Birth and Yoga

By Jude Mahood
Mar 2014

Ojeya Cruzbanks on St Clair Beach

Iwould say that 90-95% of women who come to pregnancy classes have never tried yoga before, but something intuitively tells them that yoga is what they need. So, are all these women right?

They most definitely are. Yoga offers numerous benefits for pregnancy and birth. Physical changes in the body during pregnancy are beneficial and essential, but unfortunately, they also place women at risk for other problems. For example, pregnancy hormones loosen the joints of the pelvis to make room for the growing baby and to widen the birth canal, but they also have effects on ligaments in other parts of the body. Ligaments surround joints to provide strength and stability. They are not meant to stretch but during pregnancy it is easy to overstretch them. Pelvic floor muscles, which serve to keep the baby in during pregnancy and contract to let the baby out during labour, also become weaker under hormonal influence. In addition to this, the centre of balance is thrown, particularly as pregnancy advances. Increasing weight pulling on the front of the body places added stress on the joints at the back of the body in the spine and pelvis. It is hard to imagine that the abdominal muscles stretch by about 50% of their original length to accommodate the baby. Obviously, this is a good thing, but again it weakens the abdominal muscles and can contribute to back pain.

In come the benefits of yoga.

The goal of pregnancy yoga is to work with the natural changes of pregnancy, to prepare the mother for birth, and to minimise or prevent discomfort or injury. More specifically, classes are designed to: build back, leg & core muscle strength to cope with the increased frontal load; strengthen pelvic floor muscles; develop physical stamina for labour; increase flexibility within safe ranges; improve posture & balance; open the chest & shoulders; and develop awareness of breath.

The benefits of pregnancy yoga are by no means restricted to the physical realm.

Pregnancy and motherhood require huge adjustments to lifestyle, regardless of whether the pregnancy was planned or not. But accepting the inevitable changes is not as easy as it sounds. Pregnancy yoga works on mental attitude, introducing women to the art of “letting go.” In the beginning it might be as simple as letting go of your favourite pair of jeans that no longer fit. As pregnancy advances and labour looms, it might be letting go of the idea of “the perfect natural birth.”

Classes focus on identifying the things you can change and letting go of attachment to things that are out of your control. Plans are great and necessary, but they can get in the way if they become too fixed, limiting options, and closing down other possibilities. “Go with the flow” should be the mantra of pregnancy. I particularly like the way the Rachel Yellin (an American yoga teacher) describes this concept:

“Doing prenatal yoga doesn’t mean you’ll have the ‘perfect’ birth; it means you’ll be able to accept the perfection of the birth you’re given, regardless of whether it goes according to your plan.”

One of the things that is beyond control is the level of discomfort or pain that will come with labour. Pregnancy yoga won’t guarantee a pain free birth, but it offers women strategies for dealing with discomfort, using the mind and the breath to stay calm, focused and on top of things. It’s about learning to be comfortable with discomfort.

During pregnancy, the mind and energy is focused on birth, and it is inconceivable to expect women to think past the big event. But what is learned in pregnancy yoga will be helpful for motherhood as well, particularly in the early days.

I have an 18 year old son who still continually reminds me of the need to let go of my preconceived ideas and to trust in the natural flow.

The social aspects of pregnancy yoga are a lifesaver for many women, particularly if they are feeling anxious (which most women naturally do) or unsupported. The opportunity is there to ask questions, share experiences or discuss concerns. Friendships develop and it is not at all unusual to hear women making plans to meet up for coffee after class.

Namaste, Jude


Jude Mahood operates out of her purpose built yoga studio in sunny Dunedin. She teaches general Hatha Yoga and Pilates from beginners to intermediate level. She has specialist training in Pre- and Post-Natal Yoga which enables her provide Pregnancy Yoga classes.