How Can Prenatal Yoga Prepare Me for Birth?
Prenatal yoga is beneficial for many, many reasons. Among them? It can help prepare you for birth. In addition to bridging friendships and providing a sense of community, promoting bonding between you and your little one, and just giving you something to do that is specifically modified just for you, prenatal yoga can and does help prepare your body and mind for birth.
Prenatal yoga prepares you for the big day in a variety of ways. Teaching pregnant people for the last three years has shown me that it is extremely effective at equipping expectant parents for birthing a new human and parenting said homo sapien. Even for the flightiest and spontaneous among us (I'm surely not talking about myself, cough cough), being even a little bit prepared is never a bad thing. And I can say "never" with about 98% confidence in this instance!
We don't really acknowledge what goes through our minds or our bodies. It is sort of just a passing glance. So, how does it get you ready? Here's how:
The asanas, or poses, prepare your muscles by conditioning them. Squats, cat/cow, modified pigeon, and a slew of others exercise and strengthen your muscles so that they work a little more efficiently throughout your pregnancy and birth. In addition, the fatigue that they go through from being pushed a bit prepares you for the sensations associated with discomfort while simultaneously building endurance. Particularly, in the poses that generate heat, such as goddess (Grow clients love this one), the body becomes accustomed to the rising temperature and the work it takes to continue in the pose. In poses that rely on opening, or stretching, the body cools. This pattern of heating/cooling introduces you to the cyclical nature of pregnancy and birth, especially of the peaks and falls such as in contractions.
Prenatal yoga increases body awareness. Because most of us live hectic lives, we are often out of touch with our bodies and the different thoughts, feelings, and sensations we experience any given day. We don't really acknowledge what goes through our minds or our bodies. It is sort of just a passing glance in-between other thoughts or tasks. You may not even recognize it between greeting customers, caring for other children, or taking your patients' temps. The brain barely registers it until...you try to sleep and then all of sudden, you are feeling anxious or restless, or else in pain. The root of it all seems to escape you. Prenatal yoga helps you get to the root by giving you the tools to catalog these rogue thoughts and feelings in an effective way.
Breathing is the single-most important tool you can use on the big day, or any day really! Prenatal yoga classes should always spend ample time breathing. You have to catch your breath and learn how to regulate it for maximum benefit. Breathing exercises are different and each one has an intended purpose with specific effects. A lot of people hear "breathing" and automatically think Lamaze-you know, the old-fashioned "hoo hoo ha, hoo hoo hee". What Lamaze got right (and it has been updated to reflect modern sensibilities), is that breathing is paramount to dealing with labor and non-laborious birth. Meaning: the breathing techniques are incredibly useful for both vaginal and cesarean birth, if for possibly different reasons and with different results. Whether you are seeking to reduce pain or reduce anxiety, practicing some ujjayi breath could be a big piece of the pie.
Birth and parenting absolutely require adaptability. Prenatal yoga gets you closer to the type B than to the type A. You'll learn that one of the tenets of yoga, Aparigraha, or non-grasping, teaches us to question what we hold dear, what we identify with, and why. Sometimes, what we clench with our metaphorical fingers the tightest doesn't do us any damn good, other than giving us a sense of pride that really, is irrelevant. This is not to say that ego, preferences, materials, ideas, etc. are bad. It just means that we often like or want things, even immaterial, that are not based in objective or subjective reality. When we realize that we hold steadfast to something that goes against our nature because it is "cool" or "right", we learn to examine our internal motivations. This all translates to becoming more adaptable because we begin to let go and allow new knowledge and new feelings to guide us in the present moment. So maybe you plan to have an unmedicated, vaginal birth but then baby turns breech. Having practiced aparigraha on the mat might just prepare you to accept the current reality with little to no feelings of regret.
Lastly, prenatal yoga can prepare you to relax. Like, really, truly let the mind become quiet and the body become still through meditation and yoga nidra practice. Not only is relaxation crucial to encouraging labor to start and progress, to pushing, to undergoing a cesarean section, to changing diapers, and to living somewhat peaceably for the next 18+ years, it is imperative for a healthy mind and body. Knowing how to relax, knowing when to find a time-out (or time-in?), and letting yourself take care of you is a skill that is necessary. When you near the end of the practice in supine butterfly or side-lying savasana, your body will thank you by resting, and yet, simultaneously setting things up for you mentally and physically for birth. Your muscles, bones, nervous system, emotions, and thoughts all "reset" so to speak, so that you are one step closer to being a little more prepared by simply being relaxed!
Of all the different ways you can prepare for birth, prenatal yoga is, or should be, at the top of the list for its multi-faceted approach and because it is, put simply, fun!