It’s a privilege to be pregnant. It is one of the greatest gifts the Universe bestows on us and it’s only fair for us to take this responsibility and blessing seriously. In an honest attempt to create the perfect home inside us for 9 months, we can often border on becoming quite obsessed with the ever growing list of do’s and don’t’s.

Without wanting to add to the confusion, I wanted to let momas- and aspiring momas-to-be know that one of the most beautiful and useful things you can do while pregnant (and while trying to get pregnant) is yoga. All you need to do is google benefits of yoga to come up with endless lists of amazing things that yoga does for your health in body and mind. The benefits of pregnancy yoga is just as well recorded and I will summarise them for you here – I know how many other ‘what-to-expect’ type reads there are out there – so let’s keep this simple!

  1. Know Your Body: I feel I bang on about this in every article I ever write about yoga. It’s just that it is so significant. The way that yoga teaches you to connect to your body is even more valuable during pregnancy. With so much information on what is good and what’s not, it’s hard to know what would work for you. The reality is that every single body is different and the wisdom that exists inside you is more valuable to you than any expert opinion. When you know your body and are tuned in to the signs your body gives you – you will know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t. Yoga helps you build that connection. Don’t underestimate the value of your inner voice and wisdom. Tap into it to give your baby the best nourishment and care during pregnancy.
  2. Get Stronger, Flexible and Better Balanced: We know yoga makes us stronger, more flexible and balanced, and just think about how important that is during pregnancy. Not only are you carrying so much extra weight as the time passes during the pregnancy, but things get extra tight and restricted as your body changes to prepare for birth. You become more wobbly and off balance, leaving you feeling quite out of sorts and like your body is no longer your own. A yoga practice will make you strong for carrying baby during and after pregnancy. It will help you be aware of the tight spots and help you open it up, and with postures like tree pose and half moon, you will find your new centre of gravity, leaving you feel solid and grounded for the duration of these amazing months.
  3. Get Open and Loose for Childbirth: Being strong for childbirth is a huge bonus but in the months running up to your big day, your practice can work specifically to open your hips, helping in pushing and the actual delivery of your baby. Women who practice yoga find child birth easier – it could be as simple as that.
  4. Abolish Lower Back pain: As you core weakens during pregnancy the lower back takes a lot more strain, resulting in lower back pain being a common issue during pregnancy. The sciatic nerve is often irritated during pregnancy as well which can be very uncomfortable and even painful. Yoga postures designed to stretch out the lower back helps to release tension, alleviate compression in the spine and again – just frees things up so you feel open, spacious and free in your own body. Not the type of sensations women generally report feeling while pregnant is it? Well with yoga, it’s a reality…you can still feel damn good while pregnant!
  5. Bonding with Baby: Pregnancy classes often have a meditative aspect to them allowing you time to bond with your baby. You will do so by becoming still, focusing on your baby, connecting to your feelings about the pregnancy, aspirations for your child going forward and the type of parent you want to be. One would think this is all we think about while pregnant but life doesn’t stop just because we have a heart beating inside us. It’s essential to take the time out to contemplate your emotions in relation to the baby and communicate them while baby is still inside you. There is now ample research to show babies pick up on moma’s state of mind while they’re in the uterus. Give your baby a flying start by connecting to him/her this early on already.
  6. Support in Numbers: Being pregnant, especially for the first time, is associated with many fears and anxieties, which momas-to-be need to find a way to channel. Being in a group with other expectant mothers provides much needed, release as it offers you the opportunity to share fears, get advice and support and be completely understood right here – right now. Your sister or mother or aunty’s experience many moons ago will always be different to yours. With the best of intentions from all of those who love you, sometimes its nice to be around people who are in exactly the same place as you right now. In a non-judgmental and openly kind and sharing environment such as that created in pregnancy yoga classes, you will not be left to feel like you’re on your own in this.
  7. Take a Breath….and sigh it out…:
    Breathing exercises in yoga have many benefits for our momas-to-be, least of all calming the nervous system. By regulating your breath you can calm your entire body down in seconds whenever you need to. You can stop yourself in those moments of irrational fears, or emotional turmoil which is so common in pregnancy – and it can probably help you save relationships with partners and family members who are around you at the time. Breath management is also invaluable in pain control during child birth – or whenever you need it really!
  8. Relax Relax Relax: Every time you come to yoga you will stop and guide yourself into a beautiful state of relaxation. Purposefully relaxing your body in this way is essential in a busy daily life – and especially important during pregnancy. Not even when we sleep do we let go of tension and with baby being so tuned in and dependent on you being happy, relaxed and soft, it is so important to take time for this part of the yoga practice. Having the noise in your head turned down – even if just for a while – is so valuable. Being completely relaxed and free from all the demands of the world out there helps you to be fully present for yourself and for your baby. When you connect to the present like that, amazing things happen in your soul and your levels of well-being soar inexplicably. Guaranteed.
  9. Rest on Demand: Needing to learn to relax whenever you can is excellent practice for when baby will grace you with his/her presence. ‘Nap when baby naps’ is one of the most common and most valuable pieces of advice given to new momas and in yoga you will be practicing to do this. In fact – this will probably be the part of practice you will look forward to most because we all need it so much. Savasana is that space – when you become so still, yet aware. You rise from that feeling rejuvenated energized and ready to … get pregnant again!
  10. Encourage Confidence: Pregnancy and parenthood is an exciting but scary time. How good a parent will you be, will you have enough money to meet the demands of a new baby and will you ever have your body back again? Yoga has an amazing way to bring you back to what really matters. It brings you to here and now and you begin to recognize more and more, that you are on a journey. No amount of worrying about the journey will solve the problems along the way. It will however rob you of your peace, your freedom and the joy in the journey. These kinds of wisdoms that will be shared by your yoga teacher will often be exactly what you need, to get perspective and calm your raging mind. Because yoga builds confidence and strength in your body, it transfers to your mind. An open expansive body, leads to an open and expansive mind. We all need a confidence boost at the best of times. Yoga will give you that when you need it most.

