It wasn’t until I was in the midst of yoga teacher training that I realized my practice could be taken off the mat and incorporated in other aspects of life besides fitness. I left my struggle for a crow handstand press behind and began exploring other aspects such as meditation and pranayama (breathwork). Of course, you don’t have to be like me and begin teacher certification before you start moving beyond physical yoga postures, you can start any time and I’d encourage it. This understanding of a practice beyond the physical came at a perfect time for me, as I found out I was pregnant soon after graduating teacher training.
Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that childbirth is unpredictable. (What part of motherhood/life isn’t?) I will also be one to tell you that 1) yoga is not a cure-all; 2) there is no miracle fix for anything; and, 3) everyones bodies, needs and experiences are very different. With that being said, I’d love to share my experience with how a dedicated yoga practice helped immensely with my planned drug-free home birth. I was blessed with a healthy fourth pregnancy, an amazing team of medically trained midwives, supportive friends and family, and the confidence and desire to birth at home. My experience isn’t for everyone, but I wholeheartedly believe yoga helps in all aspects of life, and this is definitely one of them. Whether you are expecting or not, planning a home birth or a C-section, I invite you to explore how getting into a yoga practice could have a positive impact on your life.
A big part of my yoga practice is focused on mindfulness of the present moment. I never really understood what “centering yourself” meant. But in time, have come to find that, for me, it simply means bringing myself back to the moment at present. I can’t explain how much this has helped me cope with my anxiety, which often makes my mind wander and spiral into negativity. A simple way I stay in the moment is ask myself easy questions, like: “What can hear right now?” “What can you smell?” “What can you feel right now?”. I focus on the physical surroundings, especially what surface I’m sitting or standing on. I can’t emphasize enough how much this helped during my labor. I focused on the warm water on my back in the shower, the smell of the oils diffusing, the sound of soft whispers from the birth team…It’s so easy to let your mind spiral into the negative. “It’s so hard, I can’t do this, I have to give up” are all very legitimate and real thoughts. While you might not be able to convince yourself that “it’s fine!” because, of course, it IS painful and SO hard, bringing yourself back into the moment can help stop the mental spiral.
Tension in the mind can definitely manifest in physical ways. When we are anxious or stressed, we tend to hunch our shoulders, clench our jaw, ball up our fists, creating physical tension and pain. Along with my mindfulness practice to help my anxiety, yoga also taught me to check in with my body. This has reduced my panic attacks significantly, because I pause to recognize how I feel and make adjustments, nipping that panic attack in the bud. This helped during my birth because relaxing, especially during a contraction, is so helpful in making progress! Consciously opening up my fists and letting my hands relax, keeping my shoulders down away from the ears… the kinds of cues you hear in a yoga class and the reason why a more relaxing asana is just as important as any other pose in your yoga practice!
The key to calming both the mind and body is BREATH. Breathing can change our entire energy, but it takes practice to remember to take breaths. It’s one of my favorite parts of a yoga practice because it IS such an important part of yoga, but can be done anywhere- at any time- in any position! I remember the first time I participated in the “OM” chant after a yoga class. At first, I was uncomfortable and awkward, but it didn’t take long before I realized the benefits it has. How often do we just sit and take one full deep inhale and exhale? Make it a habit, and enjoy the benefits. Keeping the “om” in mind while breathing during my contractions was intense; however, I could feel my hips relaxing and making room, and my baby moving down!
This is probably the most obvious benefit to keeping up a yoga practice at any point in life, but especially during pregnancy. While just about any physical fitness activity is beneficial during those nine long months, but there’s something especially good about prenatal yoga. Not only do you get to practice everything I mentioned above, but you also get to hold a lot of postures that will help prepare you for enduring labor. Moving around, especially during contractions, helps baby get where she’s supposed to and can keep your labor from stalling or taking extra long. I practiced lots of squats, standing poses, cat/cow (pelvic tilts) hip openers, and chair poses during my pregnancy.
Have you noticed any other benefits that your yoga practice has had while pregnant? Share with us in the comments!