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Having a Baby? Think Yoga

Yoga in Pregnancy

WebMD Feature

If you're pregnant and thinking about taking a Lamaze class, you might want to consider yoga instead. "The connection between yoga and pregnancy, as far as the western world is concerned, goes back to the work of Dr. Fernand Lamaze in the mid-20th century," says Julio Kuperman, MD, head of the Division of Neurology at Saint Agnes Medical Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. Kuperman is also a yoga instructor and director of Yoga Teacher Training at the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

"The well-known breathing and relaxation techniques that Dr. Lamaze popularized were lifted straight from yoga practices as he learned them from B.K.S. Iyengar and his wife," says Kuperman. (Iyengar was a native of India whose yogic practices were first introduced in the West by violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1954.)

"If you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, or perhaps have just had a baby, this is a wonderful time to bring yoga into your life," agrees Kathleen Pringle, director of the Stillwater Yoga Studio in Atlanta.

"Strength, flexibility, relaxation, inner peace, and breath awareness are essential to a healthy and positive pregnancy," Pringle says. "There is no better way to obtain these attributes than through a yoga practice."

Multitude of Benefits

Pringle says the regular practice of yoga will help a pregnant woman keep her blood pressure normal, prevent too rapid a weight gain, and strengthen her pelvic muscles. In early pregnancy, it can help relieve morning sickness and reduce swelling in the hands, feet, and face. And a regular practice of inversions (headstands and handstands, but only for those already experienced with yoga) calms and quiets the mind and strengthens the respiratory system.

"This increased blood flow helps to stimulate the brain and quiets the nervous system," says Pringle, "plus decreases the chance of varicose veins. And if the changes and stresses of being pregnant have you feeling depressed, chest expansions are very helpful at quickly restoring your spirits. That, and the knowledge that you are getting stronger, more in touch with your body, and more flexible."

There are many types of yoga, says Pringle, who is a practitioner of Iyengar yoga, which is known for its emphasis on alignment, precision, and attention to detail.

"The focus that Iyengar yoga has on pregnancy," Pringle says, "is that it recognized it as a very special time in both the woman's and the baby's life. As such, the Iyengars devised a specific approach to working with women who are pregnant."

The main emphasis of Iyengar yoga in pregnancy, says Pringle, is creating space for the baby. This focus also helps the mother breathe more easily and learn how to strengthen and realign her spine.

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