Guest post by Dani Loxton
You can’t log onto any social media outlet lately without having the benefits of yoga forced in your face, or at least involuntarily hearing (reading) all about someone’s practice and their new life as a glowing yogi. You have seen it all haven’t you? The ‘oh my god I have total yoga hair right now’ and ‘I’m totally blissed out after tonight’s yoga, a great practice with my soul sister’ or is it just me that is surrounded by all of this? Although when I first started, I was one of them (please don’t look back on the years of my Instagram … cringe!). Yoga made me feel awesome; I wanted the world to know. It perfectly balanced out my weight training and I am certain I can put many of my physical changes down to yoga, but the mental aspect, woah … that was ALL yoga. Not only am I thankful for that, my husband and my family are probably even more so.
So with all of the benefits yoga brings you in everyday life – imagine what it does for pregnancy, for labour and even new mums (I’ll give you a hint, it’s a shit load!). I’m not trying to sell it to you just because I am a prenatal yoga teacher and I want you to join my classes (but hey, if you’re ever in town, why not right?). I am instead, raving about something that I personally have seen benefits from- gushing about my own personal experience. Because to be perfectly honest, I’m not that great at rambling on about a subject that I don’t really understand, nor am passionate about.
So … be prepared!
When I fell pregnant with Ivy, I was lucky enough to have already had my breathing techniques down pat (that Ujjayi breathing was my life) as well as having started my prenatal training, so I was pretty much my own guinea pig. Little did I realise, the skills I already had under my belt as well as the techniques I was starting to learn were not only going to ease the (joyful – HA HA) discomforts of pregnancy, but also prepare me for what turned out to be an amazing first birthing experience with my daughter. (more on Ujjayi breathing here).
Let me guess, you are currently sitting there imagining what a prenatal yoga class looks like (if you have never attended one before that is). You see a room full of ladies, resting their hands on their big bellies, ocean sounds and calming music, cushions, bolsters, a slow and relaxing restorative yoga session signing kumbaya to their unborn babies. You aren’t completely off. Pregnancy classes are at times gentle, and restorative asanas are definitely an important part of any practice – especially a prenatal yoga practice. Equally important are the physical strengthening postures specifically designed for the mumma to be. A GOOD prenatal yoga class provides a safe and effective practice in a nurturing environment, with a certified teacher.
I have now noticed since teaching, that prenatal yoga classes are for a lot of people, the first time they have ever stepped on the mat (which is perfectly fine!). Because yoga is absolutely recommended by doctors and health professionals during pregnancy – that being said, it is important to realise that there are SO many different types of yoga and it is advisable to attend a special prenatal class if you can (especially if you are new to the whole yoga scene). Classes designed for prenatal students will teach you specifically the asanas that can be practiced safely and help work on enhancing your pregnancy.
Safety always comes first:
During pregnancy you obviously want to stay away from poses (or anything in general) that may be a potential risk or danger to your unborn babe. This means there is a list of things that are highly recommended you avoid in a yoga session while pregnant (isn’t there a list for everything whilst being pregnant, gah!). Some of these include; any postures and movements that compress or strain the belly, like strong (closed) twists and strong back bends . You want to avoid any abdominal contractions or active inversions (unless you are extremely experienced in this area) as well as lying on your back for a long period of time. Of course, the most important one is that we ALWAYS avoid anything that doesn’t feel good, or ‘right’. You know your body best!
All of the things I have mentioned have specific reasons as to why we should avoid them. Vena cava compression while laying on your back, for example – but if I were to go through every single contraindication or guideline for a safe practice we will be here forever. So I suggest you make sure that when joining a prenatal yoga class, you know the teacher is well educated and well aware.
If you have followed me for a while or know me in person you would have definitely heard me call myself the breath nazi before! When you think of birthing classes don’t you picture exactly what you see in the typical Hollywood movies? The baby dadda there with the baby mumma coaching her, reminding her to breathe. Inhale, strong exhale Woo woo woo, inhale,strong exhale woo woo woo … wronggggg! I’m sorry to every cliché movie out there. This is not the way you want to be breathing whilst giving birth. I mean, each to their own, but wouldn’t you much rather a slower breath that doesn’t make you feel like you are going to hyperventilate, pass out or throw up while you’re about to push a human out of your vagina? Because isn’t that last part enough?!
Learning to breathe deeply and efficiently is always the foundation of a good yoga practice and it helps create a positive impact on your physical and mental health during pregnancy (and everyday life). This part was my saving grace. As I said earlier, I was fortunate enough to already have this part down pat (so this is a hint to you, get to any yoga class and learn that breathing technique, so when the time comes for you to need it, it will simply come as second nature!) Using the full diaphragmatic or yogic breath and learning the power of breath, can help calm the mind when faced with a challenging situation (I’m not sure if you know this or not, but labour can sometimes be classed as a challenging situation). Therefore women can use their breath during labour to help with focusing and centering themselves!
In saying that, it can help with going through the labour process drug free.
As I got further into my pregnancy I was spending more and more time (over) researching and I finally had my birth plan nutted out. You may think that because I am a yoga teacher I would definitely be keen on keeping everything fully natural, no medical interference and drug free. Um yer. You are wrong there. My birth plan went a little like this:
- Pray to god that when I go into labour it’s not in the middle of the supermarket.
