Photo by Britt Fohrman

When people ask me why they should take a prenatal class instead of a regular yoga class during pregnancy, my answer is layered and complex. Let’s start with the basics: The physical benefits. Prenatal classes include poses that stretch areas of the body that are often begging for some extra attention during the intense physical transformation of pregnancy‚ think the hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. And a well-trained prenatal yoga teacher will offer modifications with props for each pose so that your joints (and your psyche!) feel fully supported throughout the class.

Most prenatal classes will also provide some time for deep relaxation. Restorative poses are one way to release tension and calm your brain. Another technique that I offer in my classes is guided visualization and hypnosis. (I have an audio program that women and their partners can listen to pregnancy, birth and beyond. You can download a FREE TRACK here and view the rest of the program through my LISTENING GUIDE).

These tools can help you inhibit the stress response (and all of the hormones that come with it like adrenaline and norepinephrine) and initiate what’s known as the relaxation response. Learning to feel your way into a state of relaxation is what you need in order for more relaxed, easeful birthing. As simple as it sounds, it is physiologically key! If there is tension in the pelvis during labor, the space from front to back is going to be shortened and the space from side to side is going to be minimized. So one of the greatest gifts is learning to recognize when and where you are tense and then consciously letting that tension go. If you practice conscious relaxation on a regular basis, you’ll have the inner awareness to tune into what’s happening in your body and mind during birth. And you’ll have a much easier time accepting the twists and turns that labor and birth can present!

There are also emotional benefits to doing yoga while you’re surrounded by a classroom full of other mamas-to-be. Most teachers will ask women to introduce themselves and do some kind of check-in at the beginning of each class to create connection. I like to have a weekly theme to the question I ask each week, and I weave that theme into the class as we do the asana practice. So for example, I’ll ask each woman to share some of the things she’s doing to really take care of herself that week. And then I’ll remind them throughout the practice to consciously take care of themselves in the poses, perhaps by coming out of a pose to rest or by coming into a pose a different way or by using a prop.
As we do the check-in, the women learn that, for some, the experience of pregnancy is glorious, glowing, and easy, and for others, not so much. It can also change dramatically depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re in. Whatever your experience may be, when you show up to a prenatal class, you’re allowed to come as you are and feel the support and celebration of other women going through the same thing. Getting down to the more subtle benefits, prenatal yoga can create consciousness and connection to yourself and to your baby. A prenatal class can help you slow down and direct your attention inward so that you begin develop a loving relationship with your baby before he or she is even born. You begin to discover and reflect on your identity as a parent and all of the choices that come with it.

Becoming more consciously connected to your body and your baby is one of the ways that prenatal yoga prepares you for your birth experience. And this is what I’m most passionate about‚ prenatal yoga as birth preparation. A skilled teacher will give you the tools and techniques to do two things: Become more present with your experience and consciously relax into it. There are many ways to do this. You might find yourself in a challenging pose and choose to stick with it, staying soft and breathing into it. Or perhaps the challenging pose crosses over the edge and you need to come down and rest; you consciously make the decision that enough is enough. Either way, you need to have developed the awareness to recognize what you need to do and the ability to stay relaxed while you do it. If you can make these choices in a yoga pose, you imprint the experiences so that you can return to them during labor. It takes practice to engage your mind in a positive way and visualize your desired outcome. But it’s a practice that will help you recognize your strength and prepare you for the challenges of parenthood, making it well worth the effort.

If you’d like to connect with me, please attend one of my prenatal yoga classes  or contact me at 415.383.8419 or rachel@rachelyellin.com.
If you’d like to see the most comprehensive list of pre and postnatal yoga classes in San Francisco, please visit: www.sanfranciscoprenatalyoga.com

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