Is Prenatal Yoga the Workout You’ve Been Waiting For?
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Whether you’ve got a different mat for every day of the week or you’ve never done a sun salutation, you’ll get so much out of even a few minutes of prenatal yoga.
- Starting a prenatal yoga practice can give you all kinds of physical benefits, like pelvic floor health and pain relief…
- …and mental ones, like strengthening that critical mind-body connection and fostering a supportive community.
- Not sure if it’s your thing? Give it a test run with the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother program in the NTC app.
Read on to learn more…
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
Hear “exercise during pregnancy” and immediately think “prenatal yoga”? Makes sense. For one, the low-impact practice of yoga is versatile and easily adjustable for pregnant bodies. For another, many fitness studios offer prenatal yoga classes as their only maternity option.
“Prenatal yoga can be a really potent form of moderate exercise,” explains Dena Zimbel, a yoga instructor in Portland, Oregon, retired midwife, and member of the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother advisory board. Sure, yoga is a form of physical movement, which is always great, she says. But it also facilitates a mind-body connection that’s key when you’re growing another life inside of you (NBD). Pregnancy is often a tricky time to be present in your changing body, and yoga offers a grounding way to reconnect with it, explains Zimbel.
Especially if you’ve never done yoga before (or, heck, even if you have), it might feel intimidating to build a prenatal practice. And if you’ve never been superinterested in ~yoga vibes~ or you’re more used to kicking your ass than sitting on it, you might feel less than psyched about a gentler form of exercise. Regardless, there are real benefits you can get out of some time on your mat (if your provider OKs it) — and ways to maximize them.
1. Work through some of your more annoying symptoms.
“There’s a lot of physical discomfort that often comes along with pregnancy,” says Zimbel, from back pain to round ligament pain to swollen wrists, feet and ankles (sexy). Research suggests that prenatal yoga may ease some of these aches and pains, and zeroing in on specific poses that target what’s bugging you for a few minutes a day can provide relief. Just don’t go too deep in your stretches, says Zimbel, who suggests sticking to about half of your max range of motion, since a variety of hormonal and other body changes during pregnancy can leave your joints more prone to injury and irritation.
That said, while prenatal yoga should make you feel better, you may find it adds to the ugh. “Certain movement practices feel better for certain individuals,” says Laurel Proulx, DPT, PhD, a pelvic health physical therapist in Colorado, the founder of FEM Physical Therapy, and a member of the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother advisory board. If you simply don’t like it or it makes you feel worse, it’s cool to nama-stay away.
2. Help calm pregnancy anxiety.
As Zimbel says, yoga emphasizes the mind-body connection, and the mental health benefits from that can be major. “It’s the time you need to unwind, slow down, pay attention to your body, and dedicate some time to yourself,” she says (you’ll crave that later). In fact, emerging research has shown that just one prenatal yoga sesh can reduce anxiety markers, a regular prenatal practice can reduce self-reported distress, and overall, classes can make you feel more confident about childbirth.
To soak it all in, don’t overlook (or roll your eyes at!) the breath-focused part of class, whether you’re IRL or virtual. We don’t always take time to practice connecting with our breath, which is mind-body gold.
3. Build that parenting “village” people are always talking about.
Practicing on your own at home is all good, of course, and, depending on the state of the world and your personal risk tolerance, may be the safest option. But if you can find a local class to attend every now and then, you may get even more out of it. “I think one of the most incredible things about prenatal yoga is having this communal space where you and everyone else can make that hour all about your current experience, because pregnancy is a huge identity shift,” says Proulx.
Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about your mental and physical symptoms with people who can relate, suggests Proulx. And absorb the energy in the room: It’s pretty freaking badass to be surrounded by other pregnant people.
4. Start prepping your pelvic floor for labor and beyond.
Tuning into your down-there muscles is a wonderful idea during pregnancy, but it’s easy to forget to make time for the exercises. “In yoga, we’re put in positions that not only make us more aware of our pelvic floor, they also potentially help relax it. Frog pose, pigeon pose, goddess pose, hip stretches and hip openers — those are all really great ways to start preparing the pelvic floor for birth,” says Proulx. Settle into these poses and breathe deeply into the pelvic floor, really feeling it relax, she suggests.
Even if you don’t have a vaginal delivery, a strong and flexible pelvic floor is still crucial in helping with postpartum recovery, as those muscles were under a lot of stress during pregnancy, explains Proulx. It can only help to get in the practice of connecting to these muscles now.
Whatever your prenatal yoga practice entails, don’t skip the best part: side-lying savasana. If you happen to fall asleep in the pose, well, you deserve it.
Words: Sara Gaynes Levy
Photography: Vivian Kim
CHECK IT OUT
Ready to tap into all of those benefits? Start the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother program in the Nike Training Club app for guided prenatal flows, wellness advice and more. For workout gear that supports you through pregnancy and beyond, check out the Nike (M) collection.