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The

Benefits of Yoga Before, During, & After Your Pregnancy

by Carrie Parker Gastelu

T

he word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word

“yuj”, which means “to unite or integrate”. Because pregnancy, birth, and motherhood can be powerful opportunities for physical, psychological, and spiritual integration, yoga is perfect preparation. Through asana (poses), meditation, relaxation, and guided imagery, yoga keeps the body strong and flexible while quieting the mind and uncovering wisdom and intuition from pre-conception into motherhood. Before conception takes place, yoga is an ideal practice for reducing stress and balancing emotions. Once a couple decides to get pregnant, anxiousness and impatience often set in. For some lucky couples pregnancy happens right away, however, it can often take many months or longer. Stressful emotions activate the sympathetic nervous system - part of the “fight or flight” response. This causes the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream, possibly interfering with fertility. Yoga reduces stress levels, allows the energy centered in the pelvis to flow freely, and increases circulation to the pelvic organs. It gives women who are trying to conceive tools to help them stay centered and teaches them to live in the present moment during an uncertain time. Once a woman is pregnant yoga may alleviate many common discomforts, some of which are caused by the approximate 45% increase in her body’s blood flow. Yoga increases circulation and reduces swelling, providing more oxygen and nutrients to both mother and baby. As the baby grows, the diaphragm (the primary breathing muscle) is restricted. In response, many women breathe into their upper chest, causing a stress response in the body. Yoga teaches that we can direct the breath into the belly, side ribs, and even back to maintain deep and even breathing, reducing stress and anxiety. As the breasts and belly grow, compression of the lower back can cause moderate to severe pain. Yoga helps to elongate the spine and stretch and strengthen the back, relieving pain while preparing for the physical demands of holding a baby. When practiced properly, yoga stabilizes the joints which are more susceptible to injury because of relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that loosens the ligaments in the body so the pelvis can expand in childbirth. In addition to helping pregnant women feel more comfortable, yoga helps them prepare for labor

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and childbirth both physically and mentally. Physically, yoga stretches the muscles surrounding the pelvis and teaches proper posture. This encourages the baby to move to the front of the pelvis where he or she can shift into an optimal position for birth. Consistently slouching or reclining may encourage the baby into a posterior position, which causes back labor. Women who regularly practice yoga have heightened body awareness, aiding in the ability for a laboring woman to move intuitively in a way that best supports the birth experience. Mentally, yoga helps to still the mind. The knowledge of how to birth and nurture a baby is intuitive; it is beyond our often fragmented, changing, and conflicting thoughts. These thoughts can actually confuse and disrupt intuitive impulses. During pregnancy, the mind fluctuates wildly in response to emotions. Yoga helps to identify negative thought patterns that can impact the birth process and encourages surrendering to the unknown. Yoga techniques can actually be used during labor itself. Practicing gentle postures during the early stages of labor will help ease the baby into an optimal position, focus the mind, and help relaxation. During labor, oxytocin, the hormone that initiates contractions, has an inverse relationship to adrenaline. If adrenaline increases, oxytocin decreases, slowing or stalling labor. Yoga helps decrease adrenaline and other stress hormones while increasing oxytocin and endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Many yoga poses are wonderful positions for childbirth, such as supported semi-squatting and variations of an all-fours position. Practicing these poses during pregnancy will help a woman to spontaneously and comfortably assume these beneficial positions during birth. One of the greatest benefits of yoga during labor is the ability to relax. Labor is physically demanding and can induce tension during contractions. Unfortunately, this may hinder the opening of the cervix and in turn, can make labor longer and more painful. When pregnant women practice yoga, they learn to relax even in very strenuous postures. Women in labor can use the tools they have learned in yoga, including breath awareness, slow movement, vocalization, and visualization, to relax and surrender to the natural rise and fall of contractions. During the post-partum period yoga continues to

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