Yoga is a wonderful practice during pregnancy. It promotes physical and mental well-being and keeps the body strong, flexible and open. It teaches women how to breathe deeply and effectively, how to let go, relax and cope with the many changes throughout pregnancy.
A regular yoga practice is a wonderful tool for helping you to become more intuitive about your body. It trains you to focus on different areas of the body and introduces you to the breath, which is particularly helpful during childbirth. It can be a gift for yourself and for your baby and, if you are lucky, it may be the start of a whole new passion!
Some of the benefits of Pregnancy Yoga are:
Improving muscle strength and tone
The philosophy behind yoga is that by daily practice, you will become more centred and relieved from stress and be able to tone the whole body at the same time. The postures, called Asanas, all target different muscle groups and parts of the body. Pregnant women who do yoga exercises appear healthier and have more flexible, stronger bodies. This can really help during labour when strength is vital.
Promotes a healthy pregnancy
A regular practice of yoga can keep blood pressure normal, prevent rapid weight gain, calm the mind and strengthen the pelvic muscles. In early pregnancy, it can help relieve morning sickness and reduce swelling in the hands, feet, and face.
There are specially adapted poses for most of the aches and discomforts that pregnancy can bring. From sciatic pain to back, neck and shoulder pain. There are even poses for sleeplessness, restless legs and heartburn.
Enhances mood and wellbeing
The emphasis that yoga places on deep breathing and bodily awareness triggers feelings of deep relaxation and well-being. The calmer and more relaxed you feel, the calmer your baby feels. Yoga builds inner calm and this can be very empowering, particularly after the baby is born when extra demands are placed upon us. It is during times of potential upheaval and change in life that we most need to tap into a place of calm and sanity deep inside us.
Even if you have perfect posture, pregnancy can cause us all to slouch. Then there is nursing, pushing a buggy and lifting a baby. All this can take its toll on your shoulders, upper back, neck and, of course, posture. Some of the best yoga benefits are increased back and shoulder strength, which improves posture. Yoga also opens up your chest, making it easier to elongate the spine and stand tall.
Some women may join a pre- or postnatal yoga class simply to meet others in the same position. This is a great way to make new friends, all of whom are facing the same challenges. Even if you prefer a home practice, an occasional class can be good for morale.
Focuses the mind
It is amazing how focused and intense labour can be. The rest of the world may cease to exist for a while as you concentrate all your immense energy and power on the present moment. Yoga is a wonderful preparation for this. Breathing and concentration techniques are an essential element of most pregnancy yoga classes. These techniques focus on clearing the mind of abstraction and clutter and bringing the attention to one single point in the here and now – such as the breath or a meditation.
The best bit of all! All the above benefits will help in labour. By using, stretching and cultivating the muscles for birth, you make birth easier. The muscles are prepared by yoga to do their job efficiently in labour. Yoga also emphasises deep breathing and breath awareness. This helps you during birth by claming the mind and softening the muscles. Deep breathing — long, full inhales and exhales — also brings oxygen to the entire body, which energises your system.
Learning to relax
Relaxation is not something that is highly prized in our society. Therefore, many of us only learn relaxation techniques for the first time in a pregnancy yoga class. Relaxation is a learned technique. It differs from sleep or rest in that it is active. A ten minute relaxation every day has proven benefits for mental and physical health. A pregnancy yoga class can introduce you to relaxation techniques that will help you to unwind if things get on top of you.
I regularly practice yoga. Should I go to the same class now that I’m pregnant?
If you have been going to a yoga class for a while, then check with your teacher what his/her policy is on you continuing their class. Some will be experienced in dealing with pregnant women in the class while others prefer that you take a prenatal yoga class.
When should I start pregnancy yoga?
Most teachers will not accept students until they are in their second trimester.
How do I find a suitable teacher?
Pregnancy yoga is a specialised area and requires particular adaptation of poses, breathwork and labour techniques. No qualified teacher will mind you asking to see copies of insurance and/or qualifications.
I’m heading into my 3rd trimester; is it too late for me to start?
Even if you have only a few weeks left to go, you will still find the breathing and labour positions useful. It’s never too late to do yoga!
What if the style doesn’t suit me?
Pregnancy yoga classes vary in their tone and approach depending on the style of the teacher. Some will emphasise breath, restorative postures and relaxation for most of the class; others will teach a more physical style of class that appeals to women who want to stay toned and fit; others will take a very nurturing and emotional approach. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher what kind of pregnancy yoga they teach. No one teacher suits everybody and it is perfectly okay to switch to another class that meets your needs.
How do I take care of myself in class?
The ligaments around the joints become loose and soft during pregnancy. If you feel any strain or pain, you should stop what you are doing.
What if I’m new to exercise?
Starting yoga is no different to starting any other form of exercise – the same advice applies. If you are not used to regular exercise then you should start slowly. If in doubt consult your doctor or midwife. No kind of pain or nausea should be felt during or after yoga. If this happens, you should stop and contact your GP or midwife.
www.rollercoaster.ie – Lists pregnancy yoga classes around the country.
www.yoga-ireland.com – Search for a pregnancy yoga class by locality.
www.iya.ie – The Irish Yoga association lists IYA qualified teachers
If you already practice yoga at home and would prefer to use pregnancy books, some excellent books are:
- ‘Preparing for birth with yoga’ by Janet Balaskas.
- ‘Yoga for pregnancy:birth and beyond’ by Francoise Barbira Freedman
- ‘Yoga and Pregancy’ by Sophie Hoare
Yoga continues to have benefits after pregnancy, too. Postnatal yoga, which can be started about six weeks after the birth, strengthens abdominal muscles and your pelvic floor. It also helps you to get back to your pre-pregnancy shape faster. And deep breathing and relaxation can be invaluable tools at this time when sleep may be at a minimum and energy is low.
It is a good idea to check with your pregnancy yoga teacher if she offers postnatal and/or mom and baby yoga classes. This can be a good way to get back into a practice and meet other class members.
All classes are one and a quarter hours long. This leaves time to cover a well-rounded practice along with pelvic floor exercises, breathing techniques and a relaxation to unwind at the end.
You will need to be in your second trimester to take up prenatal yoga and check with your doctor in case there is any reason you shouldn’t. You can attend classes and practice yoga right up to and during labour.
Bring a yoga mat and 3 firm cushions and pillows. A lot of the poses are restorative and it is easier to relax into them when you have the necessary props. Also bring a blanket for relaxation. Bring water to stay hydrated.
Prenatal yoga is practiced in bare feet and wearing comfortable, loose clothing. Make sure there is no tight, restrictive clothing around the waist and belly area.
Eat a light snack before class but avoid a heavy meal up to an hour before if possible.
Try to arrive a few minutes before class begins. We start the class with a short relaxation session so it helps to keep interruptions to a minimum.