Mamas-to-be have a lot on their plates—but a commitment to the mat can help strengthen your body and calm your mind just when you need it most.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
February 12, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images / Peathegee Inc

Pregnancy can be all kinds of exciting. But it can also be stressful, exhausting, confusing, and, well, downright difficult on both body and mind-even more so if your go-to forms of exercise (ahem, spin classes or road races) seem to have gone out the window for nine months. (See: 4 Ways You Need to Change Your Workout When You Get Pregnant)

Fortunately, yoga can offer a slew of benefits for mamas-to-be. For one, it's a safe and low-impact workout. But it also promotes everything from circulation, fuller breath, and increased strength to mental tenacity, which is key for, you know, that whole giving birth thing. (Just be sure your doctor says it's safe for you to work out before picking up an exercise routine with a baby on the way.)

Any "prenatal" or "gentle" yoga class with a prenatal certified teacher will give ample opportunity to release what ails a pregnant body, too, says Heidi Kristoffer, a New York-based yoga instructor. So you can send at least *some* of your pain packing.

Here, six other perks of practicing poses during pregnancy.

You'll squash stress.

"Stress is bad for mama and it's bad for baby," says Kristoffer. "Yoga brings you into the present moment by connecting your mind to your breath and your breath to your movement." It also allows you to take time in a busy schedule to connect with your growing baby, she says. (Related: Why Your Energy Tanks During Pregnancy-and How to Get It Back)

Bringing awareness and attention to your body and your baby also allows you to fine-tune the critical skill of knowing what feels right for your individual pregnancy, says Tatyana Souza, owner of Coolidge Yoga studios in Boston. Practicing ujjayi breath-breathing slowly from your diaphragm, inhaling and exhaling through your nose as you lightly constrict the back of your throat to create a whispering sound while holding a strength-building posture-can help you tune inward. So can placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart during Savasana. (Related: How to Get the Most Out of Savasana In Your Next Yoga Class)

You'll breathe a little easier.

Winded walking up stairs? That's normal. "As your baby grows, so does the pressure and resistance against your diaphragm, impacting your ability to breathe," says Allison English, a Chicago-based yoga instructor. "During yoga practice, many of the physical movements help to open your chest, ribs, and diaphragm so that you can continue to breathe more normally as your pregnancy progresses." Try standing chest openers and side bends.

You'll naturally relieve pain.

"All of the weight gain and physical changes that pregnancy brings-the hormone relaxin loosening the joints, lordosis [swayback] of the spine-can cause many aches and pains," says Kristoffer. Fortunately, many yoga postures will stretch and relieve the areas of the body that are most taxed during pregnancy. Try cat/cow for back pain; pigeon pose for hip tension; or bridge pose and a gentle camel pose for neck and shoulder pain.

And for swelling? "Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) is an extremely restorative pose and can be done propped up on blocks, bolsters, or pillows, when lying on the back is no longer appropriate in a woman's pregnancy," says Kristoffer. Hold it for five to 10 minutes.

You'll build strength under pressure.

Let's face it: Not all yoga poses are a joy. But mentally sticking with minor discomfort (your quads firing up in a long warrior 2) will help you to call on the tools of your attention, deep breath, and inner strength more easily during the birthing process, English says. To practice, hold a standing pose (or a move that challenges you) an extra breath.

You'll labor like a pro.

"Make no mistake: your body needs to be strong for labor," says Kristoffer. "Holding poses for extended periods of time in a yoga class will help you get stronger in all the right places, and practice the endurance required for childbirth." Goddess pose and wide Malasana squat are two of the ultimate labor preparation poses, says Kristoffer. But most prenatal yoga classes are full of poses to aid in strengthening the parts of your body (pelvic floor, hips, core, lower body) necessary for labor, she says. (Related: More Women Are Working Out to Prepare for Pregnancy)

You'll establish a self-care routine pre-baby.

Carving out "me" time isn't the easiest with a newborn in tow. But taking time out of your (equally busy) day while pregnant is essential-it infuses relaxation into your day and helps you keep your head clear, which is important for taking the best care of yourself and others, says English. Setting up a prenatal self-care routine also helps to ensure you'll keep up with it post-baby. To reap the most benefits, become a regular at a prenatal class. "It also creates a sense of community and sisterhood between new moms," says Souza. "Having a support community through pregnancy and into mama-hood is key for emotional well-being." (Next up: Shop Everything That Got Me Through My First Trimester of Pregnancy)