Yoga’s Effects on Pregnancy & Delivery:
In the last few decades yoga has become a major trend in America and because of the physical benefits resulted from practicing yoga, most people are jumping on the bandwagon. The practice of yoga has started to be proven by medical research to be beneficial to peoples health in numerous ways from helping with addictions to relieving pain. I will be looking at prenatal yoga and whether it is beneficial for pregnant women and their offspring, or whether it is just another way for America to capitalize on the idea of yoga.
The idea of Yoga was introduced to scholarly Americans of higher education in the late 1800s. People were very skeptical of its philosophy for many years and when it first became popular in the 60s and 70s, people thought it was only for the “tree-hugger” kind of people; however, in the last few decades Yoga has started to become a major trend in America. People have derived many different kinds of yoga practices from the six original branches, which are Hatha, Bhakti, Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Tantric, to cater to the specific interest of people. Yoga is mostly known in America for its results of flexibility and toning the body. Medical Researchers have found that some of the benefits of practicing yoga include an increase in strength, endurance, and energy, as well as improved posture, musculoskeletal flexibility, weight normalizations, improved sleep, improved balance, immunity increase and pain decrease (Feuerstein, 2001, pp. 6-7). Yoga has also been found to help with easing backaches, soothing asthma, preventing mindless eating, and reversing metabolic syndrome (Gelman, 2010, pp. 15-16). Yoga has shown to beneficial for many health related issues, but does that mean women should practice it while pregnant?
Is prenatal yoga a way for mothers to keep their body fit, prepare for delivery or to have a stronger bond with the baby they’re carrying? Medical researchers have started to test whether prenatal yoga is beneficial or not for expecting women and so far it has been found to be beneficial for the pregnancy, delivery, and postnatal care. Matheson says, “Yoga can help moms-to-be maintain strength and fitness, relieve stress and tension, alleviate discomfort, help the body look great during pregnancy (and bounce back quickly afterwards), make delivery easier and less painful—and even help with breast-feeding and bonding with the newborn” (Matheson, 2004, p. 37). There is a lot of stress that comes with pregnant and one way that stress can be reduced is by practicing deep relaxation at the somatic level in different postures (asanas), slow controlled breathing to decrease the respiratory rate (pranayama), and mind calming techniques such as meditation and chanting (Narendran, 2005, p. 238).
The time of pregnancy is divided into trimesters, which are three stages of 3 months each. Different yoga poses are recommended for practiced at each of the stages to ensure the safety of the woman and the baby. For the first trimester (months 1-3), most basic yoga poses are okay for women to practice and using the wall at anytime for support is encouraged. It is really important to not strain the body at all during pregnancy, but especially in the first trimester. When the second trimester is reached, there is more energy to use in yoga practices. Balancing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Garudasana (Eagle Pose) are okay to practice during the first trimester and helps strengthen the leg muscles and the pelvic floor, which is important preparation for later phases of pregnancy, and it encourages good circulation in the legs to prevent cramping as blood pressure starts to drop (Plakans, n.d.). It is important not to do standing poses with twists; however, sitting poses with twists is alright during the first trimester. Poses such as Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), Virabhadrasana I-III (Warrior I-III Poses), Baddha Konsana (Bound Angle Pose) and Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), and Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose) are also okay to practice during the first trimester but it is extremely important that the expectant mothers don’t over do it because the hormone relaxin is softening all the joints and they are easily dislocated if stretched too far (Plakans, n.d.).
During the second trimester (months 4-6 of the pregnancy) modifying the poses for the growing belly is important but most of the poses that are practiced in the first trimester can still be practiced in the second. From the poses listed above, precaution should be taken when practicing Virabhadrasana II and Virabhadrasana III should be practiced at a wall or with a chair (Plakans, n.d.).
During the third trimester (months 7-9 of the pregnancy) Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana I and II and Vrksana poses are still safe to practice but it is encouraged to do them near a wall or with a chair (like in trimester two). Poses such as Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide-Legged Forward Bend Pose) can be added to the practice to help relieve aches in the lower back and create space around the pelvis while Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) can help shift the baby lower in the uterus and may even encourage proper positioning (Plakans, n.d.).
Prenatal Yoga’s Effectiveness
The health benefits of practicing yoga for pregnant women have started to be studied for the results in the maternal comfort, labor pain, and birthing outcomes. One study used 74-primigravid Thai women who were divided equally into an experimental group (practicing yoga for six, 1 hour sessions at prescribed weeks of gestation) and a control group. Participants in the control group received routine nursing care with scheduled visits and both groups received weekly telephone calls (Robertshawe, 2009, p. 81). The experimental group was found to have higher levels of maternal comfort and shorter times of first stage labor but both groups were found to have increased pain and decreased maternal comfort as labor progressed (Robertshawe, 2009, p. 81). The researchers of this study concluded that 30 minutes of yoga practice at least three times per week for 10 weeks is an effective complementary means for facilitating maternal comfort, decreasing pain during labor, and shortening the length of labor (Robertshawe, 2009, p. 81).
Other researchers studied 335 women, ages 18-35, who either took an hour-long yoga class or walked an hour each day during there second and third trimesters and they found that those who did yoga were half as likely to give birth prematurely (14% versus 29%) and had lower emergency C-section rates (23% versus 33%) that those who walked (McGinnis, 2005, p. 109). This study also showed that the women who did an hour-long yoga class each day had lower blood pressure.
Another study with sixteen healthy pregnant nulliparous women between 12 and 32 weeks gestation at the time of enrollment were instructed to practice elements of Iyengar Yoga and mindfulness-based stressed reduction for 7 weeks. The women practicing mindful yoga in their second trimester reported significant reductions in physical pain compared to women in the third trimester who showed greater reductions in perceived stress and trait anxiety (Beddoe, 2009). Gentle yoga can alleviate some of the minor discomforts of pregnancy, reduce overall fatigue, and encourage good circulation with results last throughout the pregnancy, labor and post labor (Schaeffer, 2002).
Researchers have just started to begin proving that yoga is extremely beneficial for pregnant women and the outcomes of pain while in labor as well as the maternal comfort and the birthing outcomes. I would highly recommend that pregnant women talk to their doctors about practicing yoga and then look for a prenatal yoga teacher or sign up for a prenatal yoga class.
Suggestions for finding a Prenatal Yoga Teacher
1. It is very important to talk to your doctor before practicing yoga.
2. Performing certain yoga poses incorrectly, especially if you’re a beginner, may lead to injuries to the knees, back, neck, shoulders, wrists, and ankles (The Yoga Prescription, 2006), therefore it is important to find a qualified prenatal yoga teacher to guide you through the poses.
3. Experienced instructors can be found at http://www.yogaalliance.org.
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