Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Pregnancy is over within nine months, and those nine months are a time of challenge-the challenge of the ever-changing body, physical discomfort, mood swings, and fatigue. At the end is the biggest challenge of all, the actual labor. The person who practices yoga has the tools to deal with challenge, and can handle these nine months with assurance and calm. Even if she is unable for some reason to practice asana, the mother will benefit from a program of pranayama (2). Pranayama will bring prana to the baby and steady the mind of the mother (1). The breath is considered in yoga to be the link between body and soul, and it is in pranayama that this link is clearly demonstrated. Slow, steady breathing lowers the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, suppressing the “fight or flight” response (2). Even those unfamiliar with yoga will know that breath control techniques are helpful during labor. The Lamaze Technique is a well known method that doctors teach women to take advantage of the breath as the link between mind and body to reduce pain during labor. Pranayama is not just helpful during labor. It can be used to calm the mind during pregnancy and after, and is prescribed to help with everything from uterine prolapse to constipation (3).
Meditation is a critical component of yoga and exponentially beneficial during and after pregnancy. A disciplined commitment to meditation will help keep the body’s internal clock regular, ensuring the new mother gets the sleep she needs and is awake and energized when her child needs her. Meditation turns the mind inward, making the meditator acutely aware of her flow of thoughts, enabling her to get rid of destructive or unwanted thoughts (2). Regular meditation can also balance hormones, lowering levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This has the effect of lowering stress and connecting mother to her unborn baby (1). Because meditation has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure (Murphy and Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, IONS, 1999), it can potentially lower the risk of pre-enclampsia and preterm brain damage (4). Meditation’s most enticing benefit as the due date approaches is it’s ability to “switch on” the brain’s natural painkillers. According to Deepak Chopra, “the brain [and nervous system in general] produces narcotics up to 200 times stronger than anything you can buy . . . with the added boon that our own pain-killers are nonaddictive. Morphine and endorphines both block pain by filling a certain receptor on the neuron and preventing other chemicals that carry the message of pain from coming in, without which there can be no sensation of pain, no matter how much physical provocation is present (4).” A regular meditation practice during pregnancy will keep the mother calm and heighten her pain tolerance for labor. After childbirth, the new mother should continue to meditate, which will keep her hormones balanced, staving off insomnia and depression (4). On a psychological level, meditation brings mindfulness to everyday life, “off the mat (2).” The ability to be present with each moment will bring a sense of fulfillment and appreciation, allowing the new mother to enjoy the brief period that her child is dependent on her.
Pregnancy is a special time and soon over. Yoga enables the pregnant mother to nurture her body and mind and create a supportive environment for the fetus. By incorporating yoga into her life, the pregnant yogini not only takes care of herself, but sets a good habit for life for herself and her child. In fact, children benefit from yoga too and are usually enthusiastic, so the yogini should introduce yoga to her children as soon as possible. There are even Mommy & Me classes for mothers and infants that facilitate parent-child bonding. Classes are especially beneficial because the student can meet other new mothers or pregnant women who will be a source of support. As previously stated, this essay is by no means comprehensive, but will hopefully have stated adequately just how useful yoga can be. A program of asana, meditation, and pranayama will advance the quality of life for both mother and child.
1. McCall, Timothy. Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. New York NY: Random House, 2007.
2. Swami Vishnu-Devananda.The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. New York, NY: Julian Press, Inc, 1988.
3. Swami Vishnu-Devananda. The Sivananda Companion to Yoga. New York, NY: Gaia Books Unlimited, 2000.
4. Chamberlain, David. Benefits of Childbirth Meditation http://www.calmbirth.org/benefits.html, May 21 2009.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Yoga is a comprehensive system for achieving total health. It calms and focuses the mind, strengthens and heals the body, and can even lead to spiritual fulfillment. The asanas of yoga are much gentler on the body than traditional aggressive physical exercise. For these reasons, yoga is ideal for keeping mother and fetus healthy during pregnancy. A regular yoga practice will prevent back pain, excessive weight gain, and will make delivery easier. Pregnancy yoga is a huge topic, much too broad to be adequately covered in a three page essay, but this treatment can be considered a jumping-off point toward further study.
A regular yoga practice will not only prepare the mother for birth, it will also provide a loving environment for the child from the very beginning of its gestation. Physical fitness will lead to an easier delivery, and yoga not only can make you fit, but will also provide the ability to remain calm and in control of the situation during labor. A regular practice of pranayama and meditation teaches the yogi to live in the moment, embracing the present and all its effects. This is especially important for pregnant mothers, who will no doubt fear their upcoming labor and subsequent sleepless nights. Meditation especially is known to keep fear and discomfort at bay, so the meditator is able to face any eventuality with calm and equanimity. It is easy to see that regular meditation can make one a better mother.
