Study suggests yoga reduces prenatal anxiety and depression

Wednesday , August 06, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN ─ Ten percent of women in developed countries experience mental health problems during pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. A recent study published in the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that prenatal yoga may decrease depression and anxiety during pregnancy. 

“Antenatal yoga seems to be useful for reducing women's anxieties toward childbirth and preventing increases in depressive symptomatology,” the study states.

Researchers asked 59 low-risk pregnant women to complete questionnaires assessing pregnancy-specific depression and anxiety before completing either an eight-week yoga course or assuming normal treatment. Those randomly selected for the yoga group also completed anxiety and stress hormone assessments at their first and last yoga session. Researchers found reduced anxiety after one session of yoga, which maintained throughout the eight-week course. 

Intermountain Mckay-Dee Hospital Center offers a yoga course to help pre-and postnatal women adapt to the emotional and physical effects of pregnancy which could lead to poor mental health. The 12-week course costs $60, and is open to all women, pregnant or not. Sheila Smith, the instructor of the course, said most people are familiar with yoga as a laid-back form of exercise, making it attractive to women during pregnancy. 

“It doesn't seem overwhelming to them,” Smith said. “They know it’s going to be more gentle with their body, especially during pregnancy. The intimidation factor is taken out of it...Most people feel very comfortable with yoga.”

Smith said yoga is a therapeutic form of exercise because it releases negative tension in the body through the poses, but also the mind through meditation and relaxation.

 “Our society is a very active society; we’re always on the go,” she said. “We really don’t take time for ourselves during the day to be quiet and be still, and that’s often what our bodies and minds need, that chance to reconnect with each other by being still...When that happens, the body just naturally starts to settle, and the body and the brain feel better.”

 Stephanie DeTar, owner of Lotus Yoga and Dance Studio in Ogden, said most studios in Ogden don’t offer prenatal yoga, hers included. She finds expecting women in all of her classes, but often suggests restorative Yin yoga for its relaxing properties; positions are held for three to five minutes, stretching the body’s connective tissues in the hips, thighs and lower spine.

“We’re focusing on the breath work,” DeTar said. “The breath is where the connection is. Expanding with the breath brings oxygen to the brain and to the body, which brings that dome of relaxation and clarity.”

DeTar said restorative yoga is an interaction with the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate and relaxes sphincter muscles. She feels that anyone who participates in yoga will experience a better connection to their body, and will have a better ability to deal with the stress.

“There’s just this overall bubble of calm, clarity and even strength to handle things in everyday life; the practice goes off the mat.” she said. “I feel like women find that they can manage their lives a little bit better with the tools yoga offers.”

Although women should consult their doctor before starting an exercise program while pregnant, Dr. Alex Larson, OB-GYN at the Ogden Clinic Women’s Center, said he recommends antenatal exercise because of the physical health benefits during and after pregnancy.

“From what I know about yoga, there is a lot of flexibly and core strength involved, and that really helps with the recovery,” Larson said. “If you go into a delivery in good shape, you come out with less pain and a quicker recovery... It does make a difference.” 

Physical discomfort might contribute to the anxiety and depression some women may feel during pregnancy, Larson said. Strengthening the muscles in the pelvic area may alleviate discomfort for some women. 

“If all the muscles in your core are in good tone, as it were, theoretically, you have less pain and less discomfort during pregnancy,” he said. 

Smith said she sees positive reactions from the women attending her prenatal yoga classes. Although busy schedules can complicate the ability to exercise, she said it’s important to take some time out to better the mind and the body.

“You can tell a physical change; you just see it in their face and in the way they carry their bodies,” Smith said. “They’re a lot more relaxed when they leave class. They’re more calm because we helped restore balance.”

Sign up for e-mail news updates.