As a yoga instructor, my first question to my doctor when I found out I was pregnant was “But can I still do yoga safely?”. He happily assured me I could as long as I was smart about accommodating the new spirit growing within.
I practice yoga daily and can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. Beyond the usual benefits, yoga is a grounding, energizing activity for me that I use as a tool to not only regulate my body but also my mind. I wanted my baby to get a “feel” for what our shared body could do so I implemented prenatal yoga as soon as I could.
Is prenatal yoga really safe?
Yes it is. I won’t lie, doing yoga while growing a baby has been challenging but it is totally safe. I started adapting my yoga routine immediately and have continued to do so as I move through the various trimesters. All levels of yoga can try this, even if you’ve never done it before! The class I attend has several first time beginners at yoga. There are specific trainers who have knowledge within the prenatal yoga field. It may be a blend of Kundalini, Hatha, and Ashtanga flow. The instructors will be able to assist you make the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of you and the baby. No matter what listen to your own body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Always stay regular on your check-ins within your physician for anything deemed high risk.
Your body produces a hormone called relaxin throughout your pregnancy that helps to make room for your growing baby and prepare for delivery. The presence of relaxin may make you feel more flexible than usual, but be careful not to overstretch; it’s also possible to destabilize joints and ligaments during this time.
The biggest danger to pregnant yoga is falling. Therefore, minimize that risk, especially once your belly starts to protrude, by being careful with balancing poses. Skip any poses that could make you feel lightheaded to reduce the risk of fainting.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
The benefits of prenatal yoga are very similar but even more important some would say, of your normal yoga routine. I’ve noticed a definite reduction in lower back pain and possible sciatica. Once I became more aware of my new body alignment, I began to carry myself (and my belly!) in an integrated manner. This helped reduce the degree of pelvic tilt and in turn has relieved me of achy backs.
I haven’t had any of the swelling around my joints, I even just flew out of the country. Normal yoga practice improves and helps the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body. This is exactly what you will need to avoid swollen ankles, calfs, and puffy arms and wrists. Sleeping has been much easier than I ever imagined with the steady presence of prenatal yoga. I have been able to adjust the fluidity in my spine more naturally to get comfortable more easily.
I do highly recommend this pillow however, which has helped me fall asleep in place if I happen to feel fatigued around the house. Depending on the direction you place the C-shape in, the entire length of your back or torso can be cushioned and the pillow can be tucked between your knees, too. Which I had the flexibility to do easily from yoga.
Most yoga can incorporate visual imagery. Prenatal yoga is no different and practicing visual imagery now can become one of the most useful labor tools. Think about what you’ll need to focus on during those roller-coaster powered contractions. This type of yoga will help you develop moment by moment awareness in your body and later with pain management during labor.
Breathing may be easy now, but a key part of all labor is in breathwork. Deep belly breathing helps move the body into the action of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-relax response). The body responds to the parasympathetic nervous system by slowing the heart rate and decreasing blood pressure while increasing the release of endorphins. Once you’ve imprinted the memory of your relationship to your breath it can assist in managing the growing pain of a contraction and access that skill as needed.
This may sound like a silly one but I’ve learned through prenatal yoga how to speak up. The class has given me the space and opportunity to become comfortable with my own power to vocalize my body’s silent words. Vocalization encourages a commitment to a long, deep inhale, and a long, slow exhale. Both are supportive of deep belly breathing needed for the opening necessary to birth your baby.
I’ve tried a variety of prenatal poses and have found several of them to be very comfortable. The ones I enjoy most are these three:
- Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana): A gentle hip opener that stretches the inner thighs; use props under each knee for support if necessary
- Legs-Up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani): An antidote to swollen ankles and feet
- Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakrasana): A gentle way to wake up your spine that also helps your baby get into the best position for delivery
Any poses that make more space in your newly crowded abdomen, strengthens your legs, opens your hips or stretches the spine gently will be beneficial pre and during labor.
When I first decided to shift my yoga for pregnancy I was surprised how natural it felt. Prenatal yoga often includes poses to assist in the toning and improving of muscles.
However, my emotional well being was also improved. Participation in a group prenatal class provides a supportive community of other women who are experiencing each stage of pregnancy themselves and preparing for birth.
Pregnancy can be an interesting and exciting time as you watch your body change before your eyes. But, it’s also still a bit mysterious. Yoga will help give you the tools you need to slow down, listen, and enjoy all that the experience of expecting has in store for you.
Honor your body and your baby by treating it with care and the benefits could be tenfold.
Update: Sara gave birth to a healthy baby boy a couple of weeks ago and is happy to start her post natal yoga routine!