When you think of yoga, visions of a skinny guy twisting himself into a pretzel probably come to mind. But if you’re expecting or just gave birth, contorting your body probably isn’t a priority. (Pregnancy and childbirth provide enough shape-shifting for most of us!) Don’t worry — this 5,000-year-old collection of breathing and moving exercises that strengthens the entire body and soothes the spirit is perfect for everyone — even pregnant women and new moms!

Here are four reasons why yoga is a great option for you:

  1. Body knowledge:  Yoga is a wonderful tool for becoming better acquainted with your body. A regular practice also trains you to focus on different areas of your body, which is particularly helpful during childbirth.
  2. Mood moderation:  Yoga’s emphasis on breathing and moving simultaneously helps you breathe more deeply. For some, it triggers feelings of deep relaxation and well-being. For instance, the calmer and more relaxed moms are, the calmer their babies are.
  3. Posture perfection:  Pregnancy can cause even the straightest arrow to slouch. Then you start nursing, pushing a stroller, and lifting a baby and your posture may really suffer. Some of the best yoga benefits are increased back and shoulder strength, which improves posture. Yoga also opens up your chest, making it easier to stand up tall.
  4. Moral support:  Joining others in a yoga class is a great way to make new friends, all of whom are facing the same challenges you are. Even if you prefer to practice at home, an occasional class at a studio lets you tap into this network.

Yoga Essentials

The most important element in yoga is your breathing. Something that separates yoga from other kinds of exercise is the fact that each posture is linked to an inhale and an exhale. Why so much heavy breathing? Breathing and moving together sets the pace of your practice. It also helps you move more deeply into postures. Deep breathing — long, full inhales and exhales — also brings oxygen to the entire body, which energizes your system.

Here are the basics of yoga breathing:

Inhale through your nose, fill your belly, ribs, and upper chest with air so that it puffs out in front of you.  Exhale through your nose and tuck in your belly button as the air is being released.

Make sure to pick up these items before you get started:

A sticky mat – Mats provide a barrier between you and the floor and prevent your hands and feet from slipping.

A blanket – Blankets are used as padding to make certain poses more comfortable. Choose one that’s made of nubby material and folds easily; wool and Mexican-style blankets usually work best.

Blocks – Blocks can help novices experience poses they may not have the flexibility to achieve. If you can’t touch your toes, for example, you can use a block to bridge the distance between your hands and your feet.

A strap – Straps can help deepen a stretch or bridge a gap, similar to the way blocks do. If you can’t keep your feet together in a pose, for example, wrapping a strap around them can bring them together.

Comfortable clothes – It’s important to wear clothes that move with you so you don’t have to constantly readjust them. Cotton and Lycra tops and bottoms are clingy yet comfy.

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