Yoga can be a Welcome Aid During Pregnancy

For women who are regular yoga participants, pregnancy can create a unique challenge to participating in their favorite activity.

But it doesn’t mean you have to stop participating in yoga completely until your pregnancy is over.  In fact, yoga may even help you cope with the changes associated with pregnancy physically, mentally and spiritually.

There's no doubt that pregnancy will force a woman to change her regular yoga routine (not to mention her entire life).  But while a woman may not be able to attend yoga sessions as regularly as she may have before becoming pregnant, or engage in all of the exercises as she once did, she can still reap the benefits of yoga by employing a few modifications to her routine.

According to yoga instructors and medical experts, yoga can aid pregnant women by encouraging breathing and relaxation.  As anyone who has heard of or participated in a child birthing class, particularly a Lamaze class, breathing exercises are an important part of the procedure.  Although the breathing in a child birthing class may be more of a forced, deliberate type of breathing (short, quick breaths), the classes also include controlled deep breathing that is intended to calm and relax the body during the delivery and it is extremely similar to the type of breathing exercises performed in a yoga class.

By utilizing the moderate breathing exercises taught in yoga, expectant mothers can reap the benefits of relaxation at all stages of the pregnancy experience, from the pre-natal phase through labor to birth and afterwards.  The breathing techniques connected to yoga can help calm the mind and the body, eliminating physical and mental stress which can be harmful during pregnancy.

As stated, there are precautions that need to be taken by pregnant women when participating in yoga, many of them geared toward specific trimesters.  The following are suggestions for how to incorporate yoga into each trimester of your pregnancy.

To start, women who are in their first trimester and are regular yoga class attendees should consult with their yoga instructor to let them know of their condition so that they can work together to modify the yoga routine.  And if you are pregnant and experiencing "morning sickness", don't feel guilty about pulling out of a class, skipping a few of the more strenuous poses or moving to a less difficult class.  Take morning sickness as a signal that it's time for you to change your yoga routine.

On the other side, if you are a pregnant woman who has never taken part in a yoga class but have heard about the benefits of yoga for pregnant women, you may wish to seek out a prenatal yoga class in your community.  There are many yoga studios that offer classes specifically designed for expectant mothers, and the class will also offer you the opportunity to meet with other mothers and share information.  If you can’t find a prenatal yoga class in your area, there are prenatal yoga videos and DVDs on the market that you can use in the comfort of your own home.

Yoga instructors recommend specific moves for women in their first trimester, ones designed to promote more flexibility in the hip area and make giving birth a bit easier.  Recommended poses include the Triangle, Knee to Ankle, the Pigeon, Warrior II, Baddha Konasana and Ardha Chandrasana.  In addition, yoga instructors recommend positions like Cat-Cow, which require the student to get on all fours, because it helps place the baby in the optimal birthing position inside the body.  In a similar vein, yoga experts discourage pregnant women from performing poses that stretch the muscles, particularly the abdominals, too far, since pregnancy increases the production of the hormone relaxin, which softens connective tissue and allows the uterus to expand.

By the second trimester, when morning sickness has usually passed, those who have never tried prenatal yoga may want to begin now.  Regardless of the level of experience with yoga, expectant women who perform yoga at this stage of their pregnancy should use caution and refrain from exerting themselves or performing moves that require extreme stretching.

Yoga experts suggest that pregnant women avoid jumping or rolling while transitioning from one move to the next, but rather crawl or step.  For instance, with a move such as the sun salutation, yoga instructors recommend that pregnant women keep their chest no more 85 degrees from the floor in the forward position of the move and place their hands in front of their feet as opposed to the sides.  Also, they recommend avoiding extreme twists which could cause placental abruption, poses that press the heel of the foot into the uterus while sitting or seated in the lotus and half-lotus positions unless you are able to keep the position loose and not twist the knees too much.

By the third trimester, a pregnant woman’s size and level of fatigue will definitely be a factor in her participation in yoga.  All yoga poses that compress the stomach should be avoided and they should recognize and respond to their feelings of general fatigue.  They can continue to practice yoga, but only as long as they feel up to it.  If not, doing gentle stretching and calming breathing exercises will suffice.

At 36 weeks of pregnancy, women should limit the number of inversion poses they perform, such as Legs Up Against The Wall, Bridge Pose and Downward Dog.  These moves may alter the position of the baby in a negative manner.  The only exception for performing these positions is if the baby is currently in the breech position in the womb.  In that situation, those poses may actually help to turn the baby around.

In addition to these tips, there are a few general rules that apply to pregnant women participating in yoga:

•    Avoid Bikram or “hot” yoga.  Doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid extreme heat.

During the second trimester, changes in the body can alter a woman's center of gravity, so standing poses should be done using a chair for support or against a wall to reduce the possibility of her losing her balance and injuring herself.

When bending forward, bend at the hips with the chest leading the way and extending the spine from the tailbone to the base of the skull.  Bending in this manner give the ribs more room to move and makes it easier to breath.  If you are bending forward while seated, put a yoga strap or towel behind your ankles and hold the ends with both hands.  As with the other move, bend from the hip and keep the chest elevated so that you avoid putting pressure on the abdominal section.  Keep the legs open approximately hip width to give your stomach more room.

•    When performing a twisting pose, twist primarily from the shoulders and back rather than the waist and only twist as far as it feels comfortable.  These precautions are to ensure that you are not putting pressure on your abdominals.

•    Avoid poses that involve backbends, balancing on one leg, handstands, headstands and upward bows.

Lastly, do not ignore the signals your body sends you.  Pregnancy can be an amazing time in a woman's life and participating in yoga is one way to make the experience less painful and reduce the stress.

Check out Yoga Classes Kamloops for more yoga info.

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