A lot of women shy away from yoga when they’re expecting, but you can actually practice it throughout your entire pregnancy IF you’re careful and know what to be mindful of. Yes, the kicks are delightful, but the cramps are debilitating. You might be glowing with enthusiasm one moment and overcome with emotion the next. Nothing quite explains the feeling of having a life growing inside you. You may also experience a fair share of mood swings; courtesy hormonal changes. This is exactly why yoga can be a godsend for you during pregnancy.
The yoga concerns
Yoga is a very ancient practice that has been proven to have a very positive effect on wellbeing; yet there is a common belief that it’s no good for pregnant women. The key reasons for this include:
- Risk of miscarriage – Certain poses put pressure on the belly and uterus which in the first trimester many believe can put you at higher risk of miscarriage.
- Risk of injury – During pregnancy you produce the hormone relaxin which relaxes ligaments and tendons to create room for the baby and prepare for birth, which means you could ‘over do it’ without realising. You may also lose your balance in the later stages and hurt yourself or the baby.
In addition to these concerns, there is also a theory that having very strong core muscles (as many yoga practitioners do), actually makes it harder and more painful during labour; and also increases the risk of diastasis recti(abdominal muscle separation) occurring.
The benefits of yoga in pregnancy
While the risks and concerns about yoga in pregnancy are very valid and need to be addressed, when done safely there are many wonderful benefits of the practice for the expecting mama such as:
- It relieves stress and boosts your mood to help prevent prenatal mental health issues (such as depression and anxiety)
- The asanas help keep the body supple. Relieving tension around the cervix, by opening up the pelvic region. This prepares to-be-mothers for labor and delivery. It can result in a faster and less painful birth
- Yoga and pranayamas can train you to breathe deeply and relax consciously.It forces you to slow down and be still, and practice focusing on your breathing
- It helps reduce the effect of common symptoms such as morning sickness, painful leg cramps, swollen ankles and constipation.
- The asanas also help pregnant women recover faster post-delivery. You will be up and about in no time! It strengthens the body and increases stamina – important for birth and recovery
Prenatal yoga classes
Prenatal yoga classes are very popular, and when paired with a cardiovascular exercise (such as walking), yoga can be an ideal way for moms-to-be to stay in shape. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, yoga can keep you limber, tone your muscles, and improve your balance and circulation during pregnancy – all with very little impact on your joints.They are also a good way to bond with other local mums who are expecting, but don’t expect to work up a sweat as they’re more about birth preparation than exercise. Find a prenatal class here
Tips for a safe yoga practice
If you want to incorporate yoga into your prenatal exercise regime, then follow these guidelines:
- If attending a regular yoga class (and not a prenatal one), be sure to tell the instructor how far you are along before the lesson starts.
- Don’t do any asanas (poses) on your back after the first trimester – they can reduce blood flow to the uterus.
- Avoid any types of hot yoga such as Bikram, as overheating could be dangerous for you and your baby (not to mention uncomfortable).
- Avoid poses that stretch the muscles too much, particularly the abdominals. You’re more at risk for strains, pulls, and other injuries right now because the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which allows the uterus to expand, also softens connective tissue.
- Be especially careful in your first trimester when miscarriage risk is at its highest.
- Use aids like chairs and walls with standing poses as you get larger, because your centre of gravity will shift and you don’t want to fall and injure yourself or your baby.
- When bending forward, hinge from the hips, leading with the breastbone and extending the spine from the crown of the head down to the tailbone. This allows more space for the ribs to move, which makes breathing easier.
- Listen to your body and if you feel any discomfort or pain, stop and seek advice from your instructor and your doctor.
- Keep the pelvis in a neutral position during poses by engaging the abdominals and slightly tucking the tailbone down and in. This helps relax the muscles of your buttocks (your glutes) and the hip flexors, which can help reduce or prevent sciatic pain down the back of the leg, a common side effect of pregnancy. It also helps prevent injury to the connective tissue that stabilizes your pelvis.
- If you’re bending forward while seated, place a towel or yoga strap behind your feet and hold both ends. Bend from the hips and lift the chest, to avoid compressing your abdomen. If your belly is too big for this movement, try placing a rolled-up towel under your buttocks to elevate the body, and open the legs about hip-width apart, to give your belly more room to come forward.
- When practicing twisting poses, twist more from the shoulders and back than from the waist, to avoid putting any pressure on your abdomen. Go only as far in the twist as feels comfortable – deep twists are not advisable in pregnancy.
- Be sure to only undertake a yoga class with a trained instructor who knows about pregnancy safety. Don’t attempt to do your own yoga unless you’re very experienced or are following a DVD or online class suitable for pregnancy.
Asanas (poses) that are safe
In general, these poses are safe in pregnancy:
- Marjariasana (Cat-Cow)
- Stretches the neck and shoulders, alleviating stiffness.
- Keeps the spine flexible.This is useful because the back has to support more weight as the pregnancy advances.
- Tones the abdominal region.
- Improves blood circulation, ensuring that the reproductive organs are well nourished.
- Veerbhadrasana (Warrior pose)
- Improves balance in the body, averting the possibility of falling during pregnancy.
- Tones the arms, legs and lower back.
- Increases stamina. This helps deal with delivery.
- Konasana (Standing, sideways bending, one arm)
- Keeps the spine flexible.
- Exercises and stretches the sides of the body.
- Helps alleviate constipation, a common symptom of pregnancy.
- Trikonasana (Triangle pose) –with chair for modification
- Maintains physical and mental balance. Especially useful for pregnant women since their center of gravity shifts.
- Stretches and opens the hips; a big help during delivery.
- Reduces back pain and stress.
- Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose)
- Relieves backache.
- Improves flow of blood to the pelvic region.
- Eases swollen ankles and varicose veins, common symptoms of pregnancy.
- Badhakonasana (Butterfly pose)
- Improves flexibility in the hip and groin region.
- Stretches the thighs and knees, relieving pain.
- Alleviates fatigue.
- Helps facilitate smooth delivery when practiced till late pregnancy.
- Yoga Nidra (Yogic sleep)
- Has healing properties.
- Reduces tension and anxiety.
- Helps regulate blood pressure.
- Deeply relaxes every cell in the body and prepares the body for the upcoming marathon of delivery.
Asanas (poses) to skip
To be really safe you should also avoid these yoga poses when pregnant:
- Core and abdominal strengtheners – you should be aiming for a soft belly and core, and strong body elsewhere
- Heavy inversions – such as headstands and handstands
- Back poses (after the first trimester) – they can reduce important blood flow to the uterus
- Certain pranayamas – where breath is retained or involves deep forceful belly movements
- Jerky or sudden jump movements (in the first trimester) – they can disturb implantation
- Backbends – these also compress the uterus and can overstretch the abdominal muscles
- Prone poses – such as the bow pose or locust pose, as they put pressure on the uterus
- Twists – especially deep belly ones as they are designed to compress the internal organs (including the uterus)
- Asanas to completely avoid during pregnancy
- Naukasana (Boat pose)
- Chakrasana (Wheel pose)
- ArdhaMatsyendrasana (Sitting Half Spinal Twist)
- Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
- ViparitaShalabhasana (Superman Pose)
- Halasana (Plow pose)
Doing yoga during your pregnancy can be the first priceless gift you give yourself and your baby. You will be able to welcome your bundle of joy with a bundle of energy!