For women who are avid practitioners of yoga, becoming pregnant presents a unique situation when it comes to participating in the activity.
But becoming pregnant doesn’t mean that you have to put your yoga participation on hold until you give birth. In fact, yoga may even help you cope with the changes associated with pregnancy physically, mentally and spiritually.
There’s no doubt that pregnancy will force a woman to change her regular yoga routine (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 experts and physicians, yoga’s focus on breathing and relaxation can be of great benefit to pregnant women. 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. Although the breathing in a child birthing class may be more of a forced, deliberate type of breathing (short, quick breaths), the classes also include controlled deep breathing that is intended to calm and relax the body during the delivery and it is extremely similar to the type of breathing exercises performed in a yoga class.
When they practice the breathing exercises that are performed in a yoga class, women who are expecting can benefit from the relaxation exercises at all stages of their pregnancy, from pre-natal care to the labor phase to the actual childbirth. 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.
But as we said, pregnant women should take care when participating in yoga, as there are specific precautions that need to be taken during each trimester. 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.
If you are a pregnant woman who has never participated in yoga before but want to take advantage of the health benefits it offers, seek out a prenatal yoga class in your area. 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. If you cant find a prenatal yoga class in your area, there are prenatal yoga videos and DVDs on the market that you can use in the comfort of your own home.
Yoga instructors recommend specific moves for women in their first trimester, ones designed to promote more flexibility in the hip area and make giving birth a bit easier. Yoga experts recommend expectant mothers practice poses such as the Triangle, Knee to Ankle, Warrior II, the Pigeon, Ardha Chandrasana and Baddha Konasana. In addition, yoga instructors recommend positions like Cat-Cow, which require the student to get on all fours, because it helps place the baby in the optimal birthing position inside the 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. With moves such as the sun salutation, keep the chest no more than 85 degrees from the floor in the forward bend and place the hands in front of the feet rather than along the side. In addition, yoga instructors recommend that pregnant women avoid moves that could cause placental abruption such as extreme twists, poses that require her to press the heel of her foot into the uterus while in the lotus or half-lotus position (unless she is can stay loose and not twist the knee to any extreme).
By the third trimester, a pregnant womans size and level of fatigue will definitely be a factor in her participation in yoga. All yoga poses that compress the stomach should be avoided and they should recognize and respond to their feelings of general 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, doctors and yoga instructors state, can put the baby in a bad position in the body. The only exception is if the baby is in a breech position. In those instances, these poses may actually help to turn the baby into the proper position.
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.
During the second trimester, changes in the body can alter a woman’s center of gravity, so standing poses should be done using a chair for support or against a wall to reduce the possibility of her losing her balance and injuring herself.
When bending in a forward pose, bend from the hips with the breastbone leading the way and the spine extended from the base of the skull to the tailbone. 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. Pregnant women should also keep the legs apart at hip width to give their stomach additional 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. These precautions are to ensure that you are not putting pressure on your abdominals.
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.