Many women come to yoga for the first time while pregnant and this is understandable. By practicing pregnancy yoga you are setting a strong intention to not only care for yourself, but also your baby. In our busy lives, taking the time to nurture oneself sends a powerful message of love to self and baby, creating a strong foundation on which to build a new life.
Although this may be one of the most profound reasons to practice yoga, there are so many other benefits during pregnancy. As baby grows bigger, more energy and strength is needed to carry the extra weight – yoga strengthens your back, hips, legs, arms and shoulders. Tension in these areas is also relieved. Other benefits are the nervous system dropping into parasympathetic, allowing the digestion to work better, encouraging better and deeper sleep, the lymphatic to be stimulated which keeps the immune system strong and circulation is greatly improved – all this helping to create a healthy environment for our babies to thrive.
Our balance is challenged in yoga, which in turn gives focus to the mind, fine tuning balance on a physical and emotional level. Learning to breathe correctly brings extra oxygen to your baby and also gives you the tools you need to labour effectively. Pregnancy yoga connects you to your breath, what is happening deep within the body and helps you connect to your baby. Calm breath means calm mother and happy baby. Another added benefit of joining a yoga class is the opportunity to meet other mothers in a supportive environment.
As a small child, I used to watch my mother practice yoga. We lived in a very isolated environment in Central Africa and so everything that we knew about yoga, we learned from books; not ideal, but it was a start. I didn’t have a regular practice although I always returned to yoga during my four pregnancies, finding peace, inner connection and relief from my ever busy monkey-mind – yoga allowed me the time and space to tune into my inner needs, which led to successful homebirths with no interventions or pain relief. Connecting to my instinctual nature and my breath was all I needed to birth without pain.
I feel passionate about helping women create the right space and environment for birthing. By learning how to tune into our deeper needs during pregnancy, and by tuning into the needs of our babies, we can birth in the best way for ourselves and our babies, whether that be a homebirth, a medical-led birth or a Caesarian. Every type of birth can be healing and empowering if the mother is given the opportunity to stick to at least some of what she really needs – even in births where circumstances seem to carry women beyond their expectations (i.e. a homebirth ending up as a Caesar) – if a mother is listened to and given the opportunity to communicate throughout, then she can still come out of the birth feeling that wonderful sense of achievement. However, women have to know what they need, to understand themselves better, before they can verbalize their needs – this is where pregnancy yoga is so powerful, as it helps women to get into their bodies, out of their heads, and into their heart-space.
The first birth I attended was when I was eight years old. The “barefoot midwife” (the name given to village midwives in rural areas around the globe) would fetch me to attend the village births. I also worked in mission hospitals from the age of twelve during school holidays. And so I watched how women birthed in their homes, and I watched how women birthed in the hospitals. I saw that when a woman breathes deeply, she births easily. When a woman squats or is on her hands and knees, she is open to birth successfully. I observed that the women who were in a sacred birthing space with only women, who moved and made deep sounds without inhibitions and were given all the time they needed, birthed differently from women who were strapped to beds and machines in the presence of strangers.
The barefoot midwives hardly ever spoke to me verbally – even as a child, I intuited that I was there to watch and learn. Birthing wasn’t spoken about in their culture, it was just something that you DID, from a deeply instinctual place. As I got older and began to ask questions, often I would simply get a baffled look in response – for some things, there are no words.
Our Western culture is far more verbal, and we’ve forgotten how to sit with ourselves in stillness, taking the time to listen to our deepest needs. Yoga, through breath and asana, helps us get back in tune with our bodies and we re-learn the power of breath. Like the birthing dance, sometimes yoga can seem like hard work, and other times we learn to wait in stillness. Pregnancy yoga helps women work deeply into the hips, preparing for the opening necessary for birth. We learn to relax and release tension even in a challenging posture – and that’s exactly what you need to birth.