One of the translations for the word yoga is union. There is nothing that is more united than a growing fetus inside a mother’s womb. But there are also many changes that a mother experiences that may feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unexplainable. Yoga can be a wonderful way to explore the new changes in your body, help minimize risk and difficulties in pregnancy and prepare yourself for labor and for a new baby in your life.

If you already have a yoga practice, you can make simple modifications as your pregnancy proceeds. Some health care professionals advise women not to begin a yoga practice in the first trimester if they have not practiced yoga before, and others believe any time is fine to start as long as they pay attention to their body.

Check in with your own health care provider to see if yoga during pregnancy is right for you, and then find a class with a certified prenatal yoga teacher. Avoid Bikram or any hot-yoga classes as they increase the body temperatures to unsafe levels.

There are also some wonderful prenatal yoga videos on the market to help get started or deepen a home practice. The advantage of a class, however, is joining a community of other pregnant women. Especially for first-time mothers, this bonding can be important as their world starts to become completely centered on the growing life within. Jessica Mendizabal, a new mom, said this of her prenatal yoga class, “I learned different things about my body that I wouldn't learn with the doctor. I was able to ease my sciatic nerve pain which was helpful. I learned ways to move and not move my pregnant body and I loved meeting other pregnant women and hearing their stories.” Her class even invited the husband, spouse or supporting friend in to learn poses that would help during labor.

Less stress, anxiety through proper breathing

One of the biggest benefits for a mother-to-be is the stress and anxiety reduction brought about by the proper use of the breath. Breathing deeply, slowly, and learning how to lengthen the inhale and exhale help relax the body and mind and start to unravel stress. This deep breathing can also help to control pain, both during pregnancy and delivery. And once you’re practiced in using this powerful tool, you’ll be well served when the baby appears and the real changes to your life truly begin.

Monnya Silver, an aerialist and equestrian acrobat, complained that since getting pregnant, yoga was no longer fun. She was used to pushing herself to the extreme in all of the most challenging physical poses. I recommended a prenatal class that would help her to slow down and connect, and to be extremely cautious about overstretching her already flexible body. For her, the challenge was to find a place of deep stillness, and hopefully a sweeter, but less exuberant, physical experience as she transitioned from being an elite athlete to being a pregnant woman and new mom.

Backbends, poses lying on the stomach and twists are all contraindicated during pregnancy, but inversions can be practiced all the way through if you’ve already got a strong inversion practice. For someone like Silver, doing those inversions, and perhaps holding them longer, will help her feel physically challenged as her changing body forces her to learn a new center of balance. As your body changes, you’ll have to modify your poses, using props like the wall during standing balances, or extra blankets and bolsters to help support forward bends.

Be still and listen to your body

One of the most important principles of yoga is tuning in and listening to what the body is saying. A pregnant woman can feel overtaken by this strange life growing within her. Many women get cravings for different foods and this, too, is an extension of the body’s new needs. During a yoga practice, when you sit still and really tune in, you can start to hear these callings.

The body needs deeper and more rest, and also different stretches as it opens and prepares to deliver a baby. During pregnancy the body releases hormones called relaxin, which increase flexibility, especially in the hips. It’s important not to overstretch and injure the tendons and ligaments of the hips and legs in your zeal to take advantage of this newfound bendiness. It is equally important to strengthen the body. Doing squats can help prepare for delivery, and holding plank pose can help strengthen the arms for carrying that baby.

Yoga can help relieve aches and pains brought on by increased blood flow and fluid retention. It can also help relieve low back pain. Any pose that feels even the slightest bit uncomfortable should be avoided.

The biggest benefit is an increased sense of awareness and presence. This will serve you best of all when the baby is born and your life is consumed with the needs of the infant, coupled with sleep depravation and postpartum issues. If you’ve developed a solid yoga practice, the ability to breathe and be calm, center and present, and release tension and discomfort, will help you to be the best mother you can be.

Is prenatal yoga right for you?
Reduced stress and increased self-awareness are just two benefits of starting prenatal yoga, or maintaining an existing practice.