Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
Prenatal yoga is more than just trendy: A recent study from the University of Michigan shows that it can help pregnant women avoid depression, reduce stress and form a stronger bond with their babies. This is especially important, the researchers note, because while one in five expectant moms develops depression, taking antidepressants while pregnant is not often recommended.
"Women who practice yoga are better able to calm themselves down and can find small moments of quiet throughout their day," says Bec Conant, a prenatal yoga instructor and birth doula in Boston who strongly supports the study's findings. "We move so fast in this culture, and with all the pressure on women to keep working, do childbirth classes, lose weight and then get back to work so quickly, it really helps to give yourself the kind of restorative rest and relaxation that comes from yoga or meditation."
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A prenatal yoga class can be a great place to seek support and meet other moms-to-be -- but you can also reap the benefits right in your living room, says Conant. When practicing at home, focus on poses that feel good to you and that allow you to breathe easily, she cautions. Here are a few of her favorites.
Get on your hands and knees in Table pose. Lift your chest, arch your spine and look up as you inhale for Cow pose. Your belly will drop toward the floor, but keep your abs engaged and don't let it just hang there, which can put a lot of pressure on your already taxed abdominal wall. Slowly shift to Cat pose as you exhale, by rounding your back, releasing your head toward the floor and curling in around your baby.
From here, you can go into a free flow movement by circling your hips around, swinging them out to one side for an IT band stretch, or back toward your heels for a deeper lower-back stretch. This is a great, easy way to mobilize your spine and rebalance some of your tighter muscles.
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Sit on the floor, on a blanket or a pillow. If it feels better to elevate your hips, you can sit up on a yoga block or on a few stacked pillows. Sit with knees apart and feet together in front of you, with your knees open and on the floor. This spreads open the pelvis and helps create space through the hip joints (a good thing in preparation for giving birth!) and can take pressure off the back of your pelvis, which can get achy during pregnancy.
Stay seated on your sit bones and, holding your ankles, pull your feet in as close as you can comfortably. Lift your chest to create upward movement through your spine. Be sure to continue inhaling and exhaling smoothly, and stop at any time it becomes difficult to breathe.
Squatting opens the pelvis and can help align your baby into the best position for giving birth. Stand with feet a little more than shoulder distance apart, facing outward. Bend your knees and lower your upper body down, being sure to keep your knees directly in line with your feet rather than collapsing inward. Reach your arms out to the side, bent at the elbow, to help you balance. You can hold this pose for a few breaths, or simply come in and out of it by bending and straightening the knees. This is a great way to build up stamina, focus, and confidence in your body's abilities.
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The relaxation period at the end of a yoga practice is important for everyone, expectant moms included. But since it can be difficult or even dangerous for pregnant women to lay flat on their backs, you may try a modification that makes you more comfortable. Lying back onto a stack of pillows or couch cushions so that your upper body is at a 45-degree angle will provide enough support for some women. Propping up your knees and arms, as well, may also feel good.
Or you may try lying on your side with pillows under your knees and under your head, so that the weight is taken off every part of your body. When in doubt, put yourself in the position you usually sleep in. Hold this pose, whatever it may be, for five to ten minutes while you breathe deeply into your belly.
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