“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Confucius
The journey of motherhood could be described as perhaps the most strenuous thousand mile journey life offers. I think all mothers would agree. Pregnancy, labor and delivery, and recovering your mind and body afterward are difficult tasks, without considering the all consuming task of mothering. Oprah has spoken up on mothering and says it (mothering) is “toughest job in the world if they’re doing it right.”
The Good News Yoga Brings
There is good news though. Yoga is a powerful tool that can prepare you for motherhood’s many ups and downs. The best news of all is you can start now or at any time during pregnancy. Yoga works to help massage away the short term aches and pains of pregnancy while preparing you for the marathon of labor and delivery.
Even better are yoga’s long term benefits for pregnant women: it soothes the mind and nervous system (think decreased heart rate, improved breathing, lower blood pressure), facilitates better sleep (critical for long term health), increases endurance and strength (think easier birth) and, yoga’s mindfulness has been proven to improve memory, brain function, and bolster your immunity for the long road ahead.
Not to neglect another fantastic side effect of yoga…it gets you back in great shape after childbirth. All of theses benefits are ones my patients (through holistic physical therapy) have experienced after giving birth, but also ones I have personally experienced after giving birth to each of my three wonderful sons.
In almost 15 years of practice in physical therapy, yoga has been my primary method for therapy. I use restorative yoga to offer rest, renewal, and increase mobility and flexibility. I reserve a more active yoga practice for building strength and endurance to help women through pregnancy, labor. and delivery. However, all types of yoga that I teach, which include meditation, build confidence, diminish risk of depression, increase energy, and help in pain management through birth and the recovery process which follows.
Finding the Right Prenatal Yoga For You
Finding a safe (and affordable) yoga class, especially a prenatal one, can be difficult, especially since there is currently no legal regulation of yoga in America. However, finding the perfect prenatal class is only a blog away.
Here is how you can begin to reap some of the many benefits of yoga, including decreased risk of postpartum depression and incontinence (bladder leakage):
The fist step is to create what I call a Pregnancy Manifesto.
Manifesto is a word being tossed around frequently these days, but mostly in relation to achieving success in a career or job. The word manifesto derives from Latin and Italian where the word means “clear or conscious.”
But a Pregnancy Manifesto is special. It helps you know what you want and empowers you to go out and make it happen.
As a woman, you hold in your body the privilege of growing and giving birth to the future of our entire planet. A Pregnancy Manifesto, then, might be more important than any other manifesto.
Creating Your Manifesto
As an an enthusiastic battle-worn working mom of three boys under the age of 6, my Pregnancy Manifesto has directed not only my three pregnancies but my life choices. It sets my intention not just for what yoga [meditation, postures (asana), hand postures (mudras), and breathing (pranayama)] I will practice, but the choices I make for myself and my children.
My Manifesto keeps me in the state of graceful and grateful thinking that I aspire to daily. It guides me in kind and gentle actions toward myself, my children, my spouse, others, and the planet. Finally, it sets boundaries around and protects the choices I make as a woman and mother. It also reminds me to only surround myself with people who are going to build me up, stand beside me through “thick and thin,” and ultimately cheerlead me on to success.
Your Pregnancy Manifesto Made Simple
Most importantly, your Manifesto should empower you.
Women need empowerment. Women need to know they are strong and their bodies are capable of pregnancy and birth. A Pregnancy Manifesto can foster empowered confidence by sending a clear message about what you want for your pregnancy and children.
It was not until I experienced the American maternity care process, during my first pregnancy, that I realized the importance of a Manifesto. Did you know that America has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any industrialized country? This alarming statistic underscores the fact that women needed more compassionate, supportive care, especially from health care providers who have the experience, education, and knowledge to help women be their fittest and most confident during the journey to new motherhood.
If you are expecting or planning a family I encourage you to create a Manifesto to help create the kind of life you want for yourself as an expectant mother and for your children.
Here is my Pregnancy Manifesto:
To be fiercely empowered for my well-being and my children’s well-being through educating myself about pregnancy, the birth process, and the most natural, least invasive, least harmful, and most gentle way to bring my baby into the world and nurture his/her growth. To nurture a natural birth by surrounding myself with compassionate, caring people who want to help me thrive as a mother and who value my right to be in control of my body and birth.
I added an addendum since I am a women’s health care provider and can be an agent for change and improving birth outcomes in America: I also pledge to help mothers thrive through giving compassionate, respectful, empowering care as a holistic physical therapist in women’s health, and through drawing from my own experiences in pregnancy and childbirth.
As a licensed physical therapist, I work with yoga teachers and licensed medical professionals in the field of prenatal and postpartum women’s health to educate them about:
- How to safely teach yoga during pregnancy
- How to help prepare women for labor and delivery using yoga
- How to safely use yoga to help women recover from childbirth and postpartum
After creating your Pregnancy Manifesto use it to help you find a prenatal yoga class, which can help you begin to accomplish your Manifesto.
A Prenatal Yoga Class Should:
- Support and respect your choices about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
- Teach movement and meditation educates you about pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum health and well being.
- Be taught by someone with an education in both prenatal/postpartum yoga. Always inquire about the level of your yoga teacher’s education.
- Move at a slower pace than a regular yoga class for safety and thorough instruction. Even if you are very experienced in yoga, body responds differently during pregnancy and post-partum. You are at increased risk for injury due to physiological and hormonal changes, so don’t feel like a slower pace means an easier or less effective class.
- Allow for experimentation to provide modifications for poses. I have found that each pregnancy brings its own needs. Postures which worked for one pregnancy will not be beneficial or effective during other pregnancies. As a result, I treat each woman and her pregnancy individually. A good prenatal yoga teacher can safely modify every pose to suit you and your medical needs.
- Provide a safe, confidence building environment. If you do not feel empowered and supported by the class, be on the safe side and leave immediately.
- Not be rigid. Your teacher should not force a pose to be a certain shape. Pregnancy is not a time to challenge the body, it is a time to nurture, protect, and prepare you for birth.
- Be playful.
- Be safe. A good prenatal teacher should get to know you. As a result, the teacher should know your strengths, weaknesses, and understand any medical history that would affect your participation. A good prenatal teacher knows her limitations and which conditions require referral to a medical professional.
- Encourage team communication with the physician and midwife for coordinated prenatal care.
- Teach meditation, breathing, and postures appropriate for each trimester, as well as preparation for labor and delivery.
- Teach and encourage partner poses with the spouse, birth partner, doula, or labor coach in order to help you prepare for labor and delivery.
- Always get approval in writing from your medical doctor (ob/gyn) and/or midwife before participating in any prenatal yoga class.