacher! You can ask your birth team for local prenatal yoga classes or workshops, search Facebook events, Eventbrite, or other online forums. It’s also important to begin inviting in any type of support you may need now so that you can get used to asking for this help once the baby comes.
You might find mommy groups, breastfeeding groups, therapy, or other forms of self-help beneficial to your pregnancy support.
Prenatal yoga can help immensely with stress relief during pregnancy, and it works best when done frequently. If you’re ready to begin practicing now, you can practice with me for free on my YouTube channel. You can also purchase my Soulful Pregnancy Journal here for weekly postures, classes, journal prompts, and more!
Taking the time to read articles like this and then implementing a practice means you are already aware of how your state of being might affect your baby. You’re going to be a great mama!!
Heal the mothers, heal the world.