An estimated 20.4 million Americans take yoga classes, notes the 2016 Yoga in America study. Some take it for exercise, others take it to quiet their minds and relax their bodies. There are several different types of yoga, including Bikram, Vinyasa and Hot Yoga, and for expectant mothers, there is prenatal yoga. For New Baltimore resident Michelle Odoerfer, a prenatal yoga class helped her prepare for a completely natural childbirth experience.
“I desired something that was going to help me both physically and emotionally prepare for my natural birth. My prenatal yoga class was the perfect compliment to The Bradley Method, the natural birthing classes I was taking, because it helped me learn how to relax and move my body, quiet my mind and reaffirm what my body was meant to do during childbirth – all the things The Bradley Method also supports,” Odoerfer says, who took her classes with Lori Krajenke, owner of Earthside Yoga in Shelby Township.
Krajenke started Earthside Yoga after the birth of her third child. She saw during her pregnancy that there were few yoga studios in her area that focused on yoga for pregnant women.
“Even if you are eight weeks pregnant, there are twisting and bending poses in traditional yoga that you want to avoid. You don’t want to risk anything early in the pregnancy,” says Krajenke. Prenatal yoga includes modifications for the moms. In addition to the 200 hours of training required to teach yoga, Krajenke studied for an additional 85 hours focusing on prenatal yoga. “I always encourage moms to seek out instructors who have specialized training to keep mom and baby safe.”
Prenatal yoga is for all expectant moms
Krajenke says prenatal yoga is designed for newly expectant mothers to those who are approaching their due dates. It all depends how the mother feels.
“As soon as moms are feeling well and are feeling like being a little more active, they can get involved with prenatal yoga,” says Krajenke. “Moms often practice until the end, or as long as they are comfortable. There is no right or wrong time to start or stop. All of the things we are doing are helping baby to get into the optimal position right up until birth. And the calming aspects of yoga help moms prepare mentally.”
Odoerfer says she had taken a few yoga classes and done a few at-home videos, but hadn’t been in a consistent yoga class before her prenatal class.
“I started prenatal yoga at 10 weeks and continued until my baby was born, after 41 weeks,” says Odoerfer. “I remember my last class being very relaxing. I left feeling strong, confident and ready to have a natural and unmedicated childbirth.”
Krajenke says not everyone who participates in prenatal yoga is attempting a natural childbirth. Some are looking to stay in shape during pregnancy and others are doing it as a way of relaxing.
“Prenatal yoga helps relieve ailments and discomforts that pregnancy brings,” says Krajenke.
According to the Mayo Clinic, prenatal yoga can also help moms improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase strength, flexibility and endurance of the muscles used in childbirth.
While prenatal yoga is appropriate for most moms, Krajenke encourages moms to discuss their situations with their healthcare providers. She makes modifications for certain conditions like pubic symphysis, a misalignment of the pelvic bone that is common during pregnancy. However, moms with other conditions, like high blood pressure and preeclampsia, should get a doctor’s clearance.
Earthside Yoga classes are typically 60 to 75 minutes and begin with an opening time of sharing. Krajenke says mothers ask each other questions about pregnancy, share how they are feeling and have the opportunity to vent about their frustrations before beginning yoga.
Much like a traditional yoga class, Krajenke’s class includes an opening meditation, practicing of poses – including modification for those who need it, and ends with a hip opening exercise and relaxation. During that time, Krajenke says she will often do some massage on the moms and help them stretch as they relax.
Prenatal yoga classes modify poses and avoid those that are not good for mothers and babies. The Mayo Clinic recommends that moms avoid lying on their bellies or backs, doing deep forward or back bends or putting pressure on their abdomens through twisting poses.
Building more than just skills
Krajenke runs the prenatal yoga class in continuous six-week sessions. Through those sessions, Krajenke says she has seen moms not only prepare for childbirth, but also form lasting friendships.
“I really try to build a sense of community with the moms. As the six weeks goes on, you are seeing the same moms,” says Krajenke. “I’ve seen some really awesome friendships grow and last beyond the group.”
Krajenke says many moms continue on to her mom and baby yoga class once they give birth and have had their six-week postpartum check up.
Yoga is a gentle way to get back into stretching and moving,” says Krajenke. “It’s also an opportunity for the moms who met in prenatal yoga to come back together and meet all of the babies. We extend our supportive community into the first few weeks and months postpartum, which can often be more challenging than pregnancy.”
To find a prenatal yoga instructor near you, talk to your doctor or local yoga studio.