Prenatal Yoga, Part 2- Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

In Part 1 we talked about how to help your client choose a prenatal yoga class; in Part 2, we will look at breathing, meditation and relaxation in a prenatal yoga class and how it’s beneficial to the pregnant mother.

We know that learning relaxation and breathing techniques can help a woman better cope with her labor and enhance her birth experience.  A prenatal yoga class should incorporate relaxation (meditation), breathing, physical postures and movements to prepare a woman’s body for labor and birth.  If a woman has a consistent yoga practice for many weeks leading up to her labor and birth, she should be better prepared physically, psychologically and emotionally to cope with her labor.

When most people think of yoga, asana (physical postures) comes to mind.  Preparing the physical body, and to some extent reliving stress by increasing the endorphin levels, is good.  Beyond the physical, however, when a woman is pregnant her hormones can make her feel out of whack; she can have fears about the birth process; she can feel a need for community and friendship in a new way.  A good yoga class should provide for all of the above.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of how the non-physical aspects of yoga work for the pregnant woman.

 “This study provides evidence that regular yoga practice in the last 10–12 weeks of pregnancy improves maternal comfort in labor and may facilitate labor progress. The researchers offer several theories for these effects. First, yoga involves synchronization of breathing awareness and muscle relaxation, which decrease tension and the perception of pain. Second, yoga movements, breathing, and chanting may increase circulating endorphins and serotonin, “raising the threshold of mind-body relationship to pain” (p. 112). Third, practicing yoga postures over time alters pain pathways through the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing one’s need to actively respond to unpleasant physical sensations.

Prenatal strategies that help women prepare emotionally and physically for labor may help reduce pain and suffering and optimize wellbeing in childbirth by providing coping skills and increasing self-confidence and a sense of mastery. More research is needed to confirm the findings of this study. However, yoga’s many health benefits and the lack of evidence that yoga is harmful in pregnancy or birth provide justification for encouraging interested women to incorporate yoga into their preparations for childbirth.”

 Research Summaries for Normal Birth by Amy M. Romano, MSN, CNM and Henci Goer, BA

Well, that sounds pretty good.  So, how do we do it in a yoga class?  The instructor should have a focus on simple breath awareness before trying to change the breath.  By understanding how breath actually moves in the body, you can begin to better control the breath.  Once this is accomplished, specific breathing techniques may be taught.  The yoga instructor should encourage the expectant mother to move her body as her breath tells her to move.  Specific techniques, such as Ujayii breathing should be taught, however, they are not associated with any stage of labor.  The techniques are taught to be used as a woman needs them.  She should always follow her body’s instincts.

  For more information on breathing techniques try Yoga Journal.

Also watch this brief video by one of my teachers, Max Strom, “Learn to Breathe”

Meditation is taught to varying degrees in a prenatal yoga class, depending on the style of yoga and the individual instructor.  Meditation does not have to mean finding a quiet seat and looking inward.  It doesn’t mean “clearing your mind”.  Meditation can involve movement, breath, mantra, focal points, visualization, etc.  What meditation does is give the person focus.   How does it affect pain management?

“Women practicing mindful yoga in their second trimester reported significant reductions in physical pain from baseline to post-intervention compared with women in the third trimester whose pain increased. Women in their third trimester showed greater reductions in perceived stress and trait anxiety.  Preliminary evidence supports yoga’s potential efficacy in these areas, particularly if started early in the pregnancy.”

The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. 

Beddoe AE, Paul Yang CP, Kennedy HP, Weiss SJ, Lee KA.

“Yogawas associated with reduced pain (mean difference (MD) -6.12, 95% CI -11.77 to -0.47), one trial, 66 women), increased satisfaction with pain relief (MD 7.88, 95% CI 1.51 to 14.25, one trial, 66 women), satisfaction with the childbirth experience (MD) 6.34, 95% CI 0.26 to 12.42, one trial, 66 women), and reduced length of labour when compared to usual care (MD -139.91, 95% CI -252.50 to -27.32, one trial, 66 women) and when compared with supine position (MD -191.34, 95% CI -243.72 to -138.96, one trial, 83 women)…. Relaxation and yoga may have a role with reducing pain, increasing satisfaction with pain relief and reducing the rate of assisted vaginal delivery.”

