How does Yoga impact pregnancy, birth, and parenthood?

With the rising awareness of stress and anxiety in our society, many people are turning to yoga to help ease some of their struggles and to create a nicer flow in their life. This can help immensely in the world of pregnancy, birth, and yes, even parenthood.

In all honesty, starting yoga even before conception can offer a range of benefits. However, today we are looking at specifically what yoga can do for your labour.

Yoga is a spiritual discipline dating back to some 5000 years. Its purpose was to unleash the spiritual and mental powers of an individual. Today it is used as the main source of moderating stress hormones, secreting antioxidant enzymes, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, aiding dopamine production, enlarges your brain, and helps you stay in the present.

One of the main muscles that are prominent in your labour will be your psoas muscle (pronounced so-as). If you partake in prenatal yoga classes, have a doula, or read about preparing for your body for unmedicated labour, you will come across this term many times. Psoas begins at the T-12 vertebrae and sweeps around from the centre of the sides of the spine over the pelvis to attach at the top of the thigh bone.

Throughout your pregnancy, this muscle can become tight, imbalanced, and cause tension and discomfort. This can constrict your movements and positions for labour, as well as cause extended or slower recovery.

Committing to an ongoing yoga practice throughout your pregnancy (2-3 times a week of physical yoga, daily meditation, and visualization recommended), will help immensely keeping this muscle flexible and toned. Really, all the ligaments, joints, and muscles surrounding the pelvis up to the ribcage will be active, and ‘all systems go’ throughout your birth. Through yoga, not only will you keep these flexible and able to extend and contract through the waves of labour with minimal discomfort, it will also strengthen these muscles.

We all know that when we regularly exercise, the pain or soreness related to exercise lessens as time goes on and as you build your strength and stamina through these practices. However, if we were to enter a 50km marathon without the training, we would struggle. We would struggle with stamina, pain management, dehydration, mental motivation, and all-around ability to get to the finish line.

Now, with birth, you get to the finish line one way or another… but having this strength will aid in a quicker and simpler journey getting to the finish line.

Just to add icing to the cake, this strength and stamina will also help your recovery postpartum, how amazing is that! When we see the value in the practice, it is a lot easier to get up and do it on a daily or weekly basis.

Yoga will also affect the pelvic floor. It is no surprise this part of the body gets a grueling workout not only through the whole of pregnancy but through birth. Through the three layers of several muscles here, ensuring balance has far-reaching benefits from fetal and maternal positioning, easier and less painful birth, better control, and recovery and aid for many activities (such as toileting, walking, mood, breathing, sexuality, laughing, jumping...). Throughout yoga sessions, you will notice an increase in stamina, cardiovascular system, and strength in your legs, back, and surrounding muscles. And guess what? You need all of these throughout your labour, and really, as a parent as well.

Looking on the other side of the physical advantages of yoga, let's think about the mind, emotional and spiritual state of the human condition. Yoga is an ancient practice. It continues today because it has merit in the practice. On the outside, it may seem like a physical body-related practice, however going within, it has so many more impacts on the spirit and soul.

Through breathing, meditation, and awareness, you gain a deeper connection not only to all parts of yourself but also to your baby. It opens a gateway to more conscious relating and living, therefore allowing intentionality in your day-to-day activities. This gift is beyond what we can ask for throughout our experiences as a human.

One experience, so fundamental to our existence; birth. This connection and relaxed state of mind will help you immensely in labour. To be able to call on your breath without much thought or energy, and to be so in tune with your body and baby you are truly working together. You’ll notice throughout your yoga classes that using vocalization is encouraged. If you think of energy moving through your body, you can imagine the way in which allowing moans, grunts, breaths, and sighs allows that energy to move more freely.

We have somehow been taught to ignore this part of us. Whether in sport, sex, anger, passion, happiness, or yes, birth. Remind yourself how liberating it is not to shut down your vocal reactions and practice it for your birth!

Look up on Google, Facebook, or Instagram local yoga studios or teachers offering prenatal-specific classes. If you can’t find any prenatal-specific ones, reach out to those teachers as many classes are adapted for pregnant people within the class.

Ask your local community groups, mothers groups, Facebook groups, or care providers for any recommendations on local classes also!

Enjoy and namaste!