Preparing for Parenthood With Yoga
Yoga for Moms-to-Be
A Breath of Fresh Air
In any kind of yoga there's great emphasis on breathing and the breath; that emphasis is redoubled in prenatal yoga. "Breath work always has physical benefits: it oxygenates the blood, balances the nervous system and helps you adjust to the hormonal changes that you are going through," says Sat Jivan Kaur Khalsa, co-director of Kundalini Yoga East in New York City (Sat Jivan is not related to Gurmukh Khalsa; both were given traditional Sikh spiritual names many years ago). "Mentally, it helps bring a lot of clarity, focus, and purification to the mind so that you are actually very prepared for the birth. For many first-time mothers, the big thing is, 'How am I going to do when it is time to let the baby out?' The breath work -- and the yoga -- really helps people feel that they could handle this."
"Pregnant or not pregnant, most people really aren't paying attention to how they breathe," says O'Connor. "When you are paying attention to the breath, you can calm down and slow down your regular routine of the day. You can deepen the breath, which will relax the body and in turn create that calm place in your mind. When we are aware of the breath, we can become more aware of the body -- and this is so important throughout the pregnancy process because the breath becomes more difficult as you gain weight and as the abdomen is compressed more."
O'Connor says proper, conscious breathing also keeps the body oxygenated, helps digestion, and helps the baby. "You want to breathe [properly] for the baby's sake because your baby is getting all of the benefits of the breath when you do breathe deeper."
Variety Is the Spice of Life
From hatha to kundalini to ashtanga to Iyengar, almost all types of yoga focus on the breath -- but their similarities end there. Some are more aerobic, others mostly meditative, and yet others fall somewhere in between. So how do you know which one is right for you and your developing fetus?
"Before you're pregnant, there are lots of different kinds of yoga, and it seems that people fit into certain categories depending on their preferences: Some people like the heated, fiery ashtanga yoga, some like more of a gentle fluid movement similar to tai chi," explains O'Connor. "When you are pregnant, you really need to adhere to a safe and gentle way of moving in and out of the yoga postures, period. So you want to set aside those preferences once you get into the second trimester and you really want to move softly and easily in and out of the poses, because you want to gain strength as well as flexibility and balance.