Pregnancy and Yoga Can Work Hand in Hand
Yoga can be a welcome aid during pregnancy
For women who are avid practitioners of yoga, becoming pregnant presents a unique situation when it comes to participating in the activity.
But it doesn’t mean you have to stop participating in yoga completely until your pregnancy is over. In fact, participating in yoga may help pregnant women cope with the physical and mental changes that go along with it.
There’s no denying the fact that becoming pregnant will alter a woman’s regular yoga schedule, not to mention her entire life. While a pregnant woman may not be able to participate in yoga with the same frequency that she did before becoming pregnant, or participate in all of the exercises as she might have done before, but she can still enjoy some of the benefits of yoga by making a few changes to her routine.
According to yoga instructors and medical experts, yoga can aid pregnant women by encouraging breathing and relaxation. Anyone who has participated in a child birthing class, especially a Lamaze birthing class, is no doubt familiar with the importance of breathing exercises in the process. While there is the more deliberate breathing exercises associated with a child birthing class (think the “hee hee hoo hoo” type of deliberate breathing), there is also the deep breathing exercises that are designed to relax and calm the body during delivery and is closely related (if not directly related) to the types of breathing exercises taught in a yoga class.
By utilizing the moderate breathing exercises taught in yoga, expectant mothers can reap the benefits of relaxation at all stages of the pregnancy experience, from the pre-natal phase through labor to birth and afterwards. The breathing techniques connected to yoga can help calm the mind and the body, eliminating physical and mental stress which can be harmful during pregnancy.
As stated, there are precautions that need to be taken by pregnant women when participating in yoga, many of them geared toward specific trimesters. The following are suggestions for how to incorporate yoga into each trimester of your pregnancy.
Women in the first trimester of pregnancy who regularly attend yoga classes should inform their instructor of their condition so that the instructor can suggest or help them with any modifications to the routines. And if you are pregnant and experiencing “morning sickness”, don’t feel guilty about pulling out of a class, skipping a few of the more strenuous poses or moving to a less difficult class. Take morning sickness as a signal that it’s time for you to change your yoga routine.
On the other side, if you are a pregnant woman who has never taken part in a yoga class but have heard about the benefits of yoga for pregnant women, you may wish to seek out a prenatal yoga class in your community. Many yoga studios today have special classes for pregnant women, where you can also consult with other expectant mothers in the class and share information. Even if you can’t find a prenatal yoga class in your community, don’t fret; there are many videos and DVDs available on the subject of prenatal yoga that you can view and use in your home.
Yoga experts say there are specific poses and movements that are well-suited for women in their first trimester of pregnancy, movements that promote flexibility, particularly in the hip area that can help make the actual birth process easier. Yoga experts recommend expectant mothers practice poses such as the Triangle, Knee to Ankle, Warrior II, the Pigeon, Ardha Chandrasana and Baddha Konasana. Yoga instructors also recommend positions that can actually affect the birth process, such as Cat-Cow, in which the participant is on all fours, because it helps put the baby in the prime birthing position inside the woman’s body. In a similar vein, yoga experts discourage pregnant women from performing poses that stretch the muscles, particularly the abdominals, too far, since pregnancy increases the production of the hormone relaxin, which softens connective tissue and allows the uterus to expand.
In the second trimester, morning sickness has usually passes and this can be a perfect time for those who have never tried prenatal yoga to begin the practice. Regardless of the level of experience with yoga, expectant women who perform yoga at this stage of their pregnancy should use caution and refrain from exerting themselves or performing moves that require extreme stretching.
Experts recommend they refrain from jumping, jump-throughs or rolling in their transition between movements, but step or crawl instead. For instance, with a move such as the sun salutation, yoga instructors recommend that pregnant women keep their chest no more 85 degrees from the floor in the forward position of the move and place their hands in front of their feet as opposed to the sides. Also, they recommend avoiding extreme twists which could cause placental abruption, poses that press the heel of the foot into the uterus while sitting or seated in the lotus and half-lotus positions unless you are able to keep the position loose and not twist the knees too much.
In the third trimester, an expectant mother will increase in size and her level of fatigue will change, which means she will have to alter her yoga participation. At this point in the pregnancy, the woman should avoid poses that compress the stomach and they should acknowledge their feelings of fatigue. In this trimester, they can keep participating in yoga, but only if they feel up to the task. If not, doing gentle stretching and calming breathing exercises will suffice.
At 36 weeks of pregnancy, women should limit the number of inversion poses they perform, such as Legs Up Against The Wall, Bridge Pose and Downward Dog. These moves may alter the position of the baby in a negative manner. The only exception for performing these positions is if the baby is currently in the breech position in the womb. In that situation, those poses may actually help to turn the baby around.
Along with these recommendations, yoga experts have a few rules that pregnant women should heed when participating in yoga classes. Avoid participating in Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga”. Studies show that overheating could adversely affect your pregnancy.
• Beginning with the second trimester, when the changes in your body can alter your center of gravity, perform standing poses with a chair for support or with your heels against a wall to reduce the chance of losing balance and becoming injured.
When bending forward, bend at the hips with the chest leading the way and extending the spine from the tailbone to the base of the skull. Bending in this manner give the ribs more room to move and makes it easier to breath. If you are bending forward while seated, put a yoga strap or towel behind your ankles and hold the ends with both hands. As with the other move, bend from the hip and keep the chest elevated so that you avoid putting pressure on the abdominal section. Keep the legs open approximately hip width to give your stomach more room.
If you perform a twisting move or pose, twist from the shoulders and back as opposed to the waist and restrict your twisting to a position that is comfortable. This helps avoid putting pressure on the abdominal area.
Avoid backbends, one-leg balancing, handstands, headstands and upward bow movements.
Lastly, do not ignore the signals your body sends you. This is an amazing time in your life and yoga can help make pregnancy less stressful, less discomforting and even more peaceful.