Yoga During Pregnancy – Is it for you?
You must have heard of Yoga before, in recent decades it has become more mainstream than ever before! Whether you have practiced it or not, you probably have some preconceptions of what yoga looks like. Somebody twisting themselves in different shapes or may the image that comes into your mind is someone sitting peacefully at the top of a mountain.
This article will not only discuss the myths comprising yoga but will also show the power it holds throughout Pregnancy, Labour, and early stages of motherhood.
Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
One can gain benefits from yoga during Pregnancy whether they are in their first, second, or whatever trimester. Yoga is safe to practice for all trimesters, however, it is important to always consult your doctor or physician before starting anything movement based. It will also serve you most to seek out a specifically trained teacher, although the experienced teacher may also feel happy to support students during pregnancy. Just be sure to have that conversation before jumping into a first class.
Throughout pregnancy and into the postpartum months, self-care will become more essential than ever before. There are three main prongs to traditional Yoga practice. You might come across the three catchphrases in Yoga: Mind, Body, and Soul. Here is what each of those means, and how they will support you to stay strong and healthy throughout pregnancy.
Gently building or maintaining strength during pregnancy was once thought to be a ‘no-go’. How are you finding people trying to carry everything for you? It’s a time of great compassion from others. Modern science now reassures that exercise during pregnancy is not just okay, but beneficial for mum and baby. Yoga is distinct in that it is not solely concerned with staying fit. While strengthening and stretching, the routines also focus on aligning or re-aligning posture.
Yoga is not just about stretching
While Yoga is most famous for its feats of flexibility, it is not just a stretch class, stretching and yoga are quite different. Most postures strengthen one part of the body whilst strengthening another. See! Superpower. The beauty of how Yoga builds strength is one of the safest means to explore during trimesters two and three. Strength is built using your body weight and your own body’s resistance. This means that with a teacher that focuses on good alignment, you will be working safely, and well within your unique capabilities.
Yoga can be practiced during the first trimester of Pregnancy – however, this is an important time to rest and be extremely gentle with yourself. If you already work out and practice Yoga, or similar movement styles, the rule of thumb is to carry on as normal – with the doctor’s sign-off. Some prefer to wait until after the first twelve-week scan.
Different poses of Yoga
Balance work – standing on one leg in a tree pose for example – will keep a sense of awareness in space – which can be challenging, as a mum-to-be will have a new centre of gravity every week. The alignment of the pelvis is also very important for supporting healthy labour.
A sedentary lifestyle is not conducive to helping baby wriggle their way into the optimum position. Simply because the tendency is to sit somewhat slumped, rather than maintaining the natural curvature of the lower back, which retains the pelvis in its ideal position.
If sitting will make up a big part of pregnancy then a gym ball is the perfect way to support good posture and pelvic position. Many yoga classes keep a focus on pelvic floor strength which will also support labour. There are many ways to practice online including some great DVDs specific to pregnancy. Going to a couple of classes at least, with the support of an experienced teacher will give you the confidence to go it alone.
Yoga improves mental health during Pregnancy
Yoga works on the mind through meditation practices. Meditation is another buzzword with its own set of connotations. It is more than sitting still and doing nothing. It’s also slightly more complicated than just ‘emptying the mind’. Most of us would undoubtedly push the ‘off’ switch on the incessant whirling of mind if we could. Meditation is like an ‘off’ switch, we just need to put in some practice to find it. See it as the map to the ‘off’ switch. Life is busy at the best of times. During pregnancy, there is the added mix of chaotic hormonal changes, and a healthy dose of stress, sometimes peppered with a mild bout of anxiety.
What Yoga recognizes, is that anxiety is born through trying to predict all possible negative outcomes the future has in store. The problem with this is, that worries can grow as wild as each person’s own imagination. The truth of the present moment is this; when we spend mental energy imagining a future that is not here yet, and that we also cannot control – no matter how much we think, or plan – then we are creating at best unease and worst full-on unhappiness in the present. When we choose to redirect our thoughts – with guided meditation for example- we can focus on the nice things around us in real-time.
Stress is the big sister of anxiety, particularly during Pregnancy. It’s an overload of all thoughts, worries, and items on a mental ‘to-do’ list, all bombarding the mind at once. Stress can feel like a constant state. For some it is. Chronic stress has the nervous system constantly on high alert. Meditation is the dedicated practice of focusing on just one thing, to the exclusion of all others. This eventually encourages all the other stuff to quieten down. Giving some essential head space. The beauty of meditation is that it can be practiced anywhere; the bus, the sofa, or the office desk.
Books Suggestion for meditation
Here are some of our favourite books on getting started.
Scientists can now see from MRI data that meditation changes the way we react to stress in the long term. It can also be attributed to helping us change negative aspects within our patterns of thought. This is explored in depth in the book Altered Traits. A powerful tool to take into the beautiful challenges motherhood brings.
Working with the direction of the breath is the first part of entering a calmer state. A lovely euphemism is to imagine the breath as the bridge between the mind and the body. We activate the parasympathetic nervous system by slowing and deepening our breath. ‘Our inner calm,’ in scientific terms. It only takes five minutes every day to slow and deepen our breath to generate long-term results. In reality, the writers of Altered Traits discovered that consistency was the key. Practicing breathwork and meditation in little, regular increments is more helpful than bigger, erratic bursts.
The soul part of the spirit part of the yoga practice is exploring the deepest realms of the self and the psyche. So just going slightly beyond the surface mindfulness and meditation practice.