Here is an idea for how to structure you prenatal Yoga Practice:

Gratitude: for the stage of pregnancy, the baby and the beautiful belly that goes with it
Surrender: to the process of pregnancy, the changes in your body and the impact on your mind and rest of your life. Coming to terms with and being at ease with what is ,will free you.
Love: Learning to love yourself and your body will better equip you to love your baby and your partner. Connect back to your feelings, assume responsibility for those feelings and leave your practice, a more balanced loving person.

There are many things you can do to make your pregnancy more meaningful and enjoyable and set you up for childbirth and child rearing. There is something for everyone and I trust that taking up prenatal yoga will be something that will transform your experience wherever you’re at.

As we enter the last week of January, 93% of people who have made new years resolutions would have abandoned them. In fact – most of the 93% would have abandoned their resolutions after just one week. It has me wondering if some of us still even remember what our resolutions were.

There is an inexhaustible pile of literature out there about how to set better, more realistic and achievable new years resolutions and this article is not one of them. While I believe its good to want to change things in your life for the better – setting resolutions or setting goals and failing – isn’t very good for your sense of self-worth and belief in holding that belief that you are able to achieve anything you want.

I have not set resolutions for a number of years and it got me thinking about what it is that is different in my life now, compared to five or ten years ago when I bought special notepads and books to write resolutions in – and track them over time? The short answer to that is – I became a yogi.

Adopting a new lifestyle as opposed to adding on bits and pieces to a poorly coordinated and incoherent way of life proved much easier, much more meaningful and undoubtedly, sustainable.

The main areas in which people set new years resolutions are money and success/work; family life, weight control, health and wellness, achievement in activities/hobbies, improving quality of life, feeling better…living better. Looking at this list, the thought of adding tasks in some or each of these areas seem arduous and even impossible. Especially adding that on to a life that is already unforgiving in its demands on time and energy. No wonder we set ourselves up to fail.

In my case a lifestyle change set me free of always failing at adding bits and pieces to an already full and cluttered life. My lifestyle change involved adopting the life of a yogi. It became all my new years resolutions rolled into one sweet package. It made me achieve all those resolutions I, with the best of intentions failed at, and made me forgive myself for the areas in which I would struggle. Nobody’s perfect. I didn’t have to throw the ones I didn’t ‘master’ out, because there is so much room for error and forgiveness, and much less room for judgment. So I work my way through as part of my lifestyle and nothing hangs on me achieving or letting go of anything in the first week or three of January.

So here are my reasons for saying Yoga beats new years resolutions any day – and it will for just about everyone out there.

