This blog has been written by my wonderful colleague and friend Michelle Papa. Michelle teaches yoga in Sydney and is the co-founder of the Mindful Birth program. More information about her and her work can be found at www.michellekpapa.com
Pregnancy is a transformative rite of passage for women. A life changing milestone where women are greeted with variety of physiological and psychological changes weaving in together to support the growing needs of the baby. It was through my fertility and pregnancy journey where I deeply realised the importance of self-care and surrender as I immediately felt the effects of hormonal changes in my body from the get-go. I have never felt so exhausted in my life, and as many mother’s would say I didn’t feel like myself, like there as a veil hanging over me. I experienced all of that in my first trimester, a sensitive time during pregnancy where our body is doing so much extra work to create life. My journey in pregnancy taught me the importance surrender and acceptance, lessons I have touched on my mat when I move with my breath. Women need space and a practice that celebrates softness, supports change, an accessible and nurturing practice that cares for both physical and mental well-being of a mother.
As a yoga teacher, and childbirth educator, I’ve been supporting prenatal and post-natal women through classes and workshops for over a decade. It’s beautiful to witness so many women transition from one stage of pregnancy into another, and to see them back with their babies in mums and bubs classes. Many, just like me, can attest to the benefits of prenatal yoga and how it aided them during pregnancy, birth and motherhood.
Here are some of the benefits of yoga during pregnancy:
1.) Yoga can help alleviate some of the discomfort and support changes that come with pregnancy.
As the body prepares to support the growing baby, the mother’s body changes inside out. Due to pregnancy related hormones women produce during this time, one of them would be the hormone relaxin, its effects can cause discomfort in the pelvic region, lower back and other areas. Yoga, through conscious movement, breath and proper engagement can help bring a sense of release, strength, stability and more importantly a connection to the ever-changing body during this special time.
The practice can be altered to meet a mother’s needs. If she’s feeling feel tired, nauseous, and have been experiencing sleepless nights, a Restorative Yoga Practice and a gentle breathing practice like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) can help relieve the tired body and mind. On days when mother feels energetic, she might feel inspired to move in a more fluid yet supported way, and a gentle pregnancy flow class might be suitable for her. Pregnancy yoga nurtures women’s unique needs which allows her to feel accepted and honoured.
2.) Yoga can help women decompress and re-connect with themselves.
Stress and worries can arise during this time. We live in a fast-paced environment, juggling various responsibilities. This can lead to fatigue, and a sense of overwhelm. Pregnancy yoga practice can be a space to de-stress, re-centre, a place to reconnect to the calm within. Women will learn relaxation techniques such breathing exercises, postures, meditation and visualisation practices, which will help towards slowing down, moving from fight and flight response to a more grounded, relaxed state.
The breath is an essential part of yoga practice - the breath brings us back to the present moment; the breath connects mothers to their babies in the womb. The breath is heart of yoga practice. When we can surrender to the breath we can start to let go of the “must do’s”, our mental lists, and start the journey back to ourselves. The breathing can bring a sense of ease in both body and mind. We allow the body and mind to re-set, and replenish, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and taming the busy mind.
3.) Yoga can help women prepare for birth.
Apart from preparing the body for birth, did you know that most of the yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation practices are tools that women can utilise during labour and delivery? The postures practiced in class can help women work through contractions, and according to research can even make the first stage of labour shorter. A growing body of empirical studies suggest that incorporating mindfulness practices – conscious movement, breathing and meditation - can help bring deeper awareness. This awareness can help women surrender to the unraveling that ensues during birthing. Leaning into her reservoir of strength she may discover parts of herself she’s never known before. Following our inner compass gives us ability to make informed choices that leaves us empowered no matter what the birth outcome maybe.
4.) Motherhood is the big yoga.
Yoga (“yuj”) means union. Birthing and motherhood exemplify union, a coming together, of two beings, forming a bond like no other. Motherhood asks us to open up to experiences and stretches us beyond what we thought we were capable of. It also takes us away from our comfort zone, asks us to reflect of past, present and future. It asks us to question, be brave, yet soft, to love unconditionally. When we parent from a connected space, we can pay attention to how we interact with our children, and parent from a space of love even when it’s difficult. Motherhood is yoga, it’s our practice off the mat where we can summon self-compassion, understanding and a sense of letting go as we support our children in many ways.
5.) Yoga and community.
Pregnancy and motherhood can be a lonely time for many women. Being with other pregnant women in a yoga class can foster a sense of community (“sangha”). I have witnessed lifelong friendships blossom in classes. A sense of connection can leave a positive impact in a woman’s overall well-being. When women share their experiences amongst each other it can be a lovely reminder that they’re not alone in their journey.
If you’re an expectant mother and wish to keep healthy in body and mind, pregnancy yoga can address women’s needs, and more. It’s a match made in heaven.