Couples looking to extend their pregnancy wellness routines beyond popping folic acid should consider prenatal yoga and pregnancy stretches. Offering a combination of strength-building, flexibility, mindfulness, pregnancy friendly stretches, yoga provides expecting mothers some unexpected skills that could make delivery easier. And when fathers join in, a prenatal yoga practice can offer coupes a chance to connect.
What are the Benefits of Prenatal Yoga?
Even those who’ve never stepped foot on a yoga mat can do prenatal yoga, says certified yoga instructor and prenatal yoga coach Erica Rodefer Winters. Not only is prenatal yoga low-key by design, the benefits for a woman growing a human life are multitudinous — it’s a pretty good investment.
“The poses themselves can help with a lot of aches and pains, like sciatica and carpal tunnel, that pregnant women have,” Winters explains. “A lot of that is learning to hold themselves in a way that is more conducive to carrying a baby. When you bring mindfulness to that it can help the anxiety and nerves about being able to handle the huge transition.”
Dads-to-be can benefit too, Winters explains. She notes there are many birth techniques that rely on focused breathing. Some methods, like Lamaze and the Bradley Method, make fathers a breathing coach during labor. Yoga offers practice.
“Breathing,” says Winters. “That’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re doing yoga together.”
Tips for Getting Started
Couples looking to begin their prenatal yoga practice will be able to find a variety of resources online, but Winters suggests those new to the practice should search specifically for prenatal yoga videos which will be easier to follow. Her own site, Spoiledyogi.com has several.
Whatever couples choose, Winters notes that prenatal yoga is not about competition or pushing limits. “During pregnancy is not really the time to start pushing yourself to do harder and harder things,” she says. Adding, women should instead use the practice to tune into their bodies. “A benefit of prenatal yoga is finding out where your edge is and how to listen to yourself.”
To do that, moms-to-be should listen to their breath. If a pose is causing shallow breaths that don’t go all the way to the abdomen, it’s time to ease back. Also, Winter warns that pregnancy produces a hormone called relaxin that causes tendons to soften. So, it’s best not to push stretches too far. Instead, she says, focus on building strength.
Finally, as pregnancy progresses, moms-to-be should keep aware of the load they carry. “Don’t squish the baby,” Winters says. “Anything that you’d do where you’re lying on your baby would obviously be a no. Also any poses that require twisting, which would also compress the baby, should be avoided.”
Prenatal Yoga in the First Trimester
The first trimester of pregnancy doesn’t place as many physical limits on movement. But it does have a tendency to affect energy levels. To that end, Winters suggests that mothers who already practice yoga can continue with whatever they are comfortable with. She also recommends:
- Savasana: A pose typically done at the end of practice. The position is fairly simple and only requires lying on your back in a face up neutral position with relaxed limbs. Naps are fine.
- Child’s Pose: Another common and restful pose, child’s pose is accomplished by starting on hands and knees and lowering the hips towards the heels so that the upper body is supported on your thighs in a kind of fetal position.
Prenatal Yoga in the Second Trimester
Prenatal yoga poses get a bit more active in the second trimester. Energy is returning, but there are some limits as the body changes. Winters recommends poses that strengthen the pelvic floor and open the hips.
- Cat and Cow: A hands and knees pose that alternates between an arched back and an opened chest. Winters explains the movements occur with the cycle of breath. “Inhale, lift the crown of your head and broaden your collarbones. Exhale, round the back, feel your shoulder blades spread apart, and look in toward that growing belly of yours.”
- Warrior 2: This standing pose helps strengthen the pelvic floor, which is crucial for birth. From hands and knees or downward facing dog, warrior two is accomplished by stepping one foot up between the hands, pressing down on the opposite heel and lifting the upper body with arms extended. The end result is a nice lunge.
Prenatal Yoga in the Third Trimester
In the third trimester, poses tend to be about preparing for labor. These poses are about making space and breathing into a sense of relaxed openness. Because the abdomen has grown, moms-to-be should take care and bring in yoga blocks if a stretch would otherwise cause the belly to be squished.
- Low Lunge: Simply, a lunge. One leg extends behind, with toes tucked under the foot and knee on the ground. The other leg is forward with the knee aligned over the foot. From there, Winters advises, “Inhale, reach your chest forward so that your spine is long. Exhale and soften your shoulders, face, tongue, and jaw. Stay here for two to three slow, deep breaths.”
- Garland Pose: Children use this pose to squat and look at things on the ground, and essentially the pose is simply a deep squat. Feet and knees should be apart and spread to make room for the belly. The torso should be upright with the bottom suspended over the floor. Hands are pressed together at the heart with elbows gently pushing knees outward.
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