Empowering and easing your birth with Perinatal Yoga
Perinatal yoga is a term that describes the practice of yoga that is designed specifically for pregnant people before, during and after birth. Prenatal is the phase before birth and Postnatal is the phase after birth. Each phase has their unique facets and conditions that need to be addressed differently yet both carefully and consistently, aiming to assist people in birth but also before and after birth. Today we will talk about yoga in relation to pregnancy and motherhood and we will make a journey through these significant phases.
Yoga has an intangible purpose beyond physical postures, which is to find our true Self and experience wholeness in our everyday lives, interactions, relationships, paths. Yoga allows us to understand Oneness through the physical body and the mastering of the senses.
Pregnancy and motherhood, a profound experience, can be a creative force and a transformational experience in the life of the person who is expecting. During this period of time the pregnant person experiences their body in a totally different way, they see their body anew and they learn to reconnect with their body, mind and soul in new ways as they go through so many changes, internally and externally.
Many spiritual teachings refer to the experience of motherhood as a spiritual advancement in the life of the person who carries the child, and the whole contribution of birthing and raising up a child is not a personal achievement but a contribution to humanity and the whole world. Therefore, how would it be possible to talk about yoga without bringing in mind the art of motherhood?
Pregnant people can choose to practice between several types of prenatal yoga styles according to their needs, the stage of their pregnancy, what they are looking for and the condition of their pregnancy. They can choose to practice in a flow, or choose a restorative approach, or even some more challenging practices if their body has been previously trained. Whatever they might choose from the above, safety and respect towards their body and the baby from the yoga provider and the parent as well is key in order to allow all physical, mental and emotional processes to flow with ease, comfort and safety.
The benefits of yoga during and after pregnancy are many. Yoga soothes physical pain, it strengthens the whole body, it creates confidence and trust towards one' s own self, it builds a strong foundation, it adds fun during the practice, it provides calmness in the mind by regulating stress and it helps the body to heal and come to its primarily condition after birth.
Yoga helps people with a birthing body to prepare themselves and experience a physiological birth without any medical intervention or it may decrease the risk of medical interventions. It also helps people with a postpartum body to consciously heal and fully recover physically, emotionally and mentally with safety, ease and comfort, while being aware of their whole condition and healing.
In addition to the above, yoga improves life also in the social and environmental level as it can diminish the risk of intervening onto such a natural phenomenon due to fear and the lack of trust in one’s innate ability to give birth naturally.
A research published in “Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice” in 2008, shows that practicing yoga during pregnancy is a tremendously beneficial way to improve the experience of birth and bring ease in the experience of the birther while decreasing the pain of birth and the duration of labour.
As a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, mother and wellness practitioner I guide people to trust the ability of their body to give birth, to increase their bodily strength in order to go to labour with confidence and to train their mind in order to support their pregnancy journey along the way, while creating the conditions they need for this significant phase of their life.
I personally support the idea of listening to one’s body, but people need to consider their lifestyle and the whole condition of their health when they go into pregnancy and labour, or even earlier than that when they try to conceive. The habits, mindset, physical, mental and emotional state of being are some aspects to consider when bringing a child into the world. If unhealthy habits exist in one’s diet and overall health or if there is a misalignment in the body, most probably the choice of listening to one’s body might not be the solution in many cases just because the body when is in misalignment it cannot respond or function in the way we would want it to.
What I would personally suggest is to train your body before and during pregnancy in order to create and establish a connection between mind and body - which is the purpose of yoga, and when you truly and fully embody the practices that will prepare you for an empowered, sovereign and natural birth, then the body itself will be able to respond accordingly in labour. So listening to one’s body depends on how the person who is in labour is connected with their body. One’s ability to befriend the mind, connect with their senses, be in a flow state, allow their instinct to take charge and trust their intuition fully and fiercely are some of the key aspects that I teach people who wish to give birth.
The body-mind-soul connection and alignment of the three, which is the principle and goal of yoga, is also important when giving birth, because when the person who is giving birth feels safe, secure, calm, loved and supported, the love hormone - oxytocin is released and therefore the body literally opens in order to give birth. If the person in labour experiences or feels fear, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, unsafe and unsupported then instead of the hormone of love, adrenaline and cortisone are released, resulting to opposite results. These might be delay of the birth, increased pain, the chances for medical interventions, emotional distress, the discomfort of the person who gives birth and many more.
Practicing yoga during pregnancy can assist the pregnant person in many ways. Yoga can teach one how to focus on the breath and therefore relax and assist the rhythmical pattern of contractions, eliminate stress before and during labour, calm the mind and allow the body to be at ease, organize emotions and therefore be more in control, and feel strong within one’s body and therefore feel empowered and in charge of one’s own experience.
Yoga is for all, although it is important to begin to practice after the 1st trimester especially for those who haven’t had any yoga practice before. Every person is unique and different and one should always consider many factors regarding the timing and the way of practicing yoga during and after pregnancy.
