Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in society as a way to keep fit, to help socialise and to reduce stress. Yoga is fantastic for the mother and the baby during pregnancy but your yoga activites may need to change throughout your pregnancy to best support your changing body. We’ve written this article to help demystify any confusion when it comes to pregnancy Yoga.
What is yoga?
You will no doubt have heard of yoga, perhaps even been to the odd class but may not be aware of exactly what it is. This spiritual and ascetic discipline of Indian culture has become a real trend in western society over the last few decades. It involves many different tasks which you try to control your body. Most famously, you may recognize yoga when someone tries to flex their body into a number of different body postures. There are also exercises to help practice calming yourself down and controlling your breathing. The health benefits of yoga have been empirically supported and help with everything from your physical to mental health. If nothing else, it is a great way to relax.
Benefits of yoga while pregnant
One thing you may be asking yourself is whether or not you will actually be able to do this while pregnant. Would it really be safe? Are there postures you can manage in your current state? Will it really be comfortable?
Of course, every person and pregnancy is different, but the short answer is generally yes! Not only are you able to do this while pregnant, carried out correctly yoga can really help support your body through pregnancy.
There are so many benefits to practicing yoga in pregnancy, but here are some key highlights that might interest expectant mothers:
- Improve flexibility: This is a rather popular (and obvious) consequence of regular yoga. Being able to twist your body into different shapes gradually increases your bodily limitations and abilities. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will be a contortionist by the end of their first session, but it does mean that you can expect to be able to stretch a little better. For pregnant individuals, this new found flexibility may help you to get comfortable as your bump grows in size or even come in handy during the birth.
- Fixes posture: A lot of us struggle with standing up straight, especially when you’re being a little weighed down by the extra person on board. Doing yoga regularly can help with your posture, for both during and after pregnancy. It’s not just about aesthetics though, having good posture can reduce a lot of the rib pain or back pain you may be taking on.
- Boosts your immune system: There is a weird biological reaction in your body that takes place when your muscles are moving and the blood is flowing. You can increase your lymph drainage which in turn encourages your body to empty out your toxic fluids and avoid getting sick. When you are pregnant, your immune system is especially important. Anything that you contract can impact your baby’s health as well.
- Enhances mood: Any woman can probably relate to a rush of strong emotions when her hormones are flowing. As you may have already noticed, this can be more intense during pregnancy. Fits of crying and mood swings are pretty common in a number of women. On top of that, there are also a few women that experience enhanced levels of depression and anxiety. While yoga is in no way a replacement for medication that may really help some individuals, it is a great method to help manage mood! Increased heart rate is one side effect of getting your body moving, and this alone has been shown to decrease depression. Yoga has also been associated with decreases of cortisol (a stress-induced hormone that is related to many unpleasant symptoms) and increases level of serotonin (a feel-good body chemical). This is all associated with increased happiness levels across a number of patients.
- Lowers blood sugar: studies have found that engaging in yoga can lower blood sugar levels. This is a great thing for everyone, but especially those who are pregnant. Many women find themselves suffering from pregnancy-induced (gestational) diabetes. While this is often regulated and virtually gone after the baby arrives, it can still pose a threat to the unborn baby during pregnancy. Any little thing you can do to help manage it makes your life safer and easier.
- Help get your concentration back: Everyone forgets something every once in a while, but many of us have heard of the term pregnancy brain. Pregnancy brain refers to the phenomena where pregnant women find themselves more forgetful than normal and overall just a little out of it. People that do yoga are able to focus better, and strengthening your mental state can be a great thing for everyone. Studies found that doing yoga is not just associated with an increase in focus, but also increased coordination, reaction time, and problem-solving skills.
- Get a good night sleep: Like with any other form of physical activity, working up a sweat can help you get some shut-eye. Getting a good night’s rest can make all the difference in your attitude, energy level, and health. With the ever growing bump making a good night sleep seem impossible, yoga may help you get all the rest you need.
- Practise breathing: As you see with anyone that has gone into labor, breathing exercises are very important. Even if it is your first time with a baby, everyone has seen the movie scenes of the person being rushed in and taking the combination of short and deep breaths. These practice exercises are actually a form of yoga! People may find them very helpful during labor.
Remember, this is just a select few things you may be able to expect by taking on yoga. Of course, while you can experience a lot of great things from yoga just like someone who isn’t expecting, there are some limitations that being pregnant puts on.
How is yoga different when pregnant?
Like any other exercise activity, there are some things you have to be careful about when you’re pregnant. Your body is in an altered state, with increased levels of muscle relaxant hormone Relaxin and a baby inside of you adds some extra risks you need to look out for. Of course, breathing exercises are generally safe, there are a few poses you may want to avoid, even during the first trimester.
For starters, you want to limit yourself to activities that are not too strenuous. Some doctors encourage a “talk test” policy. If you can talk during the activity without having to huff and puff, then you’re good to go on that part. If you are breathing heavy or hyperventilating, you may be depriving your baby of oxygen and overworking yourself.
While there are countless poses, there are some characteristics of poses to avoid:
- Involve twisting your midline. Instead, try to do angled turns that don’t bend your stomach.
- Doing a full wheel. The added weight of your baby bump will add a lot of pressure on your back or even make it impossible to complete. Instead, try doing a partial wheel or a bridge pose. This is the same for forward folds. Just try to stretch as much as you can without having to force extra pressure.
- Positions lying face down or that would result in putting your body weight on your stomach. Try to find positions that make it so you never all pressure onto your stomach.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different- if you’re starting yoga for the first time do check with your midwife or doctor for advice before you start.
Yoga in the third trimester
Once you hit that last trimester, you will find that it is even more difficult to do some of the poses you used to. You want to avoid putting weight on your stomach at all costs, and you may end up injuring yourself if you put yourself in a position where your body struggles to support the weight of your child. It may be better to avoid:
- Positions where you hold up your body with your hands and feet. Your baby bump may make it hard to get a comfortable position and even if you do, this puts a lot of strain on your wrists and feet. Try to do this on elevated surfaces instead or even kneel down, applying the pressure to a less delicate part of your body.
- This far in your pregnancy, you may want to avoid poses lying on your back. Instead, try lying on your side or at an angle to encourage circulation.
Overall, yoga can be a fun and safe way to stay fit and healthy during pregnancy. There are a number of great reasons why you should practice yoga with your baby bump. Of course, there are some limitations you should give yourself to make sure you and your new baby are kept comfortable and safe.
Remember, every woman and pregnancy is different. Never feel bad if you can’t do a pose and if you find yourself struggling, ask for help! Remember, this is supposed to be a fun and stress-free exercise to keep you healthy and relaxed. It’s not a competition and you should never feel the pressure to push yourself to a point where you are uncomfortable.
If you ever have any questions or concerns over whether or not you are doing something dangerous, you can always consult with a licensed health care professional.