Pregnancy showcases huge changes to our minds and our bodies. Any woman who’s ever carried a growing child over those 40 weeks can testify to this. It’s also a time that can be extremely stressful and demanding on several levels. Women are expected to prepare themselves and their families for the miracle of birth, while keeping up with their previous activities.
Sure, it’s okay to slow down, but far too many women push themselves beyond their boundaries in an effort to live up to that supermom status. The most important thing you can do for yourself during pregnancy is to understand your boundaries, and to respect what your body is telling you.
If you don’t feel like doing something, then don’t. In the same instance, it’s a good idea to embrace things that can help you relax and that can improve your physical stature.
In just nine short months, it’ll be time to turn some of the attention away from yourself to focus on your new baby. Because of this, it’s very important to embrace yourself and care for your body prior to giving birth.
Yoga is an excellent way to do this without causing yourself any additional exertion or harm. In fact, yoga has a way of calming people down and teaching them different breathing exercises that can be beneficial during the birthing process itself.
What is Yoga?
Most of us have heard of yoga. If you’re not familiar with the practice, then you may envision some stereotypical slender men and women folded into all sorts of contortion-worthy shapes. In truth, yoga isn’t just an exercise. It’s a way of life that focuses on connecting your breathing to your body and your body to your mind.
Not only does it improve flexibility and muscle tone, it also teaches us how to remain calm in the face of a stressful situation. It operates on the principle that all of these things come together to bring balance to both your physical and mental well-being.
Yoga is a practice; they call it this because you’re always striving to improve your knowledge and ability of the process. It’s not strenuous exercise that pushes you to constantly progress towards a heightened sense of physical strength.
Yes, yoga can be difficult, but the level of difficulty is entirely based on the capability and the comfort of the person who’s participating, and the classes you choose to take. In many ways, yoga is the perfect physical activity for pregnant women.
Yoga promotes a sense of calm and teaches us to slow our breathing down. This can be incredibly beneficial when a woman is facing the prospect of birth.
According the Yoga Alliance, “Yoga was developed up to 5,000 years ago in India as a comprehensive system for wellbeing on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. While Yoga is often equated with Hatha Yoga, the well-known system of postures and breathing techniques, Hatha Yoga is only a part of the overall discipline of Yoga.”
Yoga’s Positive Impact on Pregnancy
Many women ask themselves the question, “Is it safe to exercise while pregnant?” This is a question that should always be answered first by your physician, and second by your overall level of comfort during physical activity.
Most women are able to continue with their standard exercise routine as long as it doesn’t elevate their heart rate too much or cause them to place themselves in positions that could be harmful for the baby. Starting a new and strenuous type of aerobic exercise can put too much stress on the body and end up being a poor choice for advanced pregnancy.
Yoga, on the other hand, has proven itself to be an excellent resource for those trying to continue with their physical activity. It requires the constant movement of breath while stretching and using a variety of different muscle groups.
Yoga also embraces frequent periods of rest in between postures and doesn’t necessarily elevate the heart rate in the same way that other exercises do. This prepares the body for eventual birth, increasing a woman’s ability to stretch and move with contractions. It also continues to improve blood flow and oxygenates the rest of the body. These are all beneficial to the baby, and to the woman during and after birth.
It’s important to clear it with your doctor first anytime you begin a new exercise regimen while pregnant. It’s also important to make sure that you’re working with an experienced yogi who can show you the appropriate way to do postures and to modify them for your expanding midsection and comfort.
The Mayo Clinic promotes the use of yoga to improve pregnancy and your mental state throughout the process. It does, however, advise against participating in Bikram Yoga. This is the hot yoga practice that takes place in temperatures far exceeding 100°F.
It’s a good idea to look for a prenatal yoga class. This will involve a curriculum specifically designed around pregnancy and the different styles appropriate to any physical limitations. Most of these yoga styles combine restorative and relaxation yoga practices geared towards improving flexibility and helping to promote mental clarity.
This is a great way to reduce stress and to help avoid insomnia in later pregnancy. If you’ve been used to more involved types of yoga, like a Vinyasa flow, you might want to consider modifying some of the postures and avoiding some of the more difficult inversions. Your center of gravity will change drastically, and it’s very important to remember this before trying to balance on your forearms for hollow backs.
During pregnancy, your body is going to release certain chemicals that can actually increase your flexibility—this is to enable you to better open up when it’s time for the baby to be born. You can use this to your advantage during some of your yoga practice; it can actually maximize the effects—allowing them to last long