Practicing yoga during pregnancy should be soft, mindful and comfortable. In pregnancy one should always feel at ease and never reach your limits. In order to protect the body in this very sensitive and fragile phase, over-stretching and back-bending should be avoided. Also one should keep space between the legs for the belly. The use of props like blocks, bolsters and blankets is recommended for extra support and safety.
During the prenatal period many practices are available beyond the physical postures, such as meditation, visualization, breathing practices, mindfulness and many more. In my unique way of teaching I also introduce intuitive and energetic practices alongside the activation of the female energy within the person and the use of nutrition, herbs and self-care in order to offer a holistic experience and an integrative practice that will provide the best tools to be used, based on one’s own unique experience.
The person who is bringing a new life into this world is physically and energetically "opening" and therefore it needs a courageous support in order to feel safe and comfortable to be vulnerable, raw, wild, instinctive and private during birth.
The postpartum period is a neglected one. On the one hand, very often during this phase the focus turns towards the child and the care and healing of mother comes to a second place. On the other hand there is so much focus on the prenatal phase instead, from health providers and doctors and almost no guidance, information or support during the postnatal phase even if you try to seek for it.
The postnatal phase is a phase of great importance not only for the wellbeing and healing of the person who has just brought a child into this world, but also for the newborn. Without the proper care and support for the mother is impossible to fully support the child. Proper nourishment, warmth, rest, sleep and a self-care routine is important for the mother in order to heel themselves, feed their child and provide a motherly environment to support the growth of this new life together.
In many traditions and cultures the 40 days are considered crucial for both the mother and the child. Midwives and doulas are visiting the birther in order to take care, cook for them, hold the child so they can shower, sleep and rest, offer massages to them and many more, in a daily basis. In the contemporary world this is unknown or not possible for many factors, usually because there is no connection to a community of people who can offer such a great support in this phase of the life of a family or because these traditional practices are dismissed.
Postnatal yoga is not only a tool for bringing the postpartum body back to its previous condition, but is also a tool to create a supportive and healing environment for the mother that lives in a more contemporary setting. It is also an important phase where the mother can heal trauma experienced during birth. Postnatal yoga can provide the necessary environment and conditions for both the mother and the baby in order to feel nourished, protected, supported, and cared for.
The postnatal yoga journey can begin after the 40 days. It can start with a soft intensity and increase gradually according to how the mother feels after birth. In the practice we begin with practices that will warm up the body and slowly include practices that will bind and strengthen the core again. It is important to do everything gradually and slowly while respecting the mother and her rhythm.
The postpartum phase is characterized by the “closing” of the body or the return to how it was before the birth. This takes several months and the purpose is not to make this closing yourself, but rather assist the natural way of the body to close itself. This is also the reason why people who gave birth should not go to work before the body is fully recovered and should avoid any routines, habits, practices and behaviors that will drawback or detriment the need of the body to make its processes.
It is not random that it has been said that the body needs 9 months - the exact duration that the body was carrying the child - to fully recover after birth. So if one neglects the needs of their body for sleep, rest and nourishment, chooses to go back to work early and perform physical practices or movements that will harm and not benefit the postpartum body, then the 9 months of recovery might not be fully established even years after.
I have met many women in my trainings of perinatal yoga who still experience unhealed physical and emotional injury years after giving birth just because they were unable to take care of their selves or they didn’t have a supportive environment or they were not provided with the right circumstances in order to allow this to happen.
The wellbeing of mothers should be a great concern and priority for all countries and governments who care for the future of this planet, but first of all we all need to be willing to take care of ourselves and demand for the conditions that will provide this wellbeing to all mothers of this world.
During the postnatal or postpartum period the mother has the choice to practice yoga with their child. Mum and baby yoga is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy each other through various bonding activities while exercising at the same time. Both the mother and the child can practice, bond, play and laugh during this kind of yoga practice, while stimulating the hormone of love and establishing growth.
Perinatal yoga is a necessity for one’s pregnancy journey not only because of the mother’s care and therefore the child’s care, but also for the opportunity to create a bonding between the two that will deepen their connection from the first days of the life of the child. This brings happiness to the mother as well as enjoyment to spend quality time with the baby, and the feelings of wholeness and contentment while the mother includes her child in her everyday life and interests.
To conclude, perinatal yoga is a great tool for everyone who experiences the miracle of birth and motherhood. It is for all pregnant bodies who wish to feel empowered within their self, their body and their experience. It is for those who want to train their body to respond naturally in birth. It is for those who wish to eliminate fear and trust their instinct and intuition more. It is for those who want to be guided through their pregnancy journey from a holistic and integrative perspective. And it is for birthing bodies who wish to be and feel sovereign in their body and their experience. from the beginning till the end.
Read more about Christina’s Perinatal Yoga classes here.