This piece was written for the blog Honest Mum, my friend Vicki's award-winning blog on all things mamahood-related. It includes one of my favourite breathing techniques for staying calm- pregnant or otherwise!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a very long time, you’ll no doubt have heard about the benefits of doing yoga in pregnancy. The breathing works wonders during labour as it helps you to feel calmer and more focused and the postures help to build both mental and physical strength and stamina.
But yoga works its magic in other ways, too. A regular practice can help a woman feel connected to her growing baby and to feel empowered during birth- whatever the method of delivery. Women who have struggled with fertility issues, pregnancy loss and previous birth trauma have all reported that yoga has been hugely beneficial. I can personally attest that it has been my saving grace through my own pregnancy, as well as a previous miscarriage.
Essentially, yoga is a process of reconnecting to the body’s innate wisdom. Pregnancy, in addition to being a wonderful time, can also be a terrifying one. The world and its wife will want to overload you with well-meaning but often misguided advice and the medical community, lost as we’d be without them, tend to focus on all the things that can and do go wrong because- let’s face it- that’s their job. When you throw into the mix the double-edged sword known as the late-night Google symptom-checker, it’s no wonder that pregnancy can leave us anxious and riddled with self-doubt. Women have been laying down in dark caves and squatting in fields to give birth for millennia, but we somehow forget this when we’re laying awake at 3AM in a cold sweat because we ate a piece of feta that may or may not have been pasteurized.
That’s why pregnancy yoga can be an expectant mum’s best friend. The practice of yoga puts us deeply in touch with just how amazing our bodies are, how nature does nothing by accident and how prepared we already are for the baby to arrive. Yoga helps us to remember that, well; we got this.
So, if you’re interested in trying it, here are a few things to think about that will help you to get the most from it.
Firstly, whether you are a seasoned yogi or a first time practitioner, it’s important to remember that the goal of pregnancy yoga is not to become more flexible. Your pregnant body is already full of a hormone called relaxin, which softens the ligaments to make birth easier (I told you you got this). Whilst this may sound like a tempting invitation to try out that Instagram pose that you saw where someone’s leg was behind their head, please don’t; your future self won’t thank you at all, as saggy joints are not happy ones. In pregnancy yoga, we focus more on building strength gently and opening the body softly.
Secondly, nothing beats the experience of getting to a live class when you’re pregnant. In addition to supporting the needs of each woman’s practice, the majority of pregnancy yoga classes will offer you a cuppa before, after or sometimes even during class and sometimes there are even biscuits. Yes, biscuits! And you can enjoy them in the company of other pregnant women, some of whom may well become your friends. It’s win-win!
Lastly, as all yoga begins with the breath, here’s a lovely, calming breathing exercise that anyone can try at home, at any stage of pregnancy.
Three-part breathing: Find somewhere to sit or lie comfortably, ideally somewhere quiet. Begin to deepen your breath, trying to keep the inhalations and the exhalations equal, and tune in to the sound of your breathing. When you feel comfortable, begin to direct your deep breath right down into your belly, letting it fill up like a balloon and naturally contract again. If it helps, you can visualize sending deep, nurturing breaths towards your baby. After a minute or so (or however long you feel comfortable), bring your attention to your rib cage and direct your breath to this area, with a focus on sideways expansion. When you are ready, bring the breath further upwards towards the collarbones, feeling them draw gently apart and then returning to place. The final stage of this breathing practice is to put all three areas together; as you inhale, allow the breath to travel down to the belly, then move up to spread the ribcage apart, and upwards again to do the same with the collarbones. Then, as you exhale, allow the breath to travel all the way down again, letting everything relax in turn. Do this for as long as you need, and don’t forget that it works just as well in traffic jams as it does on the labour ward. Enjoy!