Posted by: Circle of Grace Member, Jane Austin
As a prenatal yoga teacher and yoga mama myself, there are a few questions I get asked all the time: “When is it safe to start going to prenatal yoga classes?” or “If I’m pregnant and have a yoga practice, can’t I just modify postures in my regular class?” Here are a couple of easy answers. A Mama who is having a healthy pregnancy can start attending prenatal classes whenever she’s ready and her care provider gives her the okay. Pregnant Mamas that already have a yoga teacher, who is trained and has experience working with pregnant women, can continue taking “regular” classes well into their pregnancy. While these answers are short and simple, there is a deeper explanation for which yoga class best fits a pregnant woman’s needs. Read on.
To be sure, practicing yoga while pregnant has a long list of physical benefits. The practice increases energy, maintains strength, improves circulation, promotes good postural alignment, encourages relaxation and helps to relieve some of the common discomforts of pregnancy. Any one of these physical benefits gives pregnant women a good enough reason to practice yoga, but any teacher or regular practitioner knows that the holistic benefits of yoga go far beyond the body. Yoga gives practitioners a deeper, multi-level support, especially those who are experiencing great change in their lives. And since pregnancy is such a profound transition, many women find that yoga is perfectly suited to meet their physical, mental and emotional needs. Practicing yoga makes sense for the Pregnant Mama, but the question of what kind of yoga class to take is something to give careful consideration.
Prenatal yoga classes are unique in a couple of ways. Unlike “regular” yoga classes, they are specifically designed to accommodate the needs of women at all stages of pregnancy and all levels of fitness and yoga experience. Even if a Mama is new to yoga, modifications of postures and detailed instruction are given so that she can begin practicing safely. Prenatal yoga classes also present women with an opportunity to soften and open in order to make room for their babies in their bodies and in their lives. Women are encouraged to tune in and listen to their bodies as well as to their babies, so they can make choices that feel good for both of them. Through yoga, Mama can tap into her innate wisdom to know what is right for her and her baby. Throughout the prenatal yoga classes, a woman is encouraged to connect to herself and her baby. Just with her breath she can create a line of communication and begin to bond with her baby on the inside.
Another unique aspect of the prenatal class is that Mamas have an opportunity to gather with other pregnant women. Classes often open with short introductions and the opportunity to share pregnancy experiences. Women are welcome to share information and insight with one another, and many Mamas often realize that the other women in their community are one of their best resources.
Like I said earlier, I give the thumbs up for Mamas to go to “regular” classes and modify postures, but I think that sometimes, prenatal classes might be a better option for her. Here’s why. The instruction of an experienced prenatal yoga teacher reminds her that she is sharing her practice with her baby, encouraging her to let her practice evolve to support her changing needs. In a prenatal class that is just for Mama and baby, the practitioner might find that the old makes way for the new, giving her deeper insight into her already established yoga practice and making room inside herself for her baby and preparing for the birth. Prenatal yoga classes are not just about pregnant women doing yoga together; they are so much more. They are about honoring the mother, the baby and the relationship of mother and child.
And finally there are the many tools that prenatal yoga gives women for their birth experience. Yoga is invaluable in preparing for the softening and opening necessary for labor and birth and in helping Mama gain confidence and trust in her innate ability to birth her baby. Although there are no guarantees that birth will go as planned (there are no guarantees that life will go as planned!), prenatal yoga classes can help prepare women for whatever turns their birthing might take. By being present in her experience Mama has the opportunity to maintain connection to not only to her baby but to herself so that she can birth consciously and with awareness. One way or another she will open to birth her baby and herself. Yoga supports her in softening, so she has more ease in opening. As Mama moves deeper and deeper into labor, she can use the skills she practiced in her prenatal class: softening into the effort of birth, breathing to release tension and to let go of fear, opening and creating spaciousness through breath, movement and sound so her baby can move through her.
Whether a woman decides to take prenatal yoga or to stick with their “regular” practice and modify postures, yoga just makes sense for pregnant Mamas. I tend to encourage Mamas to take prenatal yoga because it offers them a deeper experience for their pregnancy and their birth.
Jane Austin is passionate about yoga and the transformative power of motherhood. She specializes in teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga. For two decades she has worked with mamas, not only as a yoga teacher but also as a midwife, doula and childbirth educator. As a mother, she knows first hand the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga during pregnancy and beyond. It is her mission to help make yoga available to all mothers who wish to practice.
Jane recently released a Prenatal Yoga DVD. For more information on Jane and her classes, go to janeaustinyoga.com.