For women who are avid practitioners of yoga, becoming pregnant presents a unique situation when it comes to participating in the activity.
But it doesnt mean you have to stop participating in yoga completely until your pregnancy is over. In fact, yoga may even help you cope with the changes associated with pregnancy physically, mentally and spiritually.
Theres no denying the fact that becoming pregnant will alter a womans regular yoga schedule, 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 instructors and medical experts, yoga can aid pregnant women by encouraging breathing and relaxation. As anyone who has heard of or participated in a child birthing class, particularly a Lamaze class, breathing exercises are an important part of the procedure. While there is the more deliberate breathing exercises associated with a child birthing class (think the hee hee hoo hoo type of deliberate breathing), there is also the deep breathing exercises that are designed to relax and calm the body during delivery and is closely related (if not directly related) to the types of breathing exercises taught in a yoga class.
By utilizing the moderate breathing exercises taught in yoga, expectant mothers can reap the benefits of relaxation at all stages of the pregnancy experience, from the pre-natal phase through labor to birth and afterwards. 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.
As stated, there are precautions that need to be taken by pregnant women when participating in yoga, many of them geared toward specific trimesters. 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. Also, women who are experiencing morning sickness shouldnt feel guilty about missing a class or moving to a less strenuous class. Morning sickness is a sign that you should alter your routine.
On the other side, if you are a pregnant woman who has never taken part in a yoga class but have heard about the benefits of yoga for pregnant women, you may wish to seek out a prenatal yoga class in your community. 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 experts say there are specific poses and movements that are well-suited for women in their first trimester of pregnancy, movements that promote flexibility, particularly in the hip area that can help make the actual birth process easier. Recommended poses include the Triangle, Knee to Ankle, the Pigeon, Warrior II, Baddha Konasana and Ardha Chandrasana. Yoga instructors also recommend positions that can actually affect the birth process, such as Cat-Cow, in which the participant is on all fours, because it helps put the baby in the prime birthing position inside the woman’s 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.
By the second trimester, when morning sickness has usually passed, those who have never tried prenatal yoga may want to begin now. 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. For instance, with a move such as the sun salutation, yoga instructors recommend that pregnant women keep their chest no more 85 degrees from the floor in the forward position of the move and place their hands in front of their feet as opposed to the sides. Also, they recommend avoiding extreme twists which could cause placental abruption, poses that press the heel of the foot into the uterus while sitting or seated in the lotus and half-lotus positions unless you are able to keep the position loose and not twist the knees too much.
In the third trimester, an expectant mother will increase in size and her level of fatigue will change, which means she will have to alter her yoga participation. All yoga poses that compress the stomach should be avoided and they should recognize and respond to their feelings of general fatigue. They can continue to practice yoga, but only as long as they feel up to it. Gentle stretching and breathing exercises are fine.
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 may alter the position of the baby in a negative manner. 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”. Doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid extreme heat.
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 forward, bend at the hips with the chest leading the way and extending the spine from the tailbone to the base of the skull. Using this technique makes it easier for a pregnant woman to breath. If bending forward while you are sitting, use a towel or yoga strap behind the ankles and hold the strap or towel with both hands. Again, bend from the hip and keep the chest elevated to avoid compressing the abdominal area. Keep the legs open approximately hip width to give your stomach more 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 back-bends, one-leg balancing, handstands, headstands and upward bow movements.
Finally, listen to your body. This is an amazing time in your life and yoga can help make pregnancy less stressful, less discomforting and even more peaceful.