You do not have to consider yourself to be ‘spiritual’ to gain from this aspect of Yoga during Pregnancy. It offers some beautiful mythology around motherhood, which can help mums-to-be remember the incredible magic within them. Especially if everything else is feeling like life is ticking over as normal. Taking time to acknowledge the miracle of life within can be a healing experience and one that strengthens the bond between mother and baby.
The Upanishads is a text attributing to the idea that the soul picks the parents. Which is a nice thought. The idea is backed up in a more contemporary text DMT: The Spirit Molecule.
With or without philosophy to inform us. Taking time out to reflect on the life growing within can support women in all stages of pregnancy. It helps build bonds between mother and child before birth.
There are thousands of books across the internet sharing Yoga in a multitude of ways. Our key advice would be to seek out a teacher that is right for you. Sometimes not enjoying a class is neither the fault of the student nor the teacher. It’s just a case of personality, or need mismatch.
Yoga During Pregnancy – Classes
There are as many styles of yoga as there are TV channels – more or less. Finding the one most suited to you is the key to reaping all the benefits discussed here. Some pregnancy sessions will be much more focused on spirituality, meditation, or simply just making friends with other moms-to-be. Other programs will be more activity-oriented, providing physical benefits that may be more important to you. As a side aside, if you’re only interested in increasing strength and keeping strong during pregnancy, Pilates is a great option.
Whilst teachers from each corner will no doubt have their own bias regarding their discipline, there is more and more cross-over between Yoga and Pilates these days. Pilates is the system created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. Traditionally, Pilates was created as a practice with much more respect for personal limits, and with a keener focus on core strength. Yes, you can still practice core strength during pregnancy.
Gently strengthening the rectus abdominis (the six-pack’ or surface muscles of your abdomen) throughout pregnancy will help to reduce the consequences of diastasis, which occurs when the six-pack muscles separate. This is not something to worry about, in fact, it will only have new mums realize what a magical machine the human body is. In such a short time these muscles knit happily back together in most cases, with patience, self-compassion, and some training.
Pilates and Yoga do have some similarities, each often borrowing from the other in many modern classes. This may also be a good point to note that most forms of exercise are safe to continue throughout pregnancy even lifting weights, and low-impact cardio. The most important thing is to let your body lead the way. Pilates has less focus on meditation, although some classes may offer some mindfulness aspects.
If finding a class feels a little overwhelming at this point worry not. Geography will play a part in finding an in-person class. Many cities have a Yoga studio around every corner. Studios are the perfect place to start as they will often have several classes to pick from, and they generally hire the most experienced teachers within a local area. Studios also have a greater ability to offer classes by ability/level, which can put beginners at ease.
If you are more rural, then definitely check out your local social media pages. Teachers in smaller areas can sometimes be harder to find – and not everyone is on Facebook or Instagram. If this seems a challenge, ask around, check out notice boards in your local convenience store, or even the notice boards at the physician/doctor’s office.
Here is a quick guide on what you can expect from some of the Yoga terms used in advertising for classes:
Flowy movement-orientated Yoga, often demanding upper body strength. A strong emphasis on the breath through movement. This is a popular style that may almost be dance-like in some circumstances, making it a fun place to begin. Look out for a pregnancy-specific class, as most mixed-ability classes will be difficult to adapt to pregnant unless you’re a seasoned practitioner or the teacher agrees to help you alter some movements ahead of time.
Tends to be a term used for a more static meditative Yoga. Hatha classes can still be extremely challenging on the body, but they do tend to be easier to get the hang of. They will be slower-paced and have a more balanced approach to movement. Some classes will still have a flow to them.
A Yoga style to explore during pregnancy. This type of class is focused on support, rest, and rejuvenation. You will often be propped up with blocks and bolsters – and generally treated like you are on a spa day. You can also make use of these nourishing props at home.
This type of Yoga is much more focused on stretching. Poses will be held for longer than in other classes. Yin works in the ligaments as well as muscles. This is a wonderful class, but joints are already naturally loosening in pregnancy with the addition of a hormone called relaxin. Yin may not give the stability that pregnant women need. Particularly if you have suffered from symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). The plus side is its requirement to face the yang of discomfort as stretches can feel very intense. A ninja power to have during labour. This is a practice that would be complemented by having a separate Pilates class to attend, to ensure you have the stability of your joints covered.
Public classes are comforting
There is the added benefit of having a social aspect with public classes, this can be really comforting during pregnancy. To build friendships with other women in the same boat, all experiencing the same fears, discomforts, and general excitement about bringing a new life into the world. Lifelong friendships are often developed during this time. It can also help keep you discovering other groups, and activities focused on new mums once the baby arrives. It can be very easy to hermit down in the early stages of motherhood. Having friends to chat with is more nourishing than we realize. Other new mums will also be around for coffee morning meets, while it might feel like the rest of the world is going about their usual business.
If you find a class that you love during pregnancy, you may find that your newfound teacher offers post-partum classes, or even mother and baby classes. And maybe, something more general when the time is right to find your way back into activities just for you. Yoga during Pregnancy, and after, can offer lifelong benefits, with meditation showing signs of staving off dementia. With age, flexibility helps to maintain the body supple and the spine healthy. The strength element also keeps bone density at its peak. As we said, it’s an all-around superpower.
Whatever you do. Be sure to take time just for yourself. Feed both your body and mind, and take a break. Take a deep breath. Maintain your fortitude. You got this!
Have you practiced Yoga during Pregnancy? Have a Favourite Pose? Let us know in the Comments!