My yoga journey began after my fourth child. I joined a gym and thought I’d give yoga a shot. I loved it. I had finally found my exercise niche. And I didn’t just love the physical aspect of yoga but the mental/spiritual/emotional aspect as well. When I got pregnant with my fifth, I continued yoga all the way up until days before she was born (with modifications, of course). Yoga has so many benefits for you during pregnancy, such as flexibility, endurance, energy, and positivity. It also can greatly benefit you in labor. Here are five ways yoga can help prepare you for labor:
1. Strength. Holding yoga positions helps build muscle tone and strength. And let me tell you, you’re going to want it. Labor is hard work physically. Walking for miles, swaying on a birth ball, doing lunges, getting in and out of a hospital bed or birth tub, and squatting are all some of the various things you will do in labor that will require strength.
2. Flexibility. Yoga helps keep your body and joints flexible. Some labor positions, such as
kneeling on one knee while having your other knee up and off to the side (see picture below) require flexibility. Keeping your pelvis nice and flexible can also help baby properly descend and rotate.
3. Positioning. Baby’s position in utero is a contributing factor to how your labor goes. You know those cat and cow’s you do in yoga? Guess what? They help rock your baby into an optimal position. Other examples include butterfly pose which help keep your pelvis nice and open to allow the baby to find space to descend and rotate, and inversions which can help a baby flip head down.
4. Physical relaxation. One of my favorite things in yoga is a guided meditation including tensing and releasing. The yoga instructor tells us to tense and release one part of our body at a time until we are fully relaxed. How does this help you in labor? Tense muscles hurt more. If you are tensing up your muscles in labor, it will literally feel more painful. Learning to read your body and know where you’re holding tension AND knowing how to then release that tension will go a long way towards helping you with your pain coping skills. How else does physical relaxation help? Have you ever heard your yoga instructor say that your teeth shouldn’t be touching or your jaw shouldn’t be clinched? That’s because there’s a direct correlation between a clenched jaw and tense muscles elsewhere in your body, and this is especially important in labor. Tense jaw means tight pelvis. Tight pelvis means baby can’t descend, rotate, and exit so easily. Relax your jaw, release your baby.
5. Mental relaxation. Labor can be a big mind game. Slow labor, fast labor, no signs of labor all take a mental toll. The ongoing series of contractions can be exhausting to your psyche. Thinking too much in labor can impede your body’s natural birth process. Being able to turn off your thinking brain (neocortex) and dig deep into your primitive brain (amygdala) can allow your body to take over and do what it’s meant to do: birth your baby. Yoga can help you learn and practice this skill. Often instructors will give you visual imagery to help learn mental relaxation, such as, having you picture a river and if thoughts pop up, let them glide down the river and away like floating leaves. Some people find mental relaxation the most challenging part of yoga but if you can practice it often in pregnancy, it will help you in labor.
Yoga is amazing for every realm of your life: the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Yoga benefited me before my pregnancy and will continue to benefit me long after. So, why not give yoga a try during your pregnancy and enjoy all these amazing benefits? Namaste, my fellow yoginis.
- Cameo Sherman, BBC Doula