- Labour for as much as I can at home so that I can have an active labour in a comfortable house, bath tub etc. for as long as I can handle the pain. If I could handle the pain at all that is. And if I couldn’t – I would ask for any type of drug possible. I was more into being comfortable than I was consciously ‘drug free’ (My mother in law once told me she wasn’t allowing her grandbaby near any drugs. I told her I would call security and she wasn’t allowed in the hospital. HA! Um I still love you Tania).
- Get to the hospital with just enough time to still be able to get an epidural because the thought of feeling a head come out of my vagina didn’t really tickle my fancy. (Which I was a little conflicted with because I didn’t want to give birth on my back, and an epidural doesn’t allow anything other).
- Not stress out if none of this went to plan and especially if I ended up in a caesarean, because the hospital knows what they are doing. Not me.
So that was it. A pretty simple and straight forward plan. Ivy’s birth really went like this:
- Went into labour at home (fuck yes!) in the middle of the night. Water broke at home.
- Got checked out at the hospital and sent back to labour at home.
- It was the middle of winter and my house was freezing. I didn’t want a bath (yet) so I lay in bed with a heat pack and stood up during every contraction to rock. The active labour didn’t interest me yet, I thought it may come later because hey… I’ll be here for a while right?
- I attempted to go to the toilet at home. My mum turned up and told me we needed to get to the hospital right away (whatever mum, calm ya farm goshhhh)
- Got to the hospital fully dilated ready to push. Yer I wasn’t trying to go to the toilet at home. I was trying to push out a child. Duhhhhh!
I didn’t however do it completely drug free – What I did have was a few sucks of the gas, when the midwife told me I couldn’t have the epidural, that may have panicked me a little. But using the gas got my breathing back in check. I only needed a few puffs and I was back. I think that was due to the fact that you are forced to breathe slowly into the little contraption that calmed me, not the actual gas (maybe? I’ll go with that any way).
Aches and pains and niggly bits:
I know I probably sound like I’m repeating myself, but this part is one of my favourite benefits from prenatal yoga and it is one of the things I really focus on in my own classes. There are certain aches and pains that come with pregnancy, it is just a given, unfortunately. The physical and the hormonal changes can be exhausting, but thankfully there are alot of things within a yoga practice that can be beneficial for all of these niggly bits, such as fluid retention, leg cramps and achy hips. Personally as a teacher I like to speak with my students each week before class to see if anything is bothering them and to make sure I adjust the class accordingly. Making sure I know which students need to not overstretch their hamstrings for example, because they suffer from sciatic pain and really work on outer hip stretches instead. Or modify different postures for those ladies with terrible pelvic pain. This part of a prenatal class can get quite tricky because a lot of the time you get more than one physical side effect, so you have to make sure that one modification or adjustment isn’t going to cause more pain in another area. Listening to your body is a must! As soon as something doesn’t feel right, come out of the position and let the instructor know.
Learning to surrender can be a lot more difficult than it sounds. We all know that birthing a baby requires a lot of effort and stamina, but it also requires the skill of being able to totally let go. So why not start off small by learning to fully surrender in a yoga class? Childs pose was my absolute favourite position to practice my ‘surrendering’ if I ever felt like life was getting too much and I couldn’t shut anything out. Any type of restorative yoga (or relaxation) will help you find comfort and release, helping you surrender into whatever position you are in. Your heart rate will slow, your blood pressure will drop, your breathing (if it isn’t already) will become deep and slow causing any stress hormones to dissipate. Once you have experienced the sensation of surrendering in a yoga practice, you can use those techniques you have learned that work for you to encourage this same result outside of class. Not only is it a perfect skill for a pregnant woman during her pregnancy and her labour, it is an amazing life skill that should be taken off the mat as well.
So how about I wrap this up nice and simply and professionally (because I am a professional guys, as much as you may not believe me) with a really straight forward list of the benefits for you to ingrain in your memory and pass on to your friends, your neighbours, your sisters and any damn person who is pregnant (because pregnant people just LOVE advice, go on… tell them what it is they need to do – I dare you!). In reality I could have just elaborated on this list instead of going on and on like I have above, but then hey – I always love to take any chance I can get to ramble.
- Promotes relaxation / stress management
- Improves general health, fitness and stamina
- Promotes emotional wellbeing (helping those around you put up with you while your hormones are raging)
- Increases strength, flexibility & agility
- Deep toning of birth muscles (mmm pelvic floor exercises. Delicious)
- Improves circulation
- Reduces / alleviates back problems
- Alleviates / prevents aches & pains caused by the growing of a mini human inside of you.
- Improves balance & coordination
- Helps birth consciously & powerfully!
- Empowers women!
As soon as you find out you are pregnant (and it is safe to do so, after the 12 week mark) get your butt and your bump into a prenatal yoga class, or even start a safe practice at home. Taking the time to stretch, breathe, relax & meditate is the perfect way to help create a positive pregnancy for both you & your bub to be (The last two are my favourite!).
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