What is pregnancy yoga?
Yoga in pregnancy is a means of educating mothers-to-be on good breathing techniques and ways to relax and stay calm during what can be a stressful time. It is also a means of keeping them fit and supple.
The exercise is not high impact (which would be unsafe for both the mother and unborn baby during pregnancy) and is suitable for most women – including those who have never done any form of yoga in the past.
Focused breathing is a big part of pregnancy yoga. This involves learning how to calm breath, to breath in various parts of the body and to master breathing techniques in order to relieve tension and stress. It also prepares students for the actuality of childbirth itself. Focused relaxation is extremely useful for a pregnant woman whose body is changing from week to week, the effects of which should never be under-estimated.
Another aspect of pregnancy yoga is stretching. Women who go through pregnancy will develop aches and pains in several parts of their body – particularly the back, legs and feet – while the foetus is growing. Stretching helps relieve these.
The pelvis and pelvic floor area receives a lot of attention in pregnancy yoga as a means of strengthening it for labour. Yoga postures will look at spinal alignment and redistributing weight to cope with the changing weight and size of the body as the pregnancy continues.
Many of the classical poses of traditional – or Hatha – yoga are adapted for pregnancy yoga. Twists tend to be more open while postures are fluid. Many dynamic postures do not feature at all.
What to expect
You will already have reassessed your diet and now you’re now looking at exercising to maintain tip-top condition as your body changes.
Prior to beginning a pregnancy yoga class it might be an idea to have a chat with your midwife to see if she can recommend any particular classes or types of yoga. But don’t even consider yoga until you are at least 16 weeks pregnant as this can be too much for your body in the early stages.
The earlier you start after 16 weeks the more benefit you will gain from yoga, even if you are just joining a class in your third trimester.
If you still perform other forms of exercise you should make sure it does not stretch your stomach area or cause any discomfort. If you have never done any exercise before then you should start slowly and build up.
Like many other forms of exercise, you should wear loose and comfortable clothing to your pregnancy yoga class. Also, make sure you go to the toilet and empty your bladder prior to class beginning!
If you’re at a class which specialises in pregnancy yoga then expect a discussion before class starts where students share stories of discomfort when practicing postures etc.
Don’t look for a lot of movement when you begin a pregnancy yoga class. The first few classes will most focus on breathing and relaxation. The kind of exercises you will be shown in a pregnancy yoga include – the pelvic tilt (sitting or standing) which strengthens the stomach area; relaxation to help with back aches and the Child’s Pose ie kneeling with wide legs, your head on the floor and arms stretched out in front (in fact, you are encouraged to do the Child’s Pose whenever you feel tired during class).
Much of the traditional postures will be adapted using blankets, bolsters and a large exercise ball. Rest can be done on your left side with a pillow between your legs.
Squatting poses are good as they open your hips and in doing so help prepare you for actual childbirth. It’s important you do not overstretch here. Unfortunately this is easier to do due to the fact that during pregnancy your body carries more of the hormone Relaxin which means the hips can stretch further than normal. After 35 weeks of pregnancy you should avoid squatting poses altogether.
Avoid any yoga exercise which makes you feel uncomfortable such as lying on your front after the first trimester. Never lie flat on your back either as this can lead to compression of the vena cava artery which, in turn, can restrict blood flow to the baby.
Definitely, never to any headstands and avoid folding positions such as Downward Dog in the later stages and third trimester as this will affect your balance and make it easier for you to fall and cause trauma to the baby. Prolonged folding positions can also cause your baby to turn, making labour far more difficult than it might otherwise have been.
Back bends should be avoided, in addition to postures which involve rising either both or one leg. Postures involving balance should be done sparingly and with care and you should ensure your abdomen remains soft at all times.
Also, never overdo it. If you are feeling really tired, especially in the first trimester when your body is getting used to being pregnant, then skip the class and rest at home instead.
Bikram yoga and others which raise the temperature should be avoided as a pregnant women’s temperature is already raised.
Effects and benefits
Not only does yoga help the mum-to-be get into her pre-pregnancy shape faster, it also provides a number of other benefits, not least the camaraderie aspect of classes where new friendships are formed with like-minded individuals.
The exercise helps both mind and body and will help with particular conditions attributed to pregnancy such as indigestion and muscle pain. It should also provide more confidence to the student who is approaching birth for the first-time. Other benefits of pregnancy yoga include:
- Improves sleep
- Helps relieve constipation
- Helps relieve dizziness, mood swings and even morning sickness
- Improves blood circulation of both mother and the baby
- Provides mum with an inner ‘toughness’
- Improves energy and alertness
- Breathing techniques can aid pain relief during labour and birth
- Helps problems with fluid retention and cramping
- Makes mum consider optimal health and awareness
- Increases the likelihood of a positive birthing experience
- Relieves tension around the cervix and area of the birth canal
- Helps relieve upper back tension following the birth of the baby
Fascinating facts about pregnancy yoga
- Mums-to-be who exercise are likely to have better posture and fewer discomfort with backache and fatigue
- Hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause a woman’s body to become very stiff
- Women who learn to breathe properly can prevent the over-production of adrenaline and have a speedier start to labour
- Famous women who did yoga during pregnancy include Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bündchen , Kourtney Kardashian and model Miranda Kerr
- The average pregnant woman’s uterus expands up to 500 times its normal size during pregnancy
- Women who practice yoga for at least 30 minutes every day at the beginning of their pregnancies experience lower blood pressure and reduced rates of underweight babies according to a study completed at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle
- The roots of yoga go back at least 5000 years
- Physical exercise during pregnancy may help prevent gestational diabetes (which can develop during pregnancy)
The British Wheel of Yoga
This is the largest yoga organisation in the UK and regarded as the national governing body for yoga in England. The charity has been running for more than four decades. It represents the UK at the European Federation of National Yoga Organisations and is a leading member of the European Union of Yoga. Accredits teacher training courses and has more than 3000 qualified teachers UK-wide. Offers basic and ongoing teacher training.
European Federation of National Yoga Organisations
A non-profit company which celebrates the teachings and promotion of various styles of yoga world-wide. Sets standards in the practice, provides resources and uphold teachings in the subject. This organisation is the largest of its type in the world and is open to anyone embracing yoga and a yogic lifestyle.