Before I got pregnant, I thought prenatal yoga was silly. I thought that adjusting your activity level for pregnancy was a sign of weakness, and that sure, I’d need to do something different by my third trimester, but that there was nothing so dramatically different about my body that I couldn’t continue with my usual yoga routine for many weeks. I had no idea that the benefits of prenatal yoga could be so specific.
The benefits of yoga for prenatal women are so universally recognized at this point that prenatal yoga classes are available at the vast majority of studios, many yoga companies put out yoga videos specifically for pregnant women, and the offices of many OBs and midwives have brochures recommending the various local yoga teachers in their waiting rooms. I knew all of that, but I still kept forcing myself to go to my usual yoga class, a fairly intense ashtanga session, even after I got that positive test. It was only after the second class, where I washed out halfway through, dizzy and shaking from exertion that I was willing to admit to myself that pregnancy was a whole new ballgame for me and my body.
Early in my pregnancy, people were always in a rush to tell me the things I couldn’t do. I wasn’t supposed to lift things, I wasn’t supposed to twist my stomach, and according to a grandmotherly type I encountered, I wasn’t supposed to eat corn. (No joke. She told me it was bad for the baby in the middle of the checkout line at the supermarket). The truth of it is that as long as your doctor has signed off on your practice the benefits of prenatal yoga vastly outweigh the nearly infinitesimal risks of any complications.
so what should I do?
Most of the yoga teachers I’ve encountered over the years say that it’s important to let your body be your guide. You hit a point where cat and dog hurts; you don’t press past that point. You hit a point where lying on your stomach makes you nauseated; you stop lying on your stomach. It’s really that simple. If your practice didn’t include inversions before your pregnancy, it’s a bad time to try and learn, mostly because your increased blood volume leaves you prone to dizziness, but otherwise? Yoga is unlikely to hurt you or your unborn baby.
I completely loved my prenatal yoga classes, once I got myself together and started going to them. Instead of the yoga video that was the same every time I did it, our yoga teacher had different routines prepared, and she would often ask us if anyone was particularly tight or troubled in an area, and then guide us through work to ease those pains. Also, I enjoyed being in a class of people who got it, who didn’t roll their eyes in the changing room if I gave up and rested in child’s pose for twenty minutes before I could keep going. There was a sense of “we’re all in this together,” in our shared journey. I was the first of my friends to become pregnant, so that community was a huge benefit to me.
But for me, all the usual benefits—the Mayo Clinic cites improved sleep, reduced stress, decreased pain, and possibly even decreased risks of preterm labor—weren’t the biggest gifts I got from my prenatal yoga classes and yoga videos. The biggest benefit I took away from it all was the sense that even though my body was changing, was held hostage at times, I was still strong, and I could still be flexible.
benefits of prenatal yoga continue on
When my first birth went completely sideways, turning into an emergency c-section, I kept breathing instead of panicking, remembering that the first rule of natural birth is that medical interventions do save lives. In my second birth, as I fought for the VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) I so wanted, I drew on the deep concentration I’d learned to surf the contractions, roll with the sensations, and then finally strong-arm my way through pushing.
In one of the best yoga classes I ever attended, the teacher told us not to try and do the best downward dog ever, but just do the best downward dog we could do right this moment.
The prenatal yoga classes I attended focused on this benefit even more; it’s not about what you could do yesterday, or what you think you could do tomorrow, it’s about what you can do right now, in this moment, with the energy you have. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow, the same teacher told us. Prenatal yoga helped me to do just that, and that was the biggest benefit that it gave me.
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Christelle Donaghy, a yoga instructor specifically trained in pre and post natal yoga, a registered nurse and yoga enthusiast, guides mothers through pregnancy with week-by-week specially designed yoga classes. Christelle was pregnant with her third child as she filmed the classes.