By Elitza Datcheva

I believe that when you are pregnant you must fully embrace your inner Goddess. Every woman wants to be wanted and adored.  Every pregnant woman at some points will have doubts that she is wanted and adored because of her changing body. Yoga will always make you feel better about yourself, despite the changing events within you and around you.

Often times we react to our pregnancy with mixed feelings – joy and anxiety, especially for first time moms. You may be wondering what yoga can do for you. Many pregnant women actually start yoga for the first time during that period of their lives. Congratulations! You have just made your life more enjoyable. No, there won’t be an easy enlightenment, or removal of all obstacles on your path (if anything, erhm, you will be growing a bit on your path), but you will be given tools to feel empowered, confident and radiant.

1. Yoga teaches you to harness your breath and focus.

They say in yoga the body is a chariot, the mind is a horse, and the breath is the charioteer. By re-learning to breath we can navigate all else. Birth is the most natural process, and each woman’s body knows that process, even if we take away our over-thinking tendencies. However, in the age of over engaged frontal lobe, we get to busy to work out the socializing aspect of the pregnancy and birth process, that sometimes we don’t pay attention to what is really going on – an incredible, mind-boggling transformation, a miracle. In order for us to notice it happening, not on a screen, but in our hearts, we must slow down and pay attention. Sitting in a comfortable position, eyes relaxed and closed, try to visualize your growing baby. As you inhale, visualize the baby breathing in with you, as you exhale, visualize it relaxing into its developing body. Repeating the process for about 5-10 minutes each morning and evening (you better start brushing up on time management skills now, while your passenger travels with you and needs no feeding and changing), will leave you rebalanced, re-centered, restored. According to recent research, people who move together in a yoga class that includes breathing, asana (yoga poses) and meditation, not only synchronize their breath patterns, but also their heartbeat. Imagine the incredible power you have to make your baby feel happy, just by breathing in peace and breathing out joy!

2. You will apply the same breath awareness during birth.

True, they have their own version of how to breathe during labor in a hospital setting, and some of you may resonate with it perfectly well. However, the mindfulness breath (as briefly outlined above) gives you permission to ride the waves of labor as they ebb and flow and be IN the process, rather than grinding your teeth and making the process separate from you. When you make slow inhales and exhales part of your daily routine, not only do you have a magic tool ready (you don’t even need a bag for this one), but you are actually changing your biochemical balance for the better.  A 2010 study found that subjects who meditated for 30 minutes a day for a month had a reduction in gray matter in the amygala part of the brain (related to fear and anxiety. Ever used these words when thinking about labor, anyone?), and an increase in gray matter in the hippotalamus. What is even greater news for labor is the findings published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, which demonstrated that mindfulness meditation and breathing can reduce sensitivity to pain, even more so than morphine!

3. Improved physical balance and power

Guess what, now you will get a chance to experience why your uncle Henry’s pot belly makes him walk funny and loose balance sometimes. You will develop compassion for people in situations less fortunate than yours – that’s the spiritual benefit.

On the practical side, the grounding and earth connecting aspects of yoga poses such as Warrior I, Warrior II, and Triangle pose will sharpen your focus, improve lung capacity (you will be surprised how the doubling of the amount of blood and fluid in your body will have you huffing up the stairs), and strengthen your pelvic floor and leg muscles (you need stamina for birth and the long walks with your newborn). Depending on each woman’s specific situation the standing poses can be modified to accommodate your size, ability and stage of pregnancy.

4. Fewer aches and pains.

How many times have you heard your pregnant lady friends complain about back pain, neck pain (hello bigger bra size!), or leg cramps?

The magic pose for all these is Down Dog. It is considered by far the most wonderful of the shapes to benefit mamas-to-be. It strengthens the arms, so they don’t get tired from carrying the baby, it relieves the low back and pelvic of the weight of the expanding uterus, it released your next by using the weight of your head, it stretches your calves and brings circulation to your legs.

Many other stretching poses will help you release the stale energy from your fascia (connective tissue) and open your hips in preparation for birthing. Imagine fascia like the styrofoam peanuts used for shipping packages – it is the “stuffing” of our bodies, it holds things up and together. It’s amazing! It also retains toxins if we never stretch! Considering the changing demands on our pregnant bodies, fascia works harder too. Stretching will relieve stiffness, as well as sadness. Your nerve endings are attached to the surface of your skin. When we stretch, we signal our nervous system that we are in re-balancing mode, and the feel good hormones such as serotonin begin to increase.

If you are prone to swelling, gentle inversions such as Legs up the wall pose will help drain the excess fluid from your ankles and knees, bring fresh blood and nutrient flow to the reproductive system, and even help with insomnia. Any pose asking you to lie down on your back, must be done with care when the belly grows bigger, as you don’t want to put pressure on the vena cava and cut off oxygen supply. In general, if you feel uncomfortable, get dizzy or nauseous – simply don’t do the pose.

Things to avoid

The most common question I get from my pregnant Goddesses in class is “Is there anything I should not do in yoga?”  It always makes me smile, because it reminds me of the time I asked my obstetrician if as a yoga teacher and yogini, I should avoid anything.  Cool as a cucumber, he answered: “Make sure you don’t fall”.  It may sound careless at first, but in reality – your body will tell you straight away if what you are doing is not right for you, and you better heed that advice.

In general, don’t twist in a diagonal fashion – who wants to wring out their baby anyway? No crunches, or other intense abdominal contractions. No deep backbends (it is possible that it feels like heaven to you if you are very experienced!). You can still do forward folds – make sure your feet are apart. One last don’t for after you have the baby – don’t text and talk while strolling him/her. The more you hold them, hug them, carry them and communicate with them in the first six months especially, the calmer, more balanced, more curious and more developed they will be. Don’t take my word for it – start a nanny log. During the first six months, record the hours your spend with your child versus any other caregiver (this is not a guilt trip. This is counting the time that you don’t have to be at work, but choose to have a caregiver). Look at the log. Can you spend more time together?

Lastly, do surround yourself with beautiful music and live plants (nature) if at all possible. Yoga means union of opposites – sun and moon, sky and earth, day and night, contracting and expanding. The first of the yoga sutras (verses) states simply “Now is Yoga”. In every single moment of our lives yoga is happening. Nature is the prime example, and we intuitively follow its grace – the yielding of a bending tree in the wind, the stillness of the mountain, the fierceness of a lioness. Music is a reflection of nature and it affects all earthlings profoundly. In a study where they had exact same two rooms filled with the exact same plants, the plants living in the room that played classical music had visible more robust structure, and amazingly they had “turned” toward the source of the music.

Re-joyce, recognize, reorganize, re-energize, rejuvenate – and enjoy the path of your pregnancy and birth into the path of parent!