Yoga instructors and massage therapists have known for years what science is finally beginning to examine and take seriously; our nervous systems affect our health. We recognize this most basically when stress is linked to disease or in studies of how environmental exposure can create effects in the body many years later. Currently, the science is getting even deeper. New and continuing research is showing that a woman’s health and state of mind during pregnancy may have much to do with both their child’s health as a baby and perhaps even into adulthood and old age. This is the science of fetal origin. Its ideas and research are becoming mainstream enough to be the cover article of Time magazine’s October 4th issue.
This article hit the newsstands just a few days after I returned from a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training at Shoshoni. As we learned there, prenatal yoga (in the tradition of Hatha yoga from this particular school) is not about prenatal fitness. It is about the more meditative aspects of yoga: breathing deeply, quieting the mind, becoming more connected to and aware of the body, and (YES) settling the nervous system. As a prenatal massage therapist, this came as no surprise to me. Although I always treat areas of pain or tension in a prenatal session, I also always spend time tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system creating increased levels of endorphins, seratonin, and decreasing cortisone (endorphins & seratonin= feelings of well being and happiness, cortisone= stress). The important thing to know here is that mom and baby are sharing everything from nutrients in food, to levels of hormones in blood, to oxygen, to feelings of stress or well-being.
As Annie Murphy Paul, the author of the Time magazine article suggests, this research could be added to the laundry list of pregnancy do’s and don’ts, or we can put our hope into this research leading to positive changes for affected women. I can easily see this becoming one more area for a pregnant woman to be stressed about (“Now I am not only stressed, I’m stressed about being stressed!”), but like Paul I prefer to see this research in the positive light. It gives pregnant moms one more excuse to make yoga and massage a regular (and from this research, integral) part of their prenatal routine. We all know that life does not stop and become a blissful cloud 9 just because you are pregnant and it hasn’t for most generations, through most times in history. (Some very lucky few women belong to social units that believe pregnant women should be pampered, pampered, pampered.)
So, we do the best we can. Adding prenatal yoga can give you time to really connect to your baby and your body in a positive way during pregnancy. Practicing prenatal yoga increases levels of oxygen in the blood, teaches the body about endurance and strength in challenging poses, and allows a conscious connection to release and deep relaxation in restorative poses. And, maybe most importantly, yoga creates a time in your day where you can let go of other stresses and cares and just share a few moments with your baby.