‘Yoga is not just about asanas; it’s about softening, a dance of effort and surrender, and deep listening to your body. We are holding the intention for a healthy, vibrant pregnancy.’ (1)
Knowledge of and commitment to the practice of the 8 limbs of yoga prepares a prenatal student to enter a new chapter of their life where they are required to let go and really embrace pregnancy and motherhood.
The Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) provide the prenatal and postnatal student with guidelines on how to find harmony in their life and relationships (with themselves, their family and their wider social network).
Some prenatal students - especially first time mothers - may have originally seeked out prenatal yoga classes as a means of creating a support network. This connection will help to dissolve feelings of being alone and afraid of the changes occurring in their body and life. This falls under the umbrella of ‘satsang’, where people of similar situations and mindsets come together in unity for a common cause. Just as the baby needs nurturing, so does the mother. Once the baby is born this support network will help carry them through confusing times as they learn to care for their new baby.
Physiologically, the practice of certain asana, pranayama, meditation and visualisation promotes the ‘rest, digest and repair’ response from the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). Meaning the body is able to:
Balance hormones for metabolism, immunity, reproduction, sleep/wake cycles, temperature, bone repair/growth, circulation and mood.
Decrease blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and respiration rate
Calm the mind to decrease feelings of anxiety
With consistent practice the mother is able to more easily access feelings of relaxation as they create new neural pathways in the brain. Their relationship to stress changes on and off the mat as they perceive it from a different angle and connect to the breath, body and baby (the benefits of ‘rest, digest and repair’ also transfer to the baby). Being able to activate the PSNS response will also help with pain management and during labour by providing a level of calm and the ability to call on the Ujjayi breath as a relaxation tool. Consistent prenatal yogasana practice will boost stamina, flexibility, strength, balance, coordination, recovery time and cardiovascular strength in the expecting mother throughout pregnancy, during childbirth and postnatally. Prenatal yoga aids to tonify the uterus and pelvic floor (e.g. using mula bandha) allowing the mother to birth more lightly. Fluid retention (edema or swelling) is reduced and certain postures (e.g. wide legged paschimottanasana with bent knees) can help alleviate lower back pain.
In today’s society in the Western world there is a lot of pressure to live up to expectation - whether your own or externally - therefore the system of yoga and specifically, prenatal yoga, is a beautiful way to remind the mother to step away from the busyness of life, slow down, prepare for this new life and truly enjoy every moment. Through the combination of the 8 limbs, the PSNS response and satsang, the mother is able to work through feelings of fear and tension and hopefully contribute positively to giving birth to a beautiful, calm baby.
By Alyssa McLeod
Moksha Academy of Yoga, 2014, Modification of Yoga Practices - Prenatal Students, p.1-12
Ekhart Yoga. 2016. The 8 Limbs of Yoga explained. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-8-limbs-of-yoga-explained. [Accessed 11 November 2016].