Yoga and Pregnancy

A friend is visiting for the weekend, and she brought her 16 month-old daughter. She mentioned yoga, so I asked if she’d share her experiences with yoga before her pregnancy and after. While the little one played with our dog’s squeaky toy, we talked flexibility and breathing.

My friend, Leah, has been practicing since 2003 when she was in college. She got away from yoga for awhile and returned to it when she was 3 months pregnant. The return was not to a “zen” class, as she called it, but a playful one, full of laughing and talking, mostly geared toward retirees. Leah is the youngest member of the class by about twenty years, but loves the interaction with the other participants. Her instructor is fantastic, a little on the comical side (“I can’t do poses when I’m laughing!” Leah told him), and modifies all the poses for participants who need help with broken hips, osteoporosis, arthritis – and pregnancy. Leah admits to never being flexible, but as the yoga Prodigal returned, she discovered something interesting.

As the ligaments in her hips lengthened with pregnancy, she was able to do poses she never felt comfortable in before. Hip openers were surprisingly achievable for the first time in her practice. As the production of the pregnancy hormone relaxin increases, so does a woman’s pelvic flexibility, and Leah was pleased to find that this carried into her yoga practice. But as the pregnancy progressed, she found that asanas on her back made her nauseous. Her instructor, though more attuned to the geriatric modifications in the class, was able to help her find modifications and different asanas that would relieve the nausea and help her continue the practice. Most twisting poses had to be eliminated as time went on because a growing baby got in the way. Again, she just modified her practice and continued.

It was a good thing, too, because she was planning on giving birth naturally, without the use of drugs. Her OB asked if she’d ever trained for anything before, like an athletic event, that would help her endure a medication-free labor and delivery. She told him she had run a marathon, and that she practiced yoga. “Oh, you’ll be fine.” End of conversation.

Did it work out that way? Was she fine? Did the yoga really help in any way? I know a lot of women, myself included, who had plans for all kinds of things to help them during labor and delivery, things that got tossed out the window after about 24 hours of hard labor. But Leah found that the practice of Ujjayi breathing helped her stay focused, oxygenated, and as relaxed as possible during her 27 hours of labor. The very specific locations and progression of the breathing was a welcome focal point during that stressful time when all her muscles wanted to do was tighten and become rigid.

About five months after her daughter’s birth, Leah found herself losing that pregnancy flexibility. She has to work harder for it now, but is still enjoying her class. When sleep is fitful and interrupted by an energetic 16 month-old, Leah finds a few moments of me-time in her meditation and yoga practice. She has to make room on the yoga mat for a sweet baby, but it’s worth it.