When you think if Prenatal Yoga, what comes to mind? Do you envision a few stretches here and there, sprinkled with some awkward breathing exercises? Heavily modified yoga poses? Do you think of the word “easy?” These are common misconceptions about what a Prenatal Yoga class offers, and I fear it may keep many women away who are either worried about the “woo woo” factor (ie an excess of chanting about goddesses), or who are craving physical challenge. The good news for both prenatal students and teachers alike is that prenatal yoga offers so much more to pregnant and postpartum women besides just easier forms, or krama, of yoga poses. A great prenatal class can be challenging, informative, and healing all at the same time!
A prenatal yoga class does not just modifying poses to accommodate the pregnant body, although this is certainly part of it. A well trained prenatal yoga instructor is able to offer students vital information about the powerful changes occurring in their bodies, offers exercises which allow women to understand these changes, assesses the specific discomforts each student is having and teaches poses geared toward relief of those symptoms, and helps women develop the physical and mental endurance they need to make it through the rigors of birthing their child. In my upcoming series of posts, I will cover all of these aspects of prenatal yoga in detail.
Here is a brief taste of what might be included in a well planned prenatal yoga class.
A woman learns to breathe again. At a certain point in pregnancy, the usual method of diaphragmatic breathing is obstructed by the growing uterus. This causes both a sense of shortness of breath, and for some, physical pain. Many yoga poses can relieve the discomfort, but first we must learn a new way to breathe.
A woman builds the right kind of physical and mental endurance to get her through her labor and delivery. This does not mean that she needs to be able to do intense arm balances or fancy head stands. It means she needs to develop great strength in her legs, hips, and feet in preparation for pushing her baby out. It means that she needs to develop a certain endurance and tolerance for discomfort to withstand hours of labor. She must be strong in her physical as well as mediative abilities.
A woman learns how to actually locate and exercise her pelvic floor. This is not often addressed in a “regular” yoga class, and if it is, it is frequently taught incorrectly. A good prenatal yoga class will dedicate some time every class to help women locate and exercise their pelvic floor. This is vitally important for preventing many postpartum complications, such as uterine prolapse of urinary incontinence, both of which are absolutely no fun.
A woman learns specific poses which may either prevent some of the discomforts of pregnancy, such as methods to stabilize the pelvis to avoid pubic symphysis pain, or to treat common discomforts such as sciatic nerve pain or round ligament pain.
In short, prenatal yoga gives women a personalized tool box full of techniques which they can use throughout their pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum period to address their needs. In my next several blog posts, I will review these tools in greater detail. If you are pregnant, know someone who is pregnant, or may be interested in teaching prenatal yoga, I hope you will check in with the blog from time to time learn more.
If you have experience with any of these techniques, or tools of your own, please post them in the comments section so we can all benefit from each other!