Yoga: A Labor of Love; Expectant Mothers Find Exercise Aids Childbirth
Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Susan Oliver wasn't convinced when a friend recommended she try yoga during her first pregnancy three years ago. "I was afraid it might be too difficult. You think of yoga as people in these crazy poses," says the 33-year-old Herndon resident, who gave birth to her second son last month, "but I wanted every strategy I could to get through a natural birth."
She finally relented, and the yoga classes became an enormous comfort for her during the birth of both her children.
Many moms to be are turning to yoga for more than just exercise, stretching and stress relief. The Eastern practice also offers significant benefits for women preparing for childbirth. Yoga strengthens some of the muscles used during delivery and echoes breathing practices mothers use during the birth process.
Mrs. Oliver, who took yoga classes before the birth of both her children, says yoga's breathing exercises remind her of lessons learned in Bradley birthing sessions she once took. In fact, a fellow classmate there told her about the pregnancy yoga possibilities.
Yoga quickly became a way to ease away the stress associated with pregnancy.
"There was the physical aspect, which is great, but the relaxation is the biggest, most important thing," she says.
She says she used yoga's breathing lessons "to keep me from panicking or wanting drugs" during labor. Yoga positions are held to coincide with specific inhalations and exhalations. Such controlled breathing allows the yoga student to move more deeply into a set position.
For her first birth, Mrs. Oliver cut back on her yoga lessons as her midsection expanded. The second time around, she kept up her pace, stopping just a few days before the delivery.
Mrs. Oliver's instructor, Darshan Kaur Khalsa, says students at her Sterling Yoga Center classes are a mix of yoga veterans and women who turned to yoga strictly to aid their impending labor.
"I don't consider myself preparing women for delivery," Mrs. Khalsa says. "I encourage them to take Lamaze classes."
The poses aim to ease lower back tension, increase hip and pelvic flexibility and improve breathing.
Her yoga sessions exclude some traditional poses that could be uncomfortable for an expectant mother, such as the cobra pose, which involves lying on one's stomach. Common inverted poses such as headstands also are eliminated.
Better, students can try the cow and cat poses, movements that reduce lower back tension.
These poses involve having the student get down on all fours with her hands beneath her shoulders and her knees beneath her hips. The student should inhale and push her pelvis backward and down while she stares up at the ceiling. During the exhale, the student's head should move between her shoulders, and her back should become rounded.
Other yoga poses open up the rib cage, Mrs. Khalsa says, which improves breathing.
"The poses I do in class are not anything that would negatively impact pregnancy," she says.
A typical class with Mrs. Khalsa begins with 40 minutes of poses, followed by quiet meditation and reflection.
She says more expectant mothers are discovering the benefits of yoga.
"It's not that their labor is easier, but they handle it in a different way," she explains. "They're more in control. They seem to have deeper resources they can draw upon."
Dr. Ellen Whitaker, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Washington Hospital Center, says yoga's impact as a muscle-toning exercise often is overlooked.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about yoga in general," Dr. …