The importance of exercise during pregnancy cannot be stressed enough. It keeps the heart healthy, tones muscles, builds strength and increases flexibility. It also boosts confidence and mood and reduces stress. While there are many types of exercises expectant moms can try, yoga often comes out on top. Unlike most other forms, it combines physical and mental aspects to provide a well-rounded outcome.
According to a study published in Depression & Anxiety, just one session of yoga was found to reduce anxiety towards childbirth. Yoga is also gentle and low impact and it can be modified to suit your capability. As you gradually increase flexibility and strength, you’ll be able to perform poses better. You’ll also find yourself in a calmer, more focused state of mind. In part 1 of our prenatal yoga series, we take a look at some of the benefits of incorporating yoga in your life.
Yoga tones the entire body but specific poses can strengthen muscles in the pelvic floor and hips in preparation for childbirth. During pregnancy, the body undergoes major changes including stretching of the abdominal muscles and hips. Your posture changes and you move differently. This can create discomfort especially in the hips and lower back. Yoga lengthens and strengthens these muscles to help your body bear the weight it’s carrying. Stronger pelvic floor muscles can also prevent accidental leakage of urine during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Pregnancy brings with it a host of complaints like back pain and headaches. While expected, they can make those nine months feel less than welcome. Prenatal yoga can address these complaints. If you’re suffering from low back pain, practicing yoga can make it more manageable. It stretches the spine and strengthens the muscles supporting it. It also relieves tension that can build up over the course of the day. Expectant moms who suffer from headaches can also find their discomfort eased with yoga. Stress is a major trigger and yoga directly addresses it. With regular practice, you learn to control stress and stay calm. While it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never suffer from headaches and general discomfort, it makes it easier to manage.
In between the excitement and joy of waiting for your little one to come into this world is the stress that pregnancy can bring. Hormonal fluctuations, weight gain, worrying about the health of your baby, etc. can all contribute to stress. High levels of stress for a prolonged period can be dangerous to your health and that of your baby’s. It can cause high blood pressure and heart disease and can also increase the risk of premature labor. Yoga can help deal with stress as it emphasizes focus and relaxation besides physical exercise. It also helps you feel more connected to yourself and keeps you tuned to the changes you’re going through. A study published in BMC Psychiatry found that participants in integrated yoga groups (physical exercise combined with meditation and deep breathing) reported significantly lower levels of depression compared to those who received physical exercise-based yoga, social support, etc.
Pregnancy often causes digestive issues like heartburn, constipation and bloating. As your body expands to accommodate your growing baby, organs vie for space and this can put pressure on the digestive system including the intestines and stomach. Hormones also play a role. For instance, progesterone causes the valve between the stomach and esophagus to relax. Stomach acid passes into the esophagus more easily and you feel a burning sensation. Yoga can open up the chest and relieve esophageal pressure. Some poses can also stimulate the digestive system to reduce constipation.
Insomnia is a common ‘side-effect’ of pregnancy. Hormones, aches and pains, stress, leg cramps, etc. can keep you awake and prevent you from getting much-needed rest. Yoga can help as it can be used to treat pain, reduce stress and promote a sense of wellbeing. A study by the School of Nursing, San Jose State University, California, found that women who practiced mindfulness-based yoga in their second trimester had fewer awakenings and spent less time awake at night. However, those who began practicing it in their third trimester did not feel the benefits. As such, it’s important to start yoga early so that you get the rest you need.
Along with yoga, it’s important to follow a bedtime routine to set the pace for sleep. A warm cup of milk, a warm shower and reading a book can be very relaxing. Using pillows to position your body and sleeping on your left side can make you more comfortable and ready for sleep. Using a good mattress helps too as it provides a proper surface to sleep on and prevents aches and pains from developing.
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Pregnancy can be a wonderful time despite the often times unwelcome changes you go through. Staying fit and calm with the help of yoga can make the experience much more enjoyable. Keep in mind that it’s important to speak to your doctor before doing yoga. You should also inform your instructor that you’re pregnant and let them know which trimester you’re in as there are different yoga poses for different trimesters. In part 2 of our prenatal yoga series, we’ll be exploring yoga poses you can do safely during your pregnancy.