Prenatal yoga is often recommended as an ideal form of exercise for pregnant women, and the benefits abound! It can build stamina and strength as well as offer an opportunity to practice breath work, both of which are said to assist with the physicality of delivery. Throughout the body, prenatal yoga can certainly improve balance, reduce tension throughout the body, calm one's nervous system and increase circulation -- all common issues for many women during pregnancy. And on an emotional, spiritual and psychological level, prenatal yoga may promote connection with one's baby and self in a comfortable community setting.
I would argue that regular, non-prenatal yoga classes can provide the majority of the same things to any practitioner; however, I did attend several prenatal classes during the course of my pregnancy and learned a couple of things I'd love to share.
be gentle to your body
I'll be the first to admit that for a long time, my yoga practice meant sweat, hard work, complicated postures, and pushing my body to its limits. Even though it's been amazing to be able to enjoy some of the physical parts of regular and hot yoga classes through most of pregnancy, it's also . . . very different. Because it has to be. I had to pay more attention to my transitions; if I moved too quickly, I could experience unwanted aches or pains or lose my balance and breath entirely. I took more breaks and drank water more frequently. I focused on what felt good rather than what I "couldn't" do.
Quickly, yoga became less about the asana -- the physical poses -- and more about my state of mind, and prenatal yoga specifically reinforces this idea. The point here is NOT to get a "good workout," even though there are physical components. We held maybe 5-8 poses, tops, for a few breaths each, and instead prioritized hip and core awareness, slow movements, and guided meditation.
there's freedom in belonging
In a regular class, I constantly modified and adjusted to receive similar benefits of a pose for which I couldn't do the "standard" version. In a prenatal class, I could let go a little more and clear my mind; there was no need to consider whether something was safe or okay for my body because it's inherently structured to be safe and okay for all pregnant bodies. Of course, I still felt encouraged to listen to my body and accommodate my own needs, but it's a little more freeing in a prenatal class to move without having to think as much.
Likewise, in a regular class, I often felt like I stood out like a sore thumb since I was typically the only pregnant person there. This wasn't necessarily bad -- people tend to be kind and encouraging when you're pregnant and staying active, for the most part -- but it did mean receiving curious stares or commentary each and every time. In a prenatal class, it's nice to feel like you're just like everybody else.
it's hard to justify self-care investments
I only attended a handful of prenatal yoga classes for one reason: cost. It's crazy expensive, even pricier than standard yoga classes per class (which range, at a drop-in rate, from $12-20 here in the Midwest). Most tend to be around $25 a pop with short expiration dates for class packs. That type of investment can be prohibitive for students, and I can relate. I think yoga in general can cater to upper class individuals with discretionary income, and this saddens me -- even though at the same time, I understand the reality of paying teachers and managing studio costs. It did feel extra-special when I was able to go, but I wish it was more affordable -- just like I wish I could afford green juices and organic food and all fitness classes and massages on a more regular basis!
connection leads to support
In my experience, the prenatal classes centered around discussion and connection rather than movement; each began with a theme or aspect of pregnancy, such as rest or nourishment, and then opened the doors for all attendees to express themselves. That may ring a little too "touchy-feeling" for you, but honestly, most prenatal classes are quite small in size, which makes them more personal and inviting than a traditional yoga class. I tend to be an introvert and yet I enjoyed meeting other women at different stages in their pregnancy and chatting with them about their experiences.
Similarly, you receive a lot of advice and ongoing bits of information during pregnancy from doctors, friends, family, the Internet, etc. Prenatal classes can definitely offer as a wealth of insight but the primary goal is to make pregnant women feel comfortable, safe and empowered. Such studios may provide post-pregnancy support as well, such as post-natal classes and mother and baby classes.
Shout-out to Sandi Hoover at Roots Prenatal Yoga, who not only radiates kindness and knowledge, but is an amazing studio owner and instructor. She took the time to answer all my silly and profound questions before and after classes, showed me where the bathroom and water station and mats and props were, and explained what I could expect in each class. If you're pregnant and live in Des Moines, IA, be sure to visit her at Roots.