Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yoga Before, During, and After Pregnancy, part 2

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, May 21 2009.

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