Yoga During Pregnancy

The notion that pregnant women should refrain from exercise is well and truly gone. The physical and mental benefits of exercising while pregnant are now common knowledge, and yoga is a great way to reap these benefits without putting unnecessary strain on your changing body.

Decreased stress, a better immune system and increased blood flow are just a few of the benefits you can expect to see from a regular yoga practise. With all the extra baggage that comes with growing a baby, a prenatal yoga class is a fantastic way to get you back to feeling your normal self.

Reduced Anxiety

Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise to relieve anxiety, reduce stress and boost mood. The reason? It encourages absolute focus on the present moment. Forget pounding the treadmill while counting marks on the wall to try to distract you from the pain, yoga demands no distractions – it requires total focus on the here and now, a skill many of us have lost in our often busy and distracted day to day lives.

There’s no denying that pregnancy can be a stressful time. Your body is changing, your hormones are going haywire, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably nervous for what the future brings. Gentle yoga poses like Child’s Pose, Cat/Cow and hip openers (which we will discuss in more detail later) allow us to find total stillness; calming our likely racing minds as the due date looms.

Preparation For Labour:

While it’s all very well being able to float into fancy postures, the main goal of yoga is simply total awareness of the body and breath. This is usually achieved through pranayama (breath work), while moving through various – often uncomfortable – postures. Consciously breathing and learning to sit with different levels of discomfort is an invaluable skill and helps many women get through the difficulty of childbirth.

Furthermore, pranayama teaches us how to breathe properly. Many of us go through life breathing only into our chests, resulting in a tense body and higher levels of stress. By breathing into our bellies, we can get far more oxygen into our bodies, improving blood flow and calming our entire nervous systems. This is not only important when it comes to the stresses of childbirth, it can also further reduce anxiety during pregnancy.

Improved Back Pain:

Unfortunately, many women suffer with back pain during pregnancy as the abominable muscle weaken, forcing the lower back to take the strain. Several yoga poses can relieve this pain, making your entire pregnancy much more comfortable.

Try rocking between Cat and Cow Pose, or spend a few minutes in Child’s Pose. Close your eyes, imagine you are breathing deeply into your back and within a few minutes you should feel some light relief.

Maintaining Fitness And Flexibility:

Many expectant mothers worry about losing fitness during their pregnancy. This, coupled with clothes that no longer fit and a body that simply cannot move the way it used to, can lead some women to feel unconfident and not their normal selves during pregnancy.

Practising yoga enables expectant mothers to keep up a fitness regime without overdoing it, while also making coming back into exercise easier after birth. You don’t need to pound the pavement for an hour or to deadlift twice your bodyweight to get in a good workout! Practising yoga regularly will build strength and keep your body supple. Just make sure you are drinking enough water and taking in enough calories to make up for it.

Opening The Hips

When we are stressed it often leads to a build-up of tension in our hips, neck and back. Practising hip openers can help release some of this tension and relieve sore muscles and joints. Some great poses for opening the hips are Pigeon Pose and Ankle-To-Knee Pose, both of which can be modified to make the stretch less intense. These are often uncomfortable for those of us with tight hips, and so must be done with caution. Stay in each pose for a few minutes and breathe into the tension. If any emotions start to pop up, try not to label them as positive or negative, simply continue to focus on your breathing and embrace the tension leaving your body.

Hip openers can also make the process of childbirth more bearable. It’s important to prepare ourselves for having our knees up towards our chest during labour. This can be uncomfortable for those who are not used to it, so spend some time practising opening your hips in this way.

What If I’ve Never Done Yoga?

Embarking on any new regime should be done carefully and it’s even more important to proceed with care when pregnant. Although yoga can be fairly low-intensity, it’s essential not to push yourself as you may not be aware of your body’s limitations.

Finding a teacher who specialises in pre-natal yoga is a great place to start, as they will be able to advise you on which poses are best for you. Follow these top tips to avoid injury and your prenatal yoga journey should be stress-free.

Remember to be cautious of:

–  Deep twists. Gentle twists are fine but deep twists can compress your womb and abdomen.

– Belly down poses. These put pressure on your belly and core and are best avoided.

–  Extreme backbends. If you are just a beginner, avoid difficult backbends. Pregnancy can cause back pain anyway and overstretching in poses such as Wheel are likely to aggravate the problem further.

–   Hot yoga. A notoriously intense form of practise, Hot Yoga can not only cause dehydration, it can also result in overstretching as warmer muscles and joints may mean you feel more flexible than you are. To reduce risk of injury and illness, Hot Yoga is best avoided while pregnant.

Remember that yoga is as much mental as it is physical, and you can still experience a whole host of benefits without a sweaty practise. Try not to let your ego get in the way of what is right for your body; we all know it likes to try!

While some days you may manage to steadily flow through your sun salutations, others may be difficult. This is absolutely fine and a totally normal part of yoga – sometimes our body co-operates, sometimes it doesn’t’! If you find yourself feeling frustrated with your changing body; take a deep breath, thank yourself for taking the time to step onto your mat and focus on your body – moment by moment.