We all know practising yoga promotes a healthy mind and body. But what about when you're pregnant?
Melbourne yoga instructor Rebecca Duffield says pre-natal yoga can help your body adjust to carrying a baby, and give you physical and mental strength for labour and life with a new child.
Here are her top five benefits from doing yoga during pregnancy.
- Relief for your body
During pregnancy, the body starts to compensate for changes in posture and weight. This leads to extra arching in the lower back and strain in the ligaments and joints.
“So the first focus of pre-natal yoga is physical - giving relief to pregnant women,” Rebecca says.
“We do poses where the belly hangs forwards and can take the baby weight off the spine for a moment and stretch, lengthen and strengthen muscles.”
- Mental wellbeing
Pre-natal yoga often becomes a space for the emotions of pregnancy to release. Rebecca says it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to become teary or laugh through yoga.
“There is a huge amount of hormonal changes as well as massive perspective changes on the world during pregnancy, and we don’t often have a space for pregnant women to just allow that and process it,” she says. “Yoga allows that.”
- Ease back pain
During pregnancy, women develop lordosis – or sway back – as the belly pushes forward and creates an arch in the lower back. This puts a huge amount of strain on the body and as a result, back pain is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy.
Rebecca says giving relief to the lower back is a major focus in prenatal yoga.
“The simplest way to do that is being on our hands and knees - we spend a lot of time on hands and knees,” she says.
“I suggest poses like cat-cow, which is when you are on hands and knees and the weight can hang and the baby can get away from the spine. This creates a bit of relief through the spine.”
- Coping with labour
While our bodies go through enormous physical stress during labour, Rebecca says the most important way yoga prepares woman for giving birth is mental – through practicing what’s known as an equanimous mind.
“What we’re trying to learn is to focus on the breath and sit with sensation in the body,” she says.
“It might be putting our pregnant students in a toe stand so there is discomfort in the feet and then start doing shoulder rotations so the shoulders are fatiguing at the same time.
“So the body is saying ‘stop this, stop this, get me out of here’. Then we calm it down with the mind by teaching them to stay in control of the nervous system, keep the heart rate low, focus on the breath and try to keep an equanimous mind while the body is screaming that there is sensation that needs to be attended to.”
Rebecca says pre-natal yoga also focuses on lengthening the pelvic floor muscles to prepare for labour.
“There’s a lot of attention on tightening the pelvic floor and in yoga we do focus on strengthening, but we also focus on lengthening those muscles with deep belly breaths, pushing the belly down, which is really beneficial for labour,” she says.
- Recovery and new motherhood
The first few months with a newborn can be enormously overwhelming. Not only are you recovering physically from the birth but you also have the challenge of caring for a new baby.
Rebecca says yoga can help new mothers manage this stress.
“Newborn mums are dealing with sleep deprivation and the crying and after pains, and all the trials of breastfeeding – there are so many huge hurdles that come at you in early motherhood,” she says.
“If you’ve managed to cultivate this practice of keeping the mind calm and acknowledging ‘okay, this is happening’ but I don’t need to jump into it and get totally carried away into it, so it’s this process of healthy detachment."
She says gentle stretching can also help your body recover.
“There are a lot of hormones that are stored up in the muscles and a lot of tension from the birth experience, so I encourage really gentle stretching as soon as you’re up for it, especially lateral stretching, so side to side, releasing the waist and hips,” she says.
Rebecca Duffield is a Melbourne yoga instructor trained in Anusara and Tantric yoga.
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