28 June 2017

Yoga - for Pregnancy and Beyond


by Sarah Beese (BWY Dip, Birthlight Cert., RGN) YOGA MUMS

Yoga means to yoke or unite and when practising yoga we aim to unite mind body and spirit.

Ante-natal Yoga classes have an unequalled role to play in birth preparation. The classic postures, sequences and movements integrating the flow of breath at all times can be adapted to the needs of pregnant women and bring a sense of well being, vitality and calm. The postures and movements will prepare the body and mind to be fit and well prepared for the demands of labour and birth. They will strengthen the spinal muscles to maintain good posture, increase suppleness in the pelvic area, develop or maintain overall strength and flexibility, open the chest for deeper breathing and help to relieve back ache and other minor ailments. Establishing strength in the pelvic floor muscles is an important part of ante-natal yoga, not only to aid birthing the baby, but also to aid a quick recovery to pelvic floor tone and prevent complaints such as stress incontinence postnataly and in later life.

Each mother, each baby and each birth is unique and through practicing yoga the mother will have become more 'in tune' with her changing body and there will be an innate awareness and confidence to practice what birthing positions and movements are best for them through each stage of labour.

The pranayama or breathing techniques learned in yoga play a vital part in ante-natal yoga. The deep abdominal breath lifts the breastbone to make room for the baby. The breath connects body and mind; when the breath is fast and irregular, then the mind is agitated and restless and the body is in a state of tension; when the breath is slow, steady and comfortable then the mind is calm and focused and the body is relaxed.

In labour, when the body and mind are in a heightened state of awareness, taking control over the rhythm of the breath can mean that the mother is in control of the birthing process and gives focus to steady the emotions between contractions. Even when contractions are at their strongest, breathing can help the mother to feel in control of her body and release fear and tension while the baby is born.

Relaxation is essential during pregnancy and in a relaxed and calm environment, yoga gives space in an otherwise busy and hectic life to nurture both mother and baby. Using visualisation, sensory awareness and muscle relaxation techniques, the mother can begin to access the stillness that lies within, which helps to manage the changing moods of pregnancy and rest calmly between contractions during labour.

After enjoying the benefits of ante-natal yoga, many women like to join a post natal class. The post natal period is a time of massive change for many new mothers, and a yoga class can provide a safe and supportive sanctuary. Yoga can help mothers recover strength and vitality, relieve back ache, joint pains and re-tone the muscles, thus regaining shape and fitness safely. It can improve and recover the pelvic floor muscles and abdominal region. Simple breathing exercises can bring a feeling of calm through times of anxiety, hormonal imbalance and lack of sleep. The first few months of motherhood can be exhausting as the mother and baby settles into a routine that works for them both and little time and thought is given to relaxation. Post natal yoga classes emphasise the need for relaxation for physical and emotional recovery after birth. Mothers report that their babies sleep well after the baby yoga sessions, and the common problems like constipation and colic are eased by integrating the yoga into daily routines.

Yoga for pre-school children is based upon having fun so that very young children as young as 3 can experience yoga in an informal and relaxed environment. The classes are based around a children's story or theme with postures (many yoga postures are inspired by animals and the natural world), movement and songs incorporated in the story line. It is an activity where mums, dads and carers are encouraged to join in too, which also motivates child participation.

Through regular practice, yoga can bring many benefits to children, it improves posture, stimulates energy when tired, strengthens the immune system, improves strength, stamina and suppleness, channels excess energy constructively rather than destructively and essentially at a time when children are surrounded by a world of media and television, it gives them space not only to exercise their bodies but also their imaginations and natural creativity.

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