Relaxation techniques for pain management in labour.

Smith CA, Levett KM, Collins CT, Crowther CA.

So, it would appear that a yoga practice during pregnancy reduces the need for medical interventions, and would also seem to shorten the overall length of labor.

“The experimental group (yoga group) had significantly less pain and more comfort than the control group at each of the three measurement intervals during labor and at the postpartum measurement. This finding was consistent and significant across all three pain-measurement instruments used. The researchers do not present data about mode of birth. However, the length of the first stage of labor and total duration of labor were significantly shorter in the yoga group (mean length of first stage = 520 minutes in yoga group vs. 660 minutes in control group; mean total time in labor 559 minutes in yoga group vs. 684 minutes in control group)….”

Research Summaries for Normal Birth

Amy M. Romano, MSN, CNM and Henci Goer, BA

Yoga also seems to have an impact in the health and well being of the baby.  I would surmise that this is due to the lower levels of stress hormones in the mother’s body having a positive effect on the uterine environment.  When mama is happy, baby is happy.

 “Complications such as pregnancy-induced hypertension with associated intrauterine growth retardation as well as preterm labor and prematurity were less frequent in the yoga group. These effects are difficult to interpret as they could have derived from the physical postures, the breathing, the meditation and/or all components of the yoga sessions.”

“In the yoga group, compared with values obtained before a practice session, the high-frequency band of the heartrate variability spectrum (parasympathetic or vagal activity) increased by 64% in the 20th week and by 150% in the 36th week, and both the low-frequency band (sympathetic) and the low-frequency to high-frequency ratio were reduced. Moreover, the low-frequency band remained decreased after deep relaxation in the 36th week in the yoga group, all of these being adaptive autonomic responses to stress.  Thus, yoga reduced perceived stress and improved adaptive autonomic responses to stress in healthy pregnant women.”

Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice
Volume 17, Issue 1 , Pages 1-8, February 2011

To conclude, yoga has a multifaceted effect on not only the pregnant mother’s body, but also her mind and her baby.  More research needs to be done to further discover why yoga works.  However, since it does work; is a complementary practice to childbirth education; lowers rates of medical intervention; reduces the length of labor; and reduces the likely hood of prematurity, shouldn’t we consider referring our clients to a prenatal yoga class?

Tell me about your experiences with prenatal yoga and better birth outcomes.


Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

February 9, 2012 07:00 AM by sara r.
I have taken yoga classes and weight training classes when pregnant, and I really think that the weight training helped me more than the yoga. Maybe it's just because I'm not as into yoga. I think that learning to relax while lifting weights and working all of those muscles really helped me have a fast and relaxed first birth experience. I'm sure the yoga didn't hurt, though!

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

February 10, 2012 07:00 AM by Deena H. Blumenfeld, ERYT, RPYT, LCCE, FACCE
Yoga classes should include asana (physical postures) that are weight bearing. Warrior (standing lunges) are weight bearing, Downward Dog, bears weight on your hands, etc. So, a good prenatal yoga class should include all - physical, breathing and meditation/relaxation. Strength training is very helpful as well, pregnant or not.

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

February 10, 2012 07:00 AM by Jennifer Thorson, Doula
I kept up my regular yoga practice throughout my last pregnancy and I know it made a difference for me. I strongly recommend yoga practice to my clients and I recommend a few yoga-based breathing exercises to do at home, too.

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

February 11, 2012 07:00 AM by Kathy Morelli
There is so evidence to support the use of mindbody therapies! If mindbody therapies were a drug, we would be inundated with TV ads about them! Thanks for sharing this info abt yoga and perinatal health.

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

February 17, 2012 07:00 AM by Yoga classes
Hi, Yoga is good for better pregnancy... Thanks for sharing.. Regards.

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation

March 15, 2012 07:00 AM by Sam
Yoga is good for everything. You can perform yoga exercises anytime and anywhere. The meditation does help in relaxing and relieving stress.

Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 ƒ??

April 29, 2015 07:00 AM by Prenatal Yoga, with Deena Blumenfeld -
Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 ?? Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation ? by Deena Blumenfeld for Science & Sensibility [?]

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