Congratulations on your pregnancy! Welcome to what can be most exciting period of any woman’s life, especially if you are expecting your first baby. This is a time of opportunities and challenges, as your body changes and grows to accommodate the amazing presence of your baby within, and to prepare you emotionally and spiritually for the experience of motherhood. It can be a bit of a roller coaster, and every pregnancy is different, so it can be hard to know what to expect or how best to cope with the many amazing developments in your physical and emotional life right now.
Thankfully, there is a tried and tested practice to help keep you well, vital, relaxed and connected through the whole experience of pregnancy and birth. This practice is yoga for pregnancy, and it is one of the most valuable activities that you could choose to do during your pregnancy. I’m speaking as a mother of three children, who practiced yoga through all my pregnancies. I’ve been teaching yoga to thousands of pregnant women for the past seventeen years, and have trained hundreds of teachers, so I can completely assure you that if there is one thing that’s worth finding the time to do everyday it’s yoga.
Yoga is an ancient system of truly holistic self care and spiritual development that began in India over three thousand years ago, and is now practiced all over the world in many different forms. The word means literally ‘to be in union’, or harmony with the source of life. So why is it so helpful to pregnant women? It’s simply because it works at every level of your being to create a genuine sense of well-being and joy: the physical techniques of gentle movement promote grace, strength and comfort as your body changes from day to day, so yoga can help you to move freely and easily through pregnancy and labour; the breath practices connect you to your breathing patterns, and really boost vitality and calm, helping you to enjoy better levels of energy through the day and deeper more restful sleep at night. At an emotional level, the sense of well being that yoga encourages through deep relaxation can be of great comfort, soothing anxieties and building your courage and self assurance, whilst at a more cosmic level, there really is a sense of well-being and connection enjoyed by pregnant women who practice yoga that truly helps them feel ‘part of it all’, and that brings a really deep and lasting sense of joy and delight in life, which is crucial as you prepare to encounter the challenges of motherhood.
As if all these marvellous benefits were not enough, pregnant women who practice yoga really enjoy the way that it helps to build a deep connection and bond with the unborn child: because the babies are doing yoga too! They enjoy the calming breaths and rhythmic movement, and can really sense the fact that their mum is taking time simply to send a loving and nourishing energy to them in the womb. I have lost count of the number of mums to be in my pregnancy yoga classes who have really connected for the first time with the presence of their babies during the yoga relaxations and meditations, saying ‘This feels like the first time I have really had time to connect with my baby properly’. As an added bonus, regular practice of yoga throughout pregnancy can be of great benefit during labour, partly because the postures can help the baby to move into an optimal position for an easier birth, and partly because all those breathing practices and relaxation techniques truly come into their own as you go into labour.
So what’s the best way to start? Without doubt, if you are new to yoga you will be best in a specialist pregnancy yoga class, taught by a yoga teacher who has additional training in yoga for pregnant women. There are a number of different organisations which train pregnancy yoga teachers. A good place to start looking is the international listings of teachers who have completed trainings with Sitaram Yoga (http://www.sitaram.org/sitaram3/classes-worldwide), Birthlight (http://birthlight.com/public/findaclass/), the British Wheel of Yoga (http://www.bwy.org.uk/instructor/find.htm), Yogabirth (http://www.yogabirth.org/)
or the Active Birth Centre (http://www.activebirthcentre.com/pb/catyogaforpregnancy.shtml). It there are not qualified teachers near you, then the best bet is a book specially designed to help you practice on your own, for example ‘Teach Yourself Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth’.
If you are new to yoga it is wise to wait until around fourteen weeks before joining a class, but if you have already been practicing yoga then it’s fine to continue the practice, so long as you and your teacher feel safe and secure that you both have confident in the safety and suitability of your practice. If you have already been practicing yoga for some time before your conceived, then by all means continue your practice, but be mindful and cautious about only doing what feels truly comfortable. There should be no sense of struggle or difficulty in yoga practice during pregnancy.
It’s brilliant to be able to get to a yoga class once or twice a week, and to make time for a little practice every day at home. Even just ten minutes of quite breathing and relaxation can make all the difference to your sense of well-being and levels of vitality. There’s no need for any special clothes or equipment, just space enough to get down on the floor with a carpet or mat beneath, and an old T shirt and a pair of leggings is perfect. Yoga is best done in bare feet.
Perhaps the best and most helpful posture to do on a daily basis is the ‘cat’. You’ll need a mat or rug on the floor to cushion your knees as you come into all fours, with your knees hip width apart and your hands shoulder width apart, palms flat on the floor, a little ahead of your shoulders. Breath freely and easily through your nose if possible, and move to wriggle and circle your hips until your body feels free and mobile. Then begin to lift and lengthen your chest forward between your shoulders as you inhale, careful not to dip your lower back. Let your belly hang, forming a lovely hammock for your baby to rest in. Then as you exhale, round your back, tuck in your tailbone and press on your hands and knees so that your head can hang, stretching your neck and hugging your baby up towards your spine. Repeat these movements with each inhale and exhale up to twelve times, or more if you are enjoying it. That’s it! A sure fire way to free up any back stiffness and lift your spirits.
Then sit back comfortably, resting your back against the wall if that feels more comfortable, with your legs either crossed or stretched out in front. Prepare to relax: rest your left palm over your heart and your right palm over your womb. As you inhale, direct the focus of your mental attention up the front of your body into your heart, and as you exhale, send the mental attention with your breath back down to your womb. You are tracing the line of a very special ‘river of energy’ along from your womb to your heart, and in the process are sending loving energy down to your baby, and bringing your baby’s love back up to your heart. It’s called the Heart/Womb meditation and it’s a truly calming technique: you can practice as long as you can sit comfortably. It’s a perfect daily practice for you and your baby throughout your pregnancy. Enjoy!