The Benefits of Prenatal Yoga for Expectant Mothers
Prenatal yoga is a very popular activity for expectant mothers, and rightly so, as it offers so many amazing benefits. Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice out of India that has myriad schools of thought and practice, but asana, or the physical practice, along with breathing exercises and meditation, has been popularized in the West.
Prenatal yoga has immense physical benefits for expectant mothers, but it goes much further than that. When you add in all of the additional practices such as the breathing exercises and meditation, you will benefit emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well! Pregnancy can be a very challenging time in a woman’s life, so any practice can help her get through physical discomfort, hormonal changes, and a life-changing experience.
The Physical Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Pregnancy itself can bring a lot of physical discomfort, not to mention the marathon act of labor and birth at the end. Bringing in an asana practice such as prenatal yoga can help alleviate pain and discomfort, and even prepare the body for labor. Some common aches, pains, and discomforts in pregnancy that prenatal yoga may help with are:
- Pelvic pain
- Hip pain
- Lower back pain
- Upper back pain
Prenatal yoga moves the expectant mother through various postures while using the breath to focus the movement. Moving through the postures with breath as a focus helps alleviate some of these pain points by warming the body, stretching muscles, activating the digestive system, and soothing the nervous system. At the end of the day, most people do yoga because they feel good afterward!
Another aspect of the physical benefits of prenatal yoga is the help it gives with preparing for labor. The female body knows what to do and physiological birth, when uninterrupted in low-risk birth scenarios, often goes as nature planned, but there are definite ways that pregnant women can prepare the body for a smoother labor.
As the baby navigates through the birth canal, or the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles, she moves around as needed to move through the different levels of the pelvis. This space known as the pelvic inlet moves and is flexible in three different areas, at the top of the pelvis, in the middle, and then at the bottom.
The best way to prepare the pelvis for this massive feat is to have open and flexible hips, a soft or relaxed pelvic floor, and strong gluteus muscles. Now can a woman still have a vaginal birth successfully if she doesn’t prepare in these areas? Of course! Everybody is unique, but all pregnant bodies are ready for the job. But preparing in this way may alleviate pain in labor, assist in a shorter labor, and help baby navigate the pelvic inlet more easily.
Various prenatal yoga postures can help with all three of these areas opening the hips relaxing the pelvic floor and strengthening the gluteus muscles.
The Emotional Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Beyond the physical discomforts of pregnancy, there can be a lot of emotional difficulty during this time due to elevated hormones. The hormone change that a woman experiences during pregnancy is greater in 9 months than a man will experience in his entire life! So whenever you feel irritable or super weepy – remember this! It’s not you, and it will pass.
In the meantime, yoga can definitely help with some of the emotional difficulties of pregnancy. Fears and anxieties may be elevated in pregnancy along with the hormones and so many life changes. Regular prenatal yoga can help ease the nervous system with focused breath and movement, helping ease your fears.
Additionally, good sleep, balanced nutrition, and exercise are all helpful for a good night’s sleep – which will help with your emotional state. Being hormonal/emotional while exhausted will only exacerbate your heightened emotions! Practicing yoga asana, meditation, and breathing exercises promotes relaxation and can help you sleep better at night.
The Mental Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Pregnancy and the postpartum period (for up to 2 years) physically change the mother’s brain. These changes begin during pregnancy, typically as early as the first trimester, and continue to change in different ways throughout the postpartum period. One of the most common and well-known mental shifts is brain fog, commonly known as “mommy brain.” Women experience forgetfulness and general fogginess.
While these changes may not be reversible or “curable” until after the postpartum period (since the brain continues to change), meditation is a definite way to help with the symptoms. Beyond this brain fog, expectant women tend to have many additional tasks on their plate to prepare for a new baby, which could further add to their stress. Meditation has been known to help with memory issues, and even reverse certain neural disorders by rewiring neural pathways in the brain.
Practicing meditation regularly throughout pregnancy may help with the stress of additional tasks, brain fog, and memory issues. This could also help with emotional issues, such as stress or anxiety brought up by these new changes in the mother’s life.
The Spiritual Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period are considered by many cultures and religions as a spiritual experience – by some, the most spiritual part of our existence. This can also bring up big thoughts and feelings – a spiritual upheaval if you will. Yoga is more than just physical practice, meditation, and breathing. There are multiple philosophy lessons in which to enrich your life and spiritual growth along the way.
Ashtanga yoga is an 8-limbed path, one of the most commonly taught out West. The first two limbs represent the Yamas and the Niyamas – sometimes known as the “10 commandments of yoga.” These are guides to life – how to treat others, how to be honest with oneself, how to grow spiritually, etc.
Reading some yoga philosophy literature may help the spiritual journey of an expectant mother and greatly complement her physical practice.
*You can find yoga philosophy lessons for every week of pregnancy in the Soulful Pregnancy Journal! Purchase here.
Social Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Many in-person prenatal yoga classes are offered in a series of classes, workshops, or other formats that promote connection and community. When I teach my prenatal yoga series of 4 classes, we have a check-in at the beginning of each class so the pregnant mamas can share how they are feeling, and where they might need support.
Mothers in my classes have shared fears and doubts, heartburn remedies, joys, and eventually updates about their births! Yoga means union, and while this is meant to unite an individual with the divine within, it can also mean to unite with others on the same path as us. Sitting in a class with other mothers who are experiencing what you are can help remove fears, create community, and even develop friendships for support after the babies come.
Tips for Starting a Prenatal Yoga Practice
Begin by looking for local classes in your community. Places you can look are through your doctor or midwife, at hospitals or birth centers, some community facilities such as YMCAs, and of course yoga studios. You can also check local event listings like Facebook, Eventbrite, and the like for local workshops.
You may also find prenatal yoga classes online. I offer free prenatal yoga classes on my YouTube channel here!
I also have yoga classes for every week of pregnancy via my Soulful Pregnancy Journal which can be purchased here.
If you are brand new to yoga, I’d recommend finding an in-person class first so you can experience the practice with a teacher who can recommend basic postures and modifications. Once you are established in your body and your practice, you can practice at home with some online yoga classes as well.
You can also begin a very simple yoga practice at home by setting up a comfortable space where you can sit and meditate and breathe. You can sit for even 5 minutes a day and take a few focused deep breaths, and then close your eyes and focus on your breathing, or connecting with your baby. Your prenatal yoga practice does not have a checklist or need to look a certain way! This 5-minute practice would be a beautiful start.
There are clearly so many benefits to you and your pregnancy by practicing prenatal yoga! Beyond just the physical practice you can experience emotional and mental peace, grow spiritually, as well as begin your mama friend community! Most importantly, follow your intuition and enjoy the practice. Find a teacher and a practice that speaks to you.
Here are some additional resources to get you started on your journey!
Heal the mothers, heal the world.