Column: Yoga counters pregnancy aches, angst

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Prenatal yoga is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise for pregnant women. Expecting mothers receive many physical, mental and spiritual benefits by their yoga practice.

When a woman is pregnant her body needs more oxygen, but growing babies limit movement of the diaphragm, leading to shortness of breath. Yoga’s emphasis on breathing techniques teaches students how to optimize each inhalation. Focusing on posture and alignment in each pose creates more space for lungs to move, stretches sides of the body and allows for deeper breathing.

Many postures practiced on the yoga mat are great preparation to loosen the body for delivery.

Hip-opening postures can help relieve discomfort during the later stages of pregnancy, as well as ease the delivery process. By incorporating hip stretches, expectant mothers can release both physical and emotional tension while reducing pain associated with tight hips.

As pregnant bellies grow, they increase the arch of the lumbar spine, which commonly causes low back pain in pregnant women. Standing forward folds can relieve this tension as well as lengthen the hamstrings, which can also greatly reduce low back pain and tightness.

Yoga is excellent for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles that are so important during delivery and postnatal recovery. Many yoga poses incorporate what we in the yoga world call mula bandha, more commonly known as Kegel exercises. These poses strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to help prevent tearing, urinary incontinence, bladder and bowel prolapse and hemorrhoids.

Yoga is also excellent at relieving swelling in the feet and legs. Gentle inversions such as the Legs-up-the-Wall pose can reduce water retention and varicose veins by using gravity to reverse blood flow back to the heart and improve circulation.

Bringing a child into the world is joyful, but pregnancy can also be a time of anxiety as we prepare our bodies, minds and spirits for baby’s arrival. The fear of the unknown and the stress it creates can be detrimental to the health of mother and child.

Incorporating yoga poses that are meditative and relaxing can help relieve stress, and give mothers-to-be time to be introspective as well as let go of any self-induced expectations they may have about their journey to motherhood. This can also be a time for turning inward and quiet connection with baby.

Yoga teaches us to find peace in the face of adversity, which is excellent preparation for learning to calm the mind in labor and delivery. When the mind is in a state of distress this has a direct effect on the body, creating tension and resistance.

By keeping calm, breathing through the pain and consciously relaxing the mind the body is able to move more smoothly through the process of labor and delivery. The more time an expectant mother can practice calm in the face of challenge before baby comes, the better able she will be to use those skills in the delivery room.

Finally, the community created in prenatal yoga classes is invaluable. It gives new mothers the opportunity to connect with other moms, ask questions and share their worries, hopes and dreams.

Maggie Yant is a yoga/group fitness instructor and certified personal trainer at the Walla Walla YMCA, where she is leading prenatal yoga classes.

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