Good question! It's one I get a lot :)
So I would break this into 4 areas - Physical, Mental, Breath and Community.
I'm not a believer in doing very little exercise just because you are pregnant. In fact, if you exercise for about 30 minutes a day, it is proven to help you have a more comfortable pregnancy, a shorter and therefore easier labour, and a faster recovery. So a 'shorter and therefore easier labour' should bring music to your ears mamas-to-be! Focusing specifically on labour and birth, prenatal yoga will help you stay strong, toned and open, therefore making your labour easier and more manageable, and helping you have the strength and stamina required to keep you upright for as long as possible. Sometimes, and of course not all the time, labour can be a long process particularly for first-time mamas, whose bodies haven't gone through the experience of childbirth before. The majority of first-time mamas who come to my classes in Dublin, can be quite surprised by how long their labour journey lasted. So keeping fit throughout pregnancy is really important, and Pregnancy Yoga is an awesome way of doing this.
Furthermore, in my Yoga classes, you will learn the best positions to get your body into to facilitate the smooth journey of labour. What does this mean? It means NOT lying flat on the bed. It means learning how to open your pelvis which will allow more space for baby's head to come down through the pelvic boney structure. It means being upright for as much as your labour as possible. You will practice many positions during the classes, so that when the time comes for you to deliver, you'll automatically go into some of your 'already practiced' poses.
Also, through yoga we strengthen, tone, but also extremely importantly, learn how to relax and release the pelvic floor muscles. The ability to relax your body, but mostly your pelvic floor muscles is crucial for a vaginal delivery.
Every twinge, ache, pain, movement and feeling you experience while pregnant can be a worry! 'Is this normal in pregnancy' is probably the most-typed search into the prophet Google! Pregnancy can be a stressful time mentally, whether you are just a little concerned that baby is doing ok, or you are worried about how you will cope during your impending birth, or perhaps you have much anxiety in your life right now and being Pregnant is purely adding to it. Whatever the case, Yoga will really help ease even the most anxious mama-to-be. Prenatal Yoga will keep you in a positive mental space. It will give you the chance to decompress at the end of a stressful day. Never in all my years teaching, have I ever seen a person leaving the class stressed! It really is incredible for relaxing the mind and all worries seem to melt away during the practice so you are left feeling lighter both physically and mentally.
During a Yoga class, you will practice different visualizations for labour and birth. Visualizing your desired labour and birth is an incredibly powerful tool. Positive visualization is commonly used by elite sports men and women in order to achieve success.
Whatever type of birth you experience, your breath is your secret weapon! Not only will it allow you to feel more calm, it also brings you back in touch with your own body, and helps to connect with baby. Diaphragmatic breathing is just amazing! It's basically just breathing fully and completely, where your belly rises up fully on the inhale, and relaxes completely on the breath out. It will get you out of your busy mind and bring you into your body, noticing how your loyal, amazing and super hard-working body is doing. Believe it or not, correct breathing will also help minimise Diastasis Rectus - the abdominal separation which happens during pregnancy, and helps to support your pelvic floor too. Pretty powerful stuff.
During class we practice different breathing techniques which my mamas always tell me they always use during their labour and birth. It's incredibly powerful and extremely helpful to keep calm in times of stress.
Labour and birth are one of these topics where people just love to tell you about their own (often over-dramatised) horror stories. Something attracts women with difficult birth stories to ladies with bumps! It's like an irritating magnet. This is NOT what pregnant women need to feel supported. In my Yoga classes and my online communities, I only encourage positive birth stories. I think there is nothing more powerful than women empowering other women about how strong they are and how manageable their birth was. The community is also a wonderful place to get tips from me and other experienced birth mamas for a multitude of things which can come up as you head into the last weeks of pregnancy, during your labour and your whole birthing experience.
If you would like to learn more about freeing yourself from discomfort in Pregnancy, feeling strong, sleeping soundly, and feeling prepared for your labour, check out our comprehensive Own Your Birth Program.
Helen Plass is a Pre & Postnatal Fitness Specialist, and Yoga Instructor, working with women and their birthing partners to achieve a comfortable, healthy & happy journey into Pregnancy, birth and Motherhood. She is known for her very practical & non-judgmental approach to pregnancy and the crazy times of motherhood. Check out all her communication at NurtureMamas.com, and if you are in Ireland, her local business MumandBaby.ie