TEACHING prenatal yoga is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Most of the women who come to class have never done yoga before and don’t have a clue what to expect.

I see them come, week in week out, growing their babies in front of my eyes, and I also watch their mental attitude shift as their due dates approach. Women often start off with a goal to keep fit and stave off baby weight, but that usually evolves into a craving for relaxation as they get to their third trimester.

And then I have the privilege of hearing their birth stories, and how the little snippets of information I have fed them about how to have an easier, more active birth come to fruition on the big day.

There’s a huge difference between regular yoga classes and pregnancy sessions, which is why it’s essential to find a specially trained instructor (see rollercoaster.ie for local prenatal yoga). Unless you have been told specifically to rest up, prenatal yoga suits everyone after 14 weeks.

Postures are carefully chosen to suit the ever-changing pregnant body and help ease issues such as a bad back (sage’s pose, pictured, is great for this) and tight shoulders as well as keep muscles toned. There’s a big emphasis on posture and the core — yes, you still have abdominal muscles, honest — and of course the dreaded pelvic floor gets a workout, too.

The pregnancy hormone relaxin whizzing round your body means it’s easier to overstretch than normal. To avoid this, there is generally a lot of repetition and movement in postures rather than holding poses for a leg-trembling length of time. But don’t be fooled — many instructors give students a challenging workout as well as a chance to unwind. After all, women need to be as fit and strong as possible for labour. And busy women, often with hectic jobs or other children, really want to get the most out of their precious hour dedicated to exercise.

But prenatal yoga is about more than a physical workout. It’s about connecting with your body and giving yourself time out to focus on the crazy, wonderful thing that is growing a baby. You learn calming breathing techniques and visualisations to encourage focus. And there’s always a delicious savasana at the end, a relaxation session that will melt your muscles and squeeze out the last fragments of tension.

I’ve seen the physical and mental benefits that pregnancy yoga can bring. Stretching, toning, breathing and relaxing… what have you got to lose?

First published in the Irish Daily Mail June 6, 2016