If you’ve been pregnant in the past two years you’ve probably been told to try prenatal yoga. You may have been told by your OB/GYN, your midwife or doula, your mom, your Aunt Shirley, or the gal who cuts your hair. Chances are you’ve heard it recommended by someone.
So what’s the deal? Why is prenatal yoga so popular?
There’s no arguing that pregnancy is a time of monumental transformation. Let’s start with the physical changes: your body is stretching from the inside to make room for a second human to share the space within your skin, and your organs are being displaced to accommodate your new roommate. Symptoms from sciatica to nausea to varicose veins can make physical existence just a bit less comfortable during pregnancy. While pregnancy is a joy and a miracle it also comes with a lot of discomfort for many women and yoga asanas (postures) deeply soothe what ails us.
Yoga directly addresses common physical discomforts through postures that release, tone, and enliven muscles, ligaments, organs, and nerves. When we move through yoga postures, our whole body takes part in a dance that moves blood and fluids to clear out toxins and purify the body’s systems.
Labor itself is hard work too – people train for marathons for a reason. Labor deserves no less attention than training for a marathon. And if you want a training regimen for labor, yoga is it.
All the key movements that help a baby to be born are replicated in yoga postures. By practicing moving in spirals, circles, toning and releasing the pelvic floor, opening the hips, and breathing deeply into all parts of our lungs we prepare our bodies for the big day when our bodies will facilitate bringing a new human being onto the earth.
THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT
Beyond the physical transformation that pregnancy instigates, there’s the emotional impact. The hormone soup that bathes your inner world and regulates your emotions is suddenly shaken and stirred. Beyond that, you know in some vague sort of way that the freedom to sleep for a whole night and pee alone when you want to are about to be revoked for years. Anxiety, depression, anger, obsessive thoughts, and sadness may flow unpredictably and erratically through the lives of many pregnant women.
Yoga supports your emotional well-being by bringing balance to your mind, deepening your perspective, and releasing emotional energy from your body’s tissues. This is supported by postures and breathing techniques that help to move energy/prana through the body and, of course, by meditation. The ancient wisdom of yogic philosophy can also support a balanced and resilient mental/emotional complex. We learn about santosha, or radical acceptance; shraddha or faith/trust in what is; and viveka, or discernment between the thoughts that serve us and those that don’t.
And then there’s the spiritual transformation. A new human being – mind, body, and soul – is being born within you. One day it was not there, and now it is. The deepest mystery of the universe is taking place within you. And it’s changing your sense of self, your identity. The individual that you have experienced yourself to be for decades will be no more, as your destiny is joined to a tiny, helpless creature that will depend entirely on you.
Yoga helps you to embrace the spiritual transformation that’s inherent in pregnancy and harness it to support a deepening awareness of the timeless you that lives beneath all definitions and circumstances. It invites you to explore deeper and deeper levels of self, integrating and synthesizing them as you go. It prompts you to ask yourself the most important questions and find the answers hidden within the depth of your breath, resting in intuition and relationship to spirit.
So it’s no wonder that during this journey that really has no parallel in ordinary life, women seek out a practice that supports pain relief, release of tension, modulation of emotions, and peace in the mind. Yoga is an ancient practice steeped with wisdom, yet one that is evolving over the years to serve the ever-changing culture we live within.
Corinne Andrews is the founder and head author of Birthing Mama—an online holistic pregnancy program for each week of pregnancy. Corinne has been teaching yoga since 2003 and is a senior Embodyoga® teacher, teaching weekly gentle, vigorous and Shabbat yoga classes. She is the co-founder of Birthing Mama Yoga, teaching prenatal, postnatal and toddler yoga classes. In addition to classes, Corinne teaches private yoga sessions for health and healing at Atkinson Family Practice. She is the mother of two children who are her greatest spiritual teachers and the focus of her life when she is not practicing or teaching yoga. Find her at Birthing Mama or on Facebook.