Work It Out: 5 health benefits of prenatal yoga | SummitDaily.com

Work It Out: 5 health benefits of prenatal yoga

Amy Hardwick
Work It Out

Editor's note: Want more yoga for the cold winter months? Try yoga for hockey players or yoga recovery for skiers and snowboarders.

It seems like every day we hear about more and more people touting the health benefits of yoga. It is true that a regular practice can increase muscle strength and flexibility, as well as boost immunity and improve energy focus.

While these benefits certainly apply to people from all walks of life, the benefits of yoga can be even more pronounced for expecting mothers. At a time when the body seems to be changing daily (and often does not feel like your own) yoga can help a woman stay active, healthy and connected to her body during this transformational time. A consistent practice can also prepare the mom-to-be for labor, delivery and motherhood.

Here are five reasons why maintaining a regular yoga practice will benefit moms-to-be of any age.

1. Ease the common discomforts of pregnancy

Talk to any pregnant woman and you will often hear about daily challenges, such as swelling of the hands and feet, sciatic nerve pain, leg cramps and headaches. Prenatal yoga classes are designed to address these specific issues by incorporating poses that can relieve the discomforts.

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Swollen feet? Try legs up the wall pose, which will encourage blood and lymphatic flow back to the body and out of the aching feet.

2. Alleviate tension from postural changes

As the baby continues to grow, your body will constantly shift and change to compensate. The curves of your spine will become more pronounced as the weight of your baby shifts forward, causing strain on the neck, shoulders and back.

Regularly incorporate poses like cat/cow to maintain spinal flexibility, and try gentle back bends like bridge pose to open the chest and shoulders. These poses help you maintain both strength and flexibility as your body adapts to your growing baby.

3. Practice breath awareness

Breath work truly is the key component of any yoga class — the combination of breath and movement sets yoga apart from many other physical activities. As a pregnant woman, especially one living at altitude, yoga's focus on creating space for the breath becomes even more important. As space for the lungs becomes compressed with a growing baby, even everyday activities like climbing the stairs can be a chore. Prenatal yoga classes often incorporate breath practices to help you focus on slowing and expanding the breath, bringing more oxygen to mom and baby.

4. Decrease stress and anxiety

We all know how day-to-day stress can impact our physical bodies: We feel the shoulders creeping up into the ears, or the low back becoming tense with worry. When you add the extra concern of becoming a mother, especially for the first time, it can be extremely taxing on the body. For many soon-to-be parents, the mind may be running a mile a minute with concerns about finances, time management or simply the fear of the unknown.

Yet one of the healthiest things you can do for your baby is to keep stress levels low. When you take time to focus on your health through yoga, you tune into your body and become aware of what you need.

Poses like child's pose and puppy pose are wonderful ways to pause and allow your mind and body to settle.

5. Prepare the body for childbirth

You've spent nine (well, really ten) months preparing for the big event. If you've maintained a regular yoga practice during that time, your body has developed the strength and stamina needed for labor.

You have developed breathing practices you can use during labor, as well as techniques to help focus your mind. The hip openers and leg strengtheners in your practice have made the body open and strong. You have spent hours in yogic squats and frog pose, preparing your body for this time. Thanks to your practice, the mind and the body are ready for your transition to parenthood.

Poses to avoid

While prenatal yoga has many wonderful health benefits, certain poses should be modified or avoided while you are pregnant. To ensure a safe practice, pregnant women interested in practicing yoga should consider prenatal yoga classes with a certified prenatal yoga instructor.

Classes offer more than a time to nourish your mind and body — they also give you the opportunity to connect with other pregnant women in your community. Many classes provide the chance to ask questions and share what is happening with your body. The support system created in prenatal classes can be as valuable as the physical benefits of your practice, but remember to consult with your doctor before starting any new physical activity when pregnant.

Amy Hardwick is a registered yoga teacher at Peak Yoga in Dillon and a licensed massage therapist at the Backcountry Apothecary in Frisco. She is certified in prenatal yoga and prenatal massage therapy. She enjoys working with women at all stages of their pregnancy to nurture both the mind and body. Amy teaches prenatal yoga at Peak Yoga every Friday from 7:30-8:30 a.m. For more information, see http://www.peakyogastudio.com.