Practising Yoga during pregnancy – Part 1 – Introduction
Compiled by Jane Weideman
This is the first article in a series about yoga in pregnancy.
This article introduces the idea of Yoga during pregnancy, and discusses the benefits of yoga during pregnancy. Subsequent articles will go into more details on postures and specifics of yoga during pregnancy.
Foreword: As with any exercise program it is best to consult your doctor before beginning. However, with the exception of not lying directly on your back or stomach after the fourth month, and avoiding what doesn’t feel right to you, there is very little yoga that would be a problem during pregnancy.
If you have never experienced a yoga class before, when you think of yoga, you may be inclined to envision a yogic guru (swami) wrapped in cloth and sitting in the lotus position meditating or chanting in an impossibly contorted position. Yoga is much more than this!
Yoga has been used for many many centuries to help centre a person and relieve stress. In many countries yoga during pregnancy is a standard component of pre-natal care. Yoga can be a great way to stay flexible, relive stress and prepare for birth. By using, stretching and cultivating the muscles for birth, you will ultimately make birth easier. The muscles are prepared by the yoga to do their job efficiently in labour. Not to mention the glorious relaxation and breathing skills that you can bring to your birth after the months of practising.
Yoga can also alleviate the discomforts caused by pregnancy. There are poses to help for sciatic pain, round ligament pain, swelling, heartburn, and yes, even morning sickness.
Many women begin a life long journey into yoga during pregnancy, finding that returning to yoga is much simpler post-partum than many other fitness activities. (Ed: I started yoga soon during my first pregnancy and am still going strong 9 years later, taking only 4 week breaks for the birth of each baby. I could not recommend it enough!).
Yoga is the perfect way to stay flexible, create energy, relieve stress and prepare for birth. Yoga has increased in popularity in recent years. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and digestion, strengthen muscles and joints, and increase flexibility. Yoga removes impurities from the body through the breath, sweat, liver, kidneys, and digestive system. People who practice yoga regularly report that they feel less stress and more peace in their lives.
Pregnant women can gain additional benefits from practising yoga: relief from back pain and nausea and increased stamina. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that can help expectant moms to stay in shape. And the breathing meditations practice in a yoga class really come in handy during labour!
You have probably already noticed the great changes take place in your body during pregnancy. Practising yoga is a great way to slow down mentally and physically and to really appreciate these changes. Yoga encourages you to be in the moment — to be fully present. It encourages you to listen to your body, to accept it as it is, and to surrender to its sometimes uncomfortable changes.
Through gentle stretches and simple strength- building postures, you can improve your physical health. Through meditation, you can reduce anxiety and self-critical thinking and thereby improve your mental health!
Note that although yoga is very beneficial during and after pregnancy,there are a few practice guidelines as general precautions:
• Listen carefully to your body. If you feel any discomfort, stop. You will probably need to modify each pose to your body’s physical changes.
• Avoid all compression (squashing) of your abdomen (tummy/bump).
• When practising twisting poses, twist more from the shoulders and back to avoid putting any pressure on your abdomen.
• Avoid any poses on your back after the first trimester as that can cut blood flow to the uterus.
• Avoid poses that stretch the muscles too much, particularly the abdominal muscles.
• Remember that you are more prone to strain muscles now because the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which allows the uterus to expand, also acts on all connective tissue.
• As a precautionary measure, practice standing and balance poses near a wall for safety reasons, to avoid losing your balance and risking injury. Remember your centre of gravity shifts during pregnancy, and it takes some getting used to.
• Maintain as much length as possible between the breastbone and the pubic bone to make breathing easier.
• Keep the pelvis upright when stretching the chest and the front of the thighs.
A smooth healthy pregnancy and a natural childbirth are just some of the benefits of yoga. But more importantly, yoga does wonders on the physical and mental development of the foetus.
The word yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning yoke or connection. Yoga connects your body, mind, and spirit. Yoga can connect you to your baby too! The practice of yoga gives you the opportunity to create a world (your body) for your baby that is healthy and peaceful. “What a child learns in the womb cannot be learned on earth” (Yogi Bhajan).
Yoga coordinates movement, breath and awareness. It addresses health and well being on several levels: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Because of its many benefits and the pleasure derived from its practice, the time-honoured art of yoga is becoming increasingly accepted everywhere as part of self-care during pregnancy and preparation for childbirth and motherhood.
If you are interested in practising yoga during your pregnancy, be aware that certain postures should be avoided (such as those that involve laying on the back or belly). Get a video or book that is specifically designed for expectant mothers or attend a prenatal yoga class. These videos, books, and classes will cover postures that help to reduce back pain, swelling in the lower extremities, and misalignments due to weight changes. (More on this in the next article in this series!)
Many postures (for example, squats) are useful preparations for natural childbirth. During pregnancy, hormones cause joints in the body to become loose (that’s why women often increase in shoe size). Yoga postures can help to stabilize and strengthen these joints and promote flexibility in the muscles and fascia.
There are two nervous systems in the human body: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic, commonly known as the “fight or flight” system, causes the blood pressure to rise, the breath rate to quicken, and stress hormones to flood into the body. Historically, this occurred to prepare the body for fighting dangerous animals. But in today’s world, we experience this response while we are sitting in traffic or feeling stressed at the office. When this system is overly stimulated, we can experience health consequences such as ulcers, migraines, and heart disease. During pregnancy, the effects of the sympathetic nervous system can be transferred to the developing baby.
The parasympathetic nervous system lowers blood pressure and slows the pace of the breath. When the blood no longer has to rush to the muscles, it is free to travel to the digestive, reproductive, glandular, and immune systems — systems made up of organs more necessary to long-term survival. Studies have shown that long, deep breathing encourages the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system and allows relaxation and healing to occur.
The food that you eat, the oxygen that you breathe, and your state of mind are all transmitted to your baby. The stress you feel is the stress your baby feels. Yoga has developed over thousands of years to help people obtain optimal physical health and a relaxed and peaceful state of mind.