It’s not always easy to find your rhythm during the nine sacred (but often unnerving) months of pregnancy, but luckily practicing yoga during this time can significantly improve the experience. Universal benefits of yoga, like greater flexibility, a calmer nervous system, and enhanced immune function still apply, but did you know that there are additional benefits to practicing yoga when you are carrying a child?
If you are currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant, here are six reasons to practice yoga during those special months of pregnancy to positively impact both you and your baby.
1. Calmness and AwarenessPregnancy and motherhood can be a time of emotional and physical upheaval. Luckily, establishing (or continuing) a yoga practice during this time can help create steadiness in a time of constant fluctuation.
In what can be a particularly anxiety-producing time of life, engaging in yogic breathing and asanas (postures) while pregnant can help you feel more peaceful and aware of your thoughts and emotions.
2. Breathing Techniques and Breath ControlIn the moment, increased oxygen intake increases blood flow to the abdomen and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which can calm you and therefore benefit your unborn baby.
Breathing taught in yoga helps prepare your body and mind for the type of breathing necessary during contractions. This breath-body connection is vital during labor.
In fact, most pain-management techniques (like Lamaze and Hypnobirthing) emphasize breathing patterns very similar to those found in yoga.
3. Flexibility, Strength, and CenterednessIf your hips and legs are open and strong, you have more options for labor positioning. This can be especially important if you’re planning a natural birth without medication.
Hip-opening poses help soften and widen the pelvis, and stretching the hip flexors helps counteract the tightness that occurs as a result of hormonal shifts. A good goal is to be able to hold a deep squat for one minute—the average length of a contraction.
Since the squat (malasana in yoga terms) is one of the most optimal labor and birthing positions, it is well worth the training required to successfully execute this posture.
4. Muscle and Organ SupportIn addition to increasing overall strength and physical well-being, yoga can also be tailored to support the muscles and organs directly responsible for carrying and delivering a baby—a practice called mula bhanda.
In his book, Teaching Yoga, Mark Stephens describes this practice in the following way:
“Mula bhanda helps to develop a stronger and more flexible set of perineal muscles, more awareness of the lower pelvic organs and their surrounding support structure, greater ease in the delivery process, pregnancy, labor, and delivery, including perineal tears, urinary incontinence, and vaginal prolapse.”
In other words, practicing mula bhanda in the time leading up to labor gives the pelvic floor muscles a greater chance of recovering after birth.
5. Baby PlacementThe LOA position (head down, spine out and to the mother’s left) is the optimal position for your baby at the start of labor. Since the baby’s head and spine are the heaviest parts of the body, practicing yoga poses like cat/cow can help get your baby into the best place for an easier birth.
6. Fewer ComplicationsWhile not all complications can be prevented, the chances of a healthy pregnancy improve when engaging in healthy activities like yoga. The American Pregnancy Association suggests yoga as a safe and gentle way to stay active and fit during those months.
A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also reports that prenatal yoga:
- Improves birth weight
- Decreases preterm labor
- Decreases the risk of certain other complications, like pregnancy-induced hypertension
Whether you’ve been practicing yoga for years or your pregnancy brings you to the mat for the first time, regular practice will benefit every aspect of your life, and for that, you and your baby can be eternally grateful.
Practicing yoga and meditation during pregnancy can provide outstanding benefits for you and your baby. This year, we invite you to join Dr. Deepak Chopra and our Chopra Center master educators at our signature meditation and yoga retreat, Seduction of Spirit. Click here to learn more.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.