Yoga can be helpful during pregnancy for the seasoned practitioner or the beginner. In fact, the more adept yogini may notice improvement in her asana form during pregnancy. This is because a hormone called relaxin is being secreted at this time, which loosens the muscles and ligaments (3). Because she may be more flexible than before, the yogini may try to push herself further than she should, which can lead to soreness and injury. It is best to work with a knowledgeable teacher who will guide the yogini in the poses appropriate for her condition. Relaxin continues to surge in the body for about three months after the birth, so the yogini must continue to be vigilant not to over-stretch even then (1). Injuries from overstretching can lead to inflammation of the joints that may never really go away. One of the most basic rules of yoga is to avoid over-exertion, and this is especially true for pregnant women. Bikram and other “hot yogas” are to be avoided because of the risks of dehydration and overheating (3).
Pregnancy is a time of rapid change in the body, and different asanas become appropriate as the body changes. If there is a high risk of miscarriage, asana may have to be avoided altogether. Pranayama and meditation can and should still be practiced, but pregnant women are advised to avoid kumbhaka, or breath retention, as well as rapid breathing such as Kapalabhati or Bhastrika (1). Slow, steady breathing is best, as the surge of prana is beneficial and the slow pace will slow the heart rate. After the first trimester, the yogini should avoid poses which require lying on the back or belly. Backbends stretch the linea alba, a fibrous structure separating the rectus muscles of the abdomen, which is already being stretched by pregnancy (3). Lying on the belly will become more uncomfortable as pregnancy goes on, so side-reclining variations of asanas should be adapted. Also to be avoided after the first trimester are vigorous twists as well as forward bends with the legs close together, which puts pressure on the uterus (3). Standing forward bends should be practiced with a concave back to avoid bringing the lower ribs too close to the uterus (1). In the second and third trimesters, sitting poses gain critical importance because they help open the pelvis to prepare for the birth. Padmasana, Sukhasana, and wide-legged forward bends are all beneficial (3). Standing poses and all poses that strengthen the legs are helpful as well because a strong foundation becomes vital as the baby grows. Having strong legs will enable the mother to carry the fetus in as much comfort as possible (1). Perineal exercises will tone and create elasticity in the pelvic floor, helping the muscles stretch fully during birth and return easily to their previous position. To tone the pelvic floor, the yogini can lie down and clench the muscles of the thighs and buttocks with the lower back pressed into the floor (3). Alternately, she can perform the mula bandha, or root lock, in which the muscles of the anus are squeezed for a few seconds then relaxed (3). After the perineal exercises, the yogini should do a gentle squatting pose to open the pelvis. Women in countries where squatting and sitting on the floor are more common tend to have easier births because squatting opens the pelvic area and strengthens the legs (3).
The further into pregnancy one goes, the more cumbersome she will feel. Poses will have to be modified to accommodate the extra weight and special concerns pregnancy brings. As previously mentioned, the legs should be wide apart in forward bends. The hands can be used to maintain balance; for example, pressing the hands into the lower back during Surya Namaskar instead of raising them in Urdvha Hastasana, or leaning the arms on the front leg in Crescent Pose (1). Instead of leg raises to strengthen the abdomen, pregnancy sit-ups can be performed. To do them, one lies on the back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, elbows behind the head, and crunches the left elbow toward the right knee, lowers down, then switches sides. This will keep the abdominals strong throughout pregnancy and hold the baby in proper position (3). Inversions are only recommended during pregnancy if the yogini is already used to practicing them. Modified shoulderstand against a wall or a half-headstand, with the knees bent and feet on the ground, can be performed instead of their more vigorous counterparts. These poses rest the lower back and legs, and ensure the womb reverts to its proper position after birth (3). Again, inversions should only be practiced if one is already familiar with them, and only as long as they are comfortable. It will be nearly impossible to perform headstand or shoulderstand in the latter stages of the third trimester. Supta Badha Konasana is also valuable for opening the pelvis, and can be modified by either lying back with the feet together, lifted a few inches from the ground, against a wall, or, alternately, props such as bolsters and pillows can be used to keep the upper body at an incline. This prevents compression of the vena cava, a vein that runs on the right side of the body and delivers blood back to the heart (3). Side Savasana is the pregnancy modification of Savasana. It is done by lying on the left side (again to reduce compression of the vena cava) with a pillow or bolster between the legs (1). A pillow under the head will add to the relaxing effect of this pose.
I know this has been a long post. Tomorrow I will post the much shorter Part 2
This is my current teaching schedule. It is pretty sparse right now but I will be adding at least one class in Red Bank (beginning Monday nights in a couple of weeks), possibly more. Please email or put something in the comments if you are interested in these classes. My Tuesday lunch hour class is also in danger of being cut due to lack of interest, so come by if you can. Lastly, if you are interested in classes but none of these listed times are convenient, let me know. I am looking to add more classes to my roster but need to know when potential students are able to come. If you are interested in private one-on-one sessions in your home and live in Monmouth County or New York City, please contact me for rates.
Tuesdays and Thursdays in locations in Monmouth County, NJ
Tuesday: 9:00 am Beginner Hatha Yoga at Cedar Village Adult Living Community
12:00 pm to 12:50 Lunch Hour Hatha Yoga at Inspired Life Studios, 560 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ Inspired Life Studios
Thursday: 7:00 pm Vinyasa Yoga (level intermediate and up) at Inspired Life Studios 560 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ Inspired Life Studios