Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga: Is it Right For You?
What you need to know, from the experts.
Are you pregnant and want to stay fit but don't know what to do? Or are you postpartum, want to get (back) into exercising and don't know where, when or how to start? Yoga can be a natural place to begin your search. Here's why.
Whether you're pregnant or postpartum, a novice or an expert, yoga meets you at your skill level.
While there are benefits to all types of exercise, yoga is not just a way to get fit. It connects our physical and mental selves. And in our prenatal and postpartum vulnerable lives, it just may be what we need.
First, get the ok from your health provider before you start a new exercise practice or have had any changes to your health. If you suffer from ongoing diastasis (separation of the abdominal muscles), certain yoga poses should be avoided.
Why yoga vs. another form of exercise? What's special about prenatal and postnatal yoga?
Siena Wellness yoga instructor, Elizabeth Hubley says, "
... yoga is unique in its ability to offer us a lens into our bodies, into how we react when things get challenging, and to begin learning mindfulness which we can take off of our mats and into our parenting. The breath work (pranayama) that many teachers incorporate into class can help in easing stress and tension during all stages - pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Prenatal yoga can improve sleep and strengthen the muscles needed for childbirth.
One of the most important benefits of a prenatal or postnatal yoga practice is not the physical workout. Hubley explains that yoga allows us to learn how to connect "with our changing bodies in a real, intentional, and kind/non-judgmental way. We go through so much in pregnancy, birth and postpartum, and yoga teaches us to accept where we are in any given moment, which is pretty radical and powerful in a world that is always asking us to change our bodies to look a certain way."
Rebecca Henry, yoga instructor at Willow Street Yoga, explains that yoga is "not just exercise." Yoga literally means "union" in Sanskrit. It gives our mind and body the opportunity to reconnect. Doing so allows women to have a greater understanding of the changes to their bodies.
Both the prenatal and postnatal times in our lives are unique for different reasons. Prenatally, you have time to adjust to each new phase in your life as your body slowly changes over the many months that you're pregnant. Postnatally, there is a sudden and drastic change to your body, with the birth of your baby. Sometimes it's accompanied by stress or trauma. During this period of time, Henry recounts that women are often neglected or misunderstood. "Anxiety is in our muscular tissues." When doing yoga, it's important to ask yourself, how do I "feel in this pose... when I breathe in this manner?" This emphasis on the mind-body connection, gives us power to make changes that alleviate stress while strengthening our bodies at the same time.
The connections and community that you build within this environment often is the foundation for longterm relationships that exceeds the yoga class. Another reason why yoga is unique.
What should one look for in a yoga instructor or studio? When is a good time to start?
A studio that has classes specific to the prenatal or postnatal woman usually have instructors who've been specially trained in these fields. Prenatal classes can be taken in any trimester (again, assuming your health care provider hasn't said otherwise). Hubley says, "A well-designed yoga practice will also help build strength for birth and life with a baby." If you have any questions or concerns, make sure to speak with the instructor to see if your needs can be met.
Henry adds that a yoga instructor is often the "first line of defense in dealing with trauma." Whether it's infertility, birth or postpartum, it's important to know that you can use your teacher as a resource to help heal. That makes finding the right yoga instructor and community that much more important.
If you've never tried yoga or have taken a long sabbatical from it, it's never too late to pick it up. No matter where you are in life, always be kind to yourself. That's a lesson we can all take to the mat.
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