Last week I blogged about postnatal yoga and yoga with babies, so this week I wanted to focus on prenatal yoga for expectant mothers. I have two yoga buddies that are pregnant right now so this topic is pretty relevant in my life. One is high-risk so she stopped doing yoga altogether; the other one I did a vinyasa class with last night! Up until recently, I thought that once you became pregnant, you had to start attending separate prenatal yoga classes which, in my mind, looked like a room full of super pregnant ladies sitting cross-legged and rubbing each others’ baby bumps. The closest thing to prenatal yoga that I have ever done before has been food baby yoga, which was difficult and uncomfortable, but I don’t know how similar doing yoga on a full stomach actually is to doing yoga with a bun stuck in your oven. Clearly, I had a lot to learn.
After doing some research, I found that there are a lot more options than “no yoga” or “prenatal yoga classes only” for pregnant women. Before starting any kind of exercise regimen during pregnancy, you will want to talk to your doctor and make sure that moderate exercise won’t cause any problems for you. That’s the first rule: talk to your doctor. The second rule is listen to your body. Some vinyasa, heated yoga, or Bikram yoga instructors might urge you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone or to test the limits of your body, but this might lead to detrimental results if you are pregnant. Make sure you tell your yoga instructor that you are expecting before class.
In all stages of pregnancy, heated yoga classes should be avoided. Sorry, Bikram yogis! Getting overheated can become dangerous. Drinking plenty of water will help keep your body temperature at a safe level. Some other tips for staying safe include: increasing caloric intake, wearing loose fitting clothing, and keeping your yoga schedule regular (as opposed to sporattic bouts of exercise followed by weeks of not moving at all). One surprisingly big no-no for pregnant yogis, especially in the first trimester is to avoid savasana, or corpse pose. Lying flat on your back can be harmful to you and your unborn child -- it restricts blood flow to your brain, heart, and uterus. A good modification is to lay in the fetal pose on your right side or with a folded blanket under your buttocks. Pregnant women should be able to attend any yoga class styles in the first trimester (except Bikram or hot yoga) and comfortably do all poses except inversions, closed twists, or backbends. The basic rule during the first trimester is to listen to your body and respect and honor body cues.
Once you enter the second trimester, you must be willing to modify most poses to accommodate your larger middle section. You might even find your yoga practice to be easier during this time due to a decrease in nausea and fatigue. In many ways, yoga during the second trimester is safer than practicing in the first, as your baby is sturdily implanted in the womb and risk of miscarriage is marginalized. Focus on building strength during months 3-6 and remember not to push yourself. Refrain from wide-legged poses that strain the pelvic floor as well as challenging abdominal work.
Once you hit month six and month seven, you should focus your practice on preparing for delivery. Acceptance of changes in the body must be made and surrender is key. It might be a good idea to start attending designated “prenatal yoga” classes at this time. If this is unavailable in your area, you can buy a prenatal DVD. Remember: yoga during pregnancy is an escape and a treat!
How is it Helpful?
Light exercise during pregnancy will keep your body toned while it is rapidly changing. A large percentage (75%) of American women do not exercise at all during pregnancy, and if more women maintained a light exercise schedule, common annoying side effects of pregnancy would likely be drastically reduced. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, exercising regularly throughout your pregnancy has a laundry list of benefits:
• Prevents or helps gestational diabetes
• Reduced backaches, constipation, and bloating
• Increased energy
• Enhanced mood
• Better endurance and posture
• Better sleep
• Prepares you for labor
Practicing Ujjayi breath has been proven to be helpful in preparing for delivery. For this reason it is a common feature in prenatal yoga classes. Practicing Ujjayi breathing will make delivery easier as it is very similar to the type of breathing performed while giving birth. Designated “prenatal yoga” classes are especially useful once regular yoga classes becomes cumbersome: these gentle series of yoga poses will keep you active, open hip flexibility, and prepare you for the delivery room mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Plus, there’s the added benefit of fellowshipping with women going through the same exciting phase of life as you!