Yoga offers pregnant women another excellent exercise option. Followers have been singing its praises for years and it does deserve serious consideration as a good, all round form of exercise during pregnancy. Most women achieve improved flexibility and a boost to their general sense of well-being by doing yoga. Importantly, you don’t need to be great at it to gain some benefits either.
What’s the first step?
The same recommendations for all exercise programmes during pregnancy apply with yoga as well. Check with your midwife or doctor that it’s alright for you to do it and don’t start any new exercise programme, including yoga, in the first trimester of pregnancy. There is too much potential for harm to you or your baby. If you have had a miscarriage before or are in a high risk pregnancy group, this is particularly important. When you do start, go gently and be aware of any ill-effects. Remember, the point is for it to be enjoyable, as well as being good for you.
Where can I go to do prenatal yoga?
Try to choose a yoga class which is specifically designed for pregnant women. If this isn’t possible, make sure you tell the instructor that you are pregnant and which trimester you are in. They will probably make suggestions on modifying poses which take into account the increasing size of your belly.
Check your local yellow pages or do an internet search for locations close to you.
Is any type of yoga OK?
There is some disagreement regarding whether mothers should abstain from doing Bikram yoga when pregnant. This involves heating the room to around 32-40 degrees Celsius with 40% humidity. Sweating is thought to aid the removal of toxins from the body and improve flexibility, though detractors say this job is done perfectly well by the liver and kidneys.
Most experts agree that mothers need to avoid overheating during pregnancy and Bikram yoga should not be done. If you are particularly keen, then check with your own health care provider to see if it is safe for you to do this. One popular form of prenatal yoga is Ashtanga, which has a lot of devoted followers; others are Pranayama, and Yog Nidra.
What will it cost me?
Prices vary for yoga sessions and there is no consistent fee. Some practitioners offer a reduced rate if sessions are booked and paid for in advance. Private, one on one sessions offer a unique and individualised service, though understandably, they tend to be more expensive.
Some health insurance funds offer a rebate on Pilates and Yoga classes. Check with your individual fund to see if your ancillary cover incorporates these options.
Benefits of prenatal yoga for mothers
- Yoga is excellent for increasing flexibility and extending the range of movements it is possible for the body to achieve.
- It helps with relaxation and being able to focus on clearing the mind of all extraneous factors. This is very handy when it comes to labour when many women turn “into” themselves and become almost unaware of their immediate surroundings. Using yoga principles and being able to do this helps them to manage their pain and rely on their inner resources and reserves. Being able to relax and breathe through contractions and then rest the body in preparation for the next one is so important.
- Yoga has been proven to reduce stress and lower anxiety. For pregnant women, there are benefits of being able to focus on the baby, improve connectedness and attachment and synchronise the body, mind and spirit.
- Yoga helps to strengthen and maintain the pelvic floor muscles. There are long term benefits of this in terms of reducing the incidence of urinary incontinence as well as bladder and bowel prolapse.
- Yoga assists with breathing exercises and building stamina in preparation for childbirth.
- It improves suppleness and reduces overall muscle tension.
- Yoga helps to maintain good posture throughout pregnancy.
Benefits of prenatal yoga for babies
- Relaxes the baby’s mother which in turn, has benefits for the baby.
- Improves oxygenation via the placenta to the baby because of the deep breathing which is involved.
- An easier delivery means there is less likely to be trauma to the baby. Labour is stressful for babies too and a shorter labour, which goes smoothly and has little or no interventions, makes a good start to early life.
- Yoga offers an ideal way to connect and visualise the baby. This helps with early bonding and emotional attachment.
- Attend some classes if you can. Get good quality advice on techniques and positions first and then practice them yourself at home.
- Ensure you keep yourself well hydrated and wear comfortable clothes. Yoga pants are a must and you’ll find they’re the most comfortable pants you’ve ever worn (pregnant or not!). Stick with natural fibres such as bamboo, cotton and linen blends which will allow your skin to breathe and absorb any sweat.
- Avoid doing any exercise which involves lying flat on your back. Doing this past about 16 weeks of pregnancy can reduce the blood flow and oxygen to you and your baby. Stick with sitting, side lying or standing poses.
- Your centre of gravity will change as your tummy gets bigger and your spine will naturally curve inwards more to accommodate it. You may need to place one hand on a wall or chair to steady yourself with some poses. Try to position yourself in the class so you have plenty of room and something to grab hold of if you need to.