  1. Yoga is a lifestyle: Its not just physical exercise. If you let it, it will ease up on the rigidity you feel you need to employ when approaching life and ‘the way things should be’. It is forgiving, and kind. It allows for a different way of being – rather than an attempt at just doing things differently. A change in lifestyle means you own what you do, rather than try to make lots of new (or old habits) fit into a lifestyle to which it perhaps might not be suited.
  2. Yoga addresses your health needs in a very unique and effective way: Yoga will ease pain and bring newfound health and vitality to your body in ways you didn’t imagine before or during your first class, sweating through a downward facing dog. The physical aspect of yoga alone will do that. The more subtle elements in yoga will make you aware of your body in a way that may seem foreign to you reading this now. You will begin to know your body for what it is and what it needs. You will begin to value your body, respect it and treat it in the way it deserves to be treated. Your health becomes something you care to know about – not something your doctor sorts out during times of dis-ease. You own your body. Its been there from the start and will be till the end. You can’t say that about many other things in life. Yoga teaches you to love your body. What follows is simply beautiful.
  3. Yoga is better for you on a physical level than going to the gym: Imbalance in your body brings imbalance in your mind. Illness and disease are ultimately due to imbalances – physically, mentally, spiritually. Going to the gym isn’t a bad thing in itself – but it doesn’t ultimately give you the foundation for balance that you need. How many people go to the gym and quit after a little while? How many people hurt themselves doing strength training in the gym? How many people have ruined their health as a result of not knowing when to push and when to stop in training of their bodies? How many people feel bad about their bodies when hanging out in the ‘gym culture’? Yoga gives you all the elements of a solid and strong workout without taking away the balance your perfect body needs in terms of flexibility to counter strength, relaxation to counter the high adrenaline, knowledge and understanding and respect of your body to counter the perfect body image you chase in the gym culture. And on a vanity note – Yoga makes your body look great – toned, lean, strong, healthy. Oh yes.
  4. Yoga compliments every other sport you will ever do: Adopting a yoga lifestyle doesn’t mean you stop doing the sports you love. It does mea though, that you enhance your ability to achieve in sports, and limits your potential for injury. Sport is such a wonderful way to stay active, stay connected to people and possibly even with nature if the sport is played outdoors. Many of us practice sports for all those reasons and some practice for achievement, which in itself – also – is great on many levels. Wanting to achieve is fabulous – hurting yourself to get there – not so much. Doing yoga though – will again provide a foundation from which to safely expand your physical and mental boundaries. From a place of self-awareness and respect and care for your body, it is much harder to push through and hurt yourself. If achievement is important why cut playing the short, through injury?
  5. Yoga improves your family life: An interesting line of feedback from students who practice yoga at Heal. Love. Yoga has been their improved family relationships. This is as a result of them feeling much calmer and much more in control of themselves, their responses to stress and their time. Yoga is powerful like that. The concept of choosing how we respond to discomfort in our bodies quickly transcend the four walls of the studio into real life, and the result is a change in what matters most – how we treat and interact with the ones we love the most. Yoga calms the nervous system. This means a calmer, more in touch and real you.
  6. Yoga improves your work life: For the same reasons that it impacts on your family life, it does your work life. Coming to realize that worrying takes your peace away rather than your problems, and that nothing is ever really under your control, is freeing to say the least. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens and shrug your shoulders at responsibility. Not at all. It means the opposite – it means very proactively dealing with what you can, without paralyzing yourself worrying about what hasn’t happened yet and may never materialize. It means choosing how best to spend time acting on your responsibilities to make it worthwhile. Investing energy wisely rather than wasting it… exhaustion, burnout, sick leave = wasted energy.
  7. Yoga helps you to see yourself differently: Much/most/all of our dissatisfaction with life, stem from how we see ourselves: how hard we judge ourselves and how little compassion and care we apply when interacting with ourselves. This naturally transcends to how we see and interact with the world. Through yoga you begin to explore the wonder of you; all that you are capable of when you didn’t even know to try. It teaches respect and admiration for what you are, what you are made of, what you do and mean to the world and why you being authentic and real is important to what happens to the world around you. You matter.
  8. Yoga helps you to experience and see the world differently: Yoga is very much a philosophy of connectedness. We are all connected. Understanding this concept and acting on it translates into a world where you treat people, animals, the environment the way you want to be treated – with care, awareness, and sensitivity. You begin to see the ripple effect your actions can have on things way, way far away from you and begin to take responsibility for yourself and for the world around you. We are all here for a reason – a purpose. You will only begin to realize that purpose once you can realize that you are part of this world and it is part of you. There is no separation ultimately other than the separation that you create in your mind. It is this self-invented separation that causes most of the pain, conflict and heartache in the world today.
It was a tall order to say yoga will incorporate and encompass all of the new years resolutions you could probably ever have…but there you have it. This is on the basis of my own personal experience and I would be very interested to hear your thoughts!