Though often overlooked as an exercise for weight management and cardiovascular health, yoga is an effective way to build a strong, healthy body and manage stress through practicing “mindfulness” — the focusing of one’s attention on the present and experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. At no time in life is a strong body and calm mind more important than during prenatal and postnatal periods.
The most obvious benefits of yoga are physical. Yoga increases muscle strength through holding poses and using the body’s weight for resistance. Yoga improves flexibility and endurance of the muscles needed for childbirth. Lower back pain, nausea, carpel tunnel symptoms, and headaches can be relieved with regular yoga practice. Posture, balance, and body alignment, which may suffer during pregnancy, can all be improved with yoga.
As important as the physical benefits can be, the psychological benefits are many. Yoga is shown to decrease stress cortisol levels by 14% in just one practice. According to John Medina, bestselling author of Brain Rules for Baby, stress cortisol and glucocorticoids interfere with baby’s developing brain neurons. Therefore, a regular stress-reducing exercise such as yoga is recommended for healthy newborn brain development. Psychological benefits also include improved sleep and an increase in joy and well-being.
The development of mindfulness is another important aspect of yoga with prenatal and postnatal benefits. Mindfulness — being aware and present without judgement — improves the acceptance of the ever-changing body during and after pregnancy. “Yoga makes you more susceptible to influence for change” says Dana Edison, yoga instructor and personal trainer. The mind-body connection cultivated in yoga practice can also improve food selection and overall nutritional status of the mother.
Though many types of yoga can be safe and helpful, a benefit of seeking a prenatal yoga class is meeting other expectant mothers and developing your new mommy community. A supportive community is shown to improve postnatal outcomes, increase mom’s sense of well-being, and reduce postnatal depression and anxiety.
Baby Café South Hills, in partnership with Yoga Innovations will begin offering Prenatal Yoga and Postnatal Yoga in January, on Saturday mornings at the Pediatric Alliance St Clair Division. Registration and more information is available at www.scpbabies.com.
*Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting any new exercise during pregnancy.