- Don’t do what doesn’t feel right. Trust you inner voice to tell you when you’ve had enough and need to rest. Avoid seeing other people’s achievements in class as something you need to aspire to. Every person has their own fitness levels and it is not a competition.
- When practicing at home, find a quiet spot in the house where you won’t be disturbed. Think of doing yoga as being food for your soul and spirit and a chance for time which is solely for you. This is not about needing to share with anyone else, other than your baby of course.
- Focus on your breathing, your breaths in and breaths out. Think of these breaths as nourishing you and your baby. Practice the skills in emptying your mind of any thoughts or concerns. If they intrude on your focus, acknowledge them and let them go. Tell yourself you will think of them later, but not now.
- Many classes encourage mothers to bring along a comfortable pillow and blanket or even a yoga mat. The point of yoga is to feel relaxed and in control. If you don’t feel as if your body is well supported, the point of it as an exercise is somehow lost.
- If you feel like you’re going to break into a giggle about some of the poses, let yourself; it’s part of the fun. Some yoga instructors can be a little eccentric and at first it can be hard to feel the same level of enthusiasm. Just accept each yoga session for what it is and keep an open mind.
- If you pass wind at some point in the class, just act nonchalant. This is a common result of compressing the large bowel and you won’t be the first, or last, person to do this.
- Think about getting some books, instructional DVDs and downloading some suggested yoga positions from a reliable internet source. For example, Ashtanga Yoga has more specifics on prenatal yoga.
- Encourage your partner to get involved as well. Yoga is an excellent way of boosting a couple’s communication and shared involvement in pregnancy and labour. Joined breathing is one yoga technique for couples where the mother is supported by her partner and they focus their dual energies on the uterus and the baby.
What yoga poses do I need to avoid?
- Avoid those which may make you feel uneasy or which feel too uncomfortable. The old saying “n” is simply not true when it comes to any form of ante-natal exercise.
- It is important to not do any yoga exercise which involves any extreme twisting action. This could potentially sheer the placenta off the uterine wall.
- Relaxin, that all important softening hormone, works its wonders on your joints and ligaments but it can also easily lead to joints being strained. Again, avoid twisting actions if possible.
- Other positions to be avoided are those where the heel of the foot is pressed hard into the abdominal wall when in a sitting position. Although this may sound impossible to achieve when you first start, you will be surprised at how quickly your flexibility improves.
- Any yoga position which involves inversions, for example, changing your upright position with handstands, handstands or shoulder stands need to be avoided.
- Any yoga techniques which involve breathe holding or vigorous, rapid breathing should not be done during pregnancy.
- Classes which involve jumping, rolling, dropping rapidly into a lying position or suddenly standing from a sitting position need to be avoided.
- You would be wise as well, to avoid any pose which places pressure on your tummy. Lying on your front and lifting your legs so your weight is then concentrated on your front is risky to both you and your baby.
If you experience any of these symptoms you need to stop doing yoga
- Elevated blood pressure or if you have been diagnosed with Pre-Eclampsia.
- If you have had a previous miscarriage or are in a high-risk pregnancy category.
- If your membranes have ruptured, you have commenced labour, are bleeding from your vagina or you generally do not feel well.
- If you feel nauseated are lightheaded.
- If you have a headache.
What about Pilates?
Pilates operates on similar principles to yoga. It is low impact, improves core strength, flexibility and muscle strength. It is also very useful for improving muscle tone. For women with back pain and generalised bone discomfort, it can really ease symptoms during pregnancy.
Pilates classes are often run in studios or gyms, by physiotherapists, who have specialised training in how the body works. Again, let the class instructor know that you are pregnant and how far into your pregnancy you are. It may be possible to go to a class which is only for pregnant women.
Some Pilates equipment may be unsafe to use during pregnancy and could lead to overstretching. You may need to have a designed workout which has been modified for pregnancy.
Benefits of Pilates in pregnancy
- Pilates is a gentle, low impact form of exercise and is unlikely to cause any trauma.
- Pilates helps to maintain and improve the muscles of the pelvic floor during pregnancy.
- Pilates helps to tone and condition the core muscles which leads to improved posture and less incidence of muscle strain.
- Pilates breathing exercises can be done during labour. There are benefits for the baby in terms of reducing maternal stress and anxiety and better oxygenation to the baby.
Give a yoga class or Pilate’s session a go. Even if you’ve never considered these as exercise alternatives before, they are ideal for pregnant women. Remember to have fun and if you don’t see or feel results in the first few weeks, don’t give up.