Pregnancy

8 Benefits of Pregnancy Yoga

By Sammy Cox, Mindful Birth teacher, Pregnancy Yoga teacher and founder of Exhale Birthing and Beyond, based in Exeter, Devon.

Emiliana Hall

Whether you have practised yoga for years or never stepped foot on a mat, practising this ancient art during pregnancy has many benefits, from easing physical discomfort to reducing fear and anxiety.

The benefits of pregnancy yoga are endless but. Here I have listed my top reasons for you why you might want to consider taking a pregnancy yoga class:

1.  Improved sleep 

If you are anything like me and you seriously love your sleep (and you subsequently turn into the grumpiest witch when there is a serious lack of it, even pre-kids!) then this is a biggy. A broken night’s sleep can leave us feeling “meh” at the best of times, let alone when we are carrying the extra weight of a growing baby and dealing with a wonderful cocktail of pregnancy hormones. Whether you are plagued with various physical discomforts like leg cramps, constant trips to the loo (a personal favourite!) baby kicking, feeling too hot, general worries/anxieties around the birth or the simple thought of becoming a parent/adding a sibling into the mix, practising gentle yoga movements and learning simple breathing techniques that aid relaxation, will increase energy levels during the day and improve your sleep at night.

2.   Makes space within the body 

Pregnancy comes with a multitude of glamorous discomforts and ailments as the uterus grows over the course of your pregnancy and yoga postures ultimately create more comfort in the body. As your baby grows, so does your uterus and towards the end of your pregnancy all your internal organs get squished (compromising various anatomical systems) as baby takes up more space. Yoga can help create more space in the uterus allowing the digestive, respiratory and cardiovascular system to work more comfortably and even out the ligaments of the uterus which will give your baby more space to move and a better chance of getting into a position which is considered optimal for birthing. It will also help lengthen the psoas muscle, a hugely important muscle for pregnancy and birth, which is attached from inside the sacrum passing through the pelvis. If this muscle is tight, valuable space is reduced, meaning less space for your baby to move into preferred birthing positions and therefore potentially more discomfort for you during pregnancy (and birth).

3.        Increases lung capacity 

A simple act of a leisurely walk down the road or even just up your stairs can leave you feeling breathless, especially during the 3rd trimester. For many women at this stage, the extreme feeling of tiredness returns as the baby increases in size. This can result in increased pressure on all of your body’s systems. Pregnancy yoga postures can help create more space for your lungs making it easier to breathe (which will ultimately help replenish energy stores and lead to feelings of rejuvenation) not only during pregnancy but also during labour.

4.        Releases tension

Tension in the shoulders, lower back and neck are so common during pregnancy, as subtle postural changes cause muscles to tighten and parts in the body to stiffen up. When our muscles tighten we tend to use them less often, which then has a knock on effect on other parts of the body, meaning other muscles have to work harder to over compensate. Gentle yoga practise can help maintain and strengthen posture whilst helping to reduce tension that can occur as a result of the changing position of the spine and pelvis. By keeping moving you can counteract imbalances in the body. This will help your postnatal recovery too!

5.        Increases stamina

As with any type of exercise yoga elevates our heart rate. When we work with an increased heart rate, we develop stamina. This results in increased cardiovascular and muscular endurance, which will aid and support both pregnancy and birth (win, win!)

6.        Pregnancy yoga = rest, relaxation and connection

Whether you choose to join a local class, sign up to an online membership or simply watch video’s on YouTube, finding the time to park your backside on the mat and move and connect with your breath will allow you the space to really focus on your changing body, bump and your developing baby. With today’s busy lifestyles and all the other jobs that come with getting ready for a baby, it can be easy to let ‘time out for you’ become bottom of the priority list. Tuning into your body and focusing on awareness and physiological changes that are experienced during pregnancy is an invaluable tool for your baby’s birth.

7.        Eases pregnancy anxiety and help manage prenatal depression

With pregnancy comes a myriad concoction of hormones which race around the pregnant body at different levels, leaving some women going from feeling high one minute to overwhelming anxiety the next (fun for all the family!). It is thought that 1 in 5 women will experience perinatal anxiety or depression during their pregnancy or during their first year after giving birth. According to Harvard Medical School yoga during pregnancy has been shown to modulate the stress response systems and lower cortisol levels by regulating heart rate and lowering blood pressure which as a result reduces stress and anxiety. A study funded by Tommy’s showed ‘A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormones levels by 14%.”

8.        Support your labour

Pregnancy yoga encompasses a variety of different elements including physical postures, breathing techniques (calming breaths, cooling breaths and general breath awareness) mindfulness and relaxation exercises, all of which are hugely beneficial techniques to adopt during labour. Breath awareness is very effective not only as a comfort measure but to support the physiology of the birthing body and can reduce the need for medicalised pain relief during labour. Yoga postures can help ligaments lengthen and pelvic bones to open and move away from each other which allows more space in the pelvic outlet for your baby to get into an optimal birth position.

If you’d like to find out more about pregnancy yoga classes please feel free to drop me a line exhalebirthingandbeyond@gmail.com  or connect on social media @exhalebirthingandbeyond or www.facebook.com/exhalesammycox. I love to chat anything pregnancy and baby related!

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