My 5 Favourite Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
by Kasia Pokrop
The pregnancy journey is a special one, as is becoming a mother. What I discovered through my two pregnancies, teaching prenatal yoga, and working with couples during HypnoBirthing classes was that the benefits of your prenatal yoga practice will stay with you long after you give birth. Practising yoga while pregnant will bring you strength and give you the tools you can turn to as a mother - when you need that extra energy or are trying to stay calm.
I have created a list of my five favourite benefits of prenatal yoga - in no specific order.
1. Prenatal yoga releases common pregnancy pains
It is no secret that prenatal yoga is recommended by midwives and GPs when treating women for common pregnancy pains. In prenatal yoga classes, we take care of many of them: from lower back pain, breathlessness, and cramps to stiffness around the hips. We also give advice on how to deal with insomnia or a stuffy nose. It is all part of the pregnancy journey, but why not relieve ourselves if we can!
Here is an example of a simple practice that helps relieve lower back pain, which can easily be done at home: rolling cat.
How to practice rolling cat:
- Start in all fours position, look towards the floor
- Exhale and round the upper back, look towards your belly, and bring your hips back towards the heels as far as is comfortable
- Inhale, bend your elbows and take the hips forward again with a flat back
- Repeat that movement, connecting with your breath. Rest in child’s pose in between if needed
- Support your knees and wrists with a blanket if they are sensitive
2. Prenatal yoga helps your baby get into the most optimal position for birth
What would you say if I told you that prenatal yoga can help your baby achieve the ideal position for birth - an important part of their journey to meeting you - in your belly, rather than during birth? Because you can!
It is not only about making sure your baby has their head down (although if they are stubborn and don’t want to turn, we can also do some things in class to help them make up their mind). We want our babies to have their heads down and their backs towards the front of the body during labour. If your little one decides to position themselves differently and flips their back towards your back, you can still deliver naturally, but it will take more time and energy for you...so why not help them prepare before the big day?
Here are a few postures that you can do:
- Sit and stand straight, avoiding slouching, which creates a ‘hammock’ for your baby to fall into
- All fours position
- Lean against things when in labour - it can be a wall, your partner, a birthing ball, a coffee table or a hospital bed. Literally anything that allows you to relax in that position
3. Prenatal yoga helps you connect with your body, and recognize what it needs during labour
I remember the first time I heard a teacher in a yoga class say, ‘follow your body, connect with your body, do what you feel your body needs right now’. My first reaction was, ‘what?!’. It was not until after Lily’s birth that I understood the meaning of those words, and how powerful it is to have this connection with your body. The truth is that with my daughter Lily, I managed to ignore part of labour, through watching Netflix, leaning against a coffee table, doing circles with my pelvis because it felt good, and using ujjayi breath when I felt I needed some extra focus or strength.
At that time nobody told me that those are the things that are extremely helpful when in labour – pelvic movements give us a release during contractions and help us to distract ourselves so we don’t block them. Ujjayi breath is also taught in HypnoBirthing to help with relaxation and to bring some strength when we need it. Leaning against anything in labour helps our baby get into the most optimal position for birth. Lastly, being upright and moving usually helps to speed things up.
You don’t need to have years of yoga practice to feel this. If you begin practising yoga during your pregnancy and then continue to practice regularly, you will build that connection with your body and learn to trust following what your body tells you to do. When it comes down to it, during labour you will not follow a yoga sequence - you will follow what your body needs at that moment.
4. Prenatal yoga teaches you to connect with your breath and relax
During birth, we want to keep everything open, avoid any tension or stress, and just trust that our bodies and our babies know what to do. Through prenatal yoga, you can train this feeling. If you are familiar with meditation, you will recognize how powerful it can be to keep your head clear just by following your breath. Without trying to change it, simply focus on your breath with every inhale and every exhale. This also applies to connecting your breath to each movement you make: you bring focus off of your mind to your breath and add physical movement, which helps you deal with labour pains. In HypnoBirthing, breathing and relaxation practices are the key tools for a smooth and calm delivery.
Here are elements I always bring into my prenatal classes:
- Synchronizing every movement with your breath.
- Breathing practices like Nadi shodhana before Savasana helps to clear the mind. Here is a little tutorial that you can use to practice at home.
- Calm breathing, which we use in HypnoBirthing, where we focus on long exhalations. Take a few breaths with a shorter inhale to a count of 4 and a longer exhale to a count of 6-8. This is a practice which we will use as our natural pain killer during labour.
- Savasana. We always need it, but when we are pregnant we need it more than we even realize. Not only to rest, but also to give ourselves the feeling of being relaxed, calm, and in control - because that’s the feeling we want to keep with us during labour.
5. Prenatal yoga develops your self-care practice
You must have heard the saying ‘If mommy is happy, baby is happy’. It’s true. Yet somehow, when we become mothers, we often forget it. We forget to take care of ourselves. And we often easily get impacted by the change that comes with becoming a parent, which is a big change! It’s one of the most beautiful things that you may experience in your life, but hey, it’s not a walk in the park! It’s hard to be a mom. Your life turns upside down from one day to another. What you’ve known up until now is simply different. You are different.
What helped me tremendously during my two experiences on this journey is having one thing which doesn’t change. And that is my yoga practice. My practice changed, yes. While pregnant, I had to adapt many poses, skip some, and add other new ones which I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. But outside of the asanas, my practice stayed pretty much the same: I stepped on the mat, I moved with my breath, and by the end of the practice had this happy feeling that I did something for myself.
This stayed the same after labour. Having built up my practice while pregnant, it was natural to start missing it once my babies were born. One of the happiest moments after both labours was when I could practice again - because I was doing something familiar, something that hadn’t changed. My mat was the same, I moved with my breath, and had this happy feeling that I had done something for myself.
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1983 Born and raised in Poland, Kasia left her home country at the age of 22. Starting her journey in Ireland, she continued to Belgium, Amsterdam, Singapore, and back to Amsterdam, where she found her new home. It was also here in Amsterdam where her yoga journey began.