Congratulations, you’re pregnant! For the next nine months, you’ll no doubt have a lot on your mind —including childbirth. Will it hurt? How badly? How can it be made easier and less painful? Although the answers to these questions will vary from person to person, many mothers have found that dedicated yoga practice during pregnancy helps ease their labor and delivery pains.
Why practice prenatal yoga?
“Practicing yoga—complete with postures, relaxation, breath awareness and meditation —on a regular basis during pregnancy will allow you to not only feel better physically, but will also relieve any anxiety you may be experiencing,” says Carmen Siragna-Nazario, a Kundalini yoga instructor, doula and mother in New York City. “It can help you relax and enjoy your pregnancy to the fullest, knowing that it lies within you to have an empowering birthing experience.”
Lauren Rosenfeld, founder of the bicoastal studio Yogi Beans, concurs: “Prenatal yoga reinforces the mind-body connection. The postures typically performed in prenatal yoga remind women that they are strong and honor their changing bodies. The asanas (postures) evolve to create more space and room in your body for your growing baby and prepare you for labor by introducing your body to new positions.”
Who can become a yogi?
Whatever your flexibility or fitness level, yoga can provide the tools for coping physically, mentally and emotionally with childbirth. “Any woman, regardless of age or physical condition, has the ability to be a successful yogi,” assures Siragna-Nazario. “Every set of asanas can be altered and adjusted to suit each individual’s needs.”
What poses should I expect to encounter?
While pregnant, Siragna-Nazario concentrated on gentle poses that aimed to relieve any muscular discomfort and promote blood circulation. Her favorite poses included cat-cow, a back strengthener that helped when she experienced back labor; baby (or fetus), which stretches the back; and butterfly (or bound angel), a hip opener.
What tools will yoga give me to call upon during labor?
Intentional physical and mental relaxation will be invaluable as you face the toils of labor and delivery. “Breath awareness and meditation were the primary elements that gave me the strength and will to handle my labor and delivery,” Siragna-Nazario says. “Yogic breathing techniques have long been used to help women not only cope with labor pains, but attain mental equilibrium and discover an inner strength and wisdom they never imagined.” Rosenfeld adds that practicing mental focus is an important exercise that can help pregnant women condition for the birthing process. “Having a strong focal point, whether visual or mental, is key to preparing for a calm and determined labor,” she explains.
“It is often helpful to have a gazing point of focus. You can also try closing your eyes and visualizing a beach, the sky or holding your new baby in your arms. This will ultimately lead to relaxation—beyond immediate thoughts—and consistent practice can allow the body and mind to ease during the physical exertion and mental anticipation of labor and delivery.”
What happens if my birthing experience doesn’t go according to plan?
“Mentally, the idea of surrender and submission is important,” advises Rosenfeld. “If you were hoping to have a natural childbirth and are rushed into an emergency C-section, it is quite important to let go of your ‘birth plan’ expectations and surrender to what is happening in the present moment. The most important thing is a healthy and happy baby.”
What if I’ve never been “in tune with my body” before?
Siragna-Nazario offers these words of encouragement to expectant women who feel anxious about the birthing process: “Regardless of a woman’s prepregnancy physical awareness or condition, she has the inherent ability to connect with her mind, body and spirit. It is a natural instinct ingrained in the primal part of her brain: She knows how to birth her baby. Women have been giving birth since the beginning of our time as a species, and that is a long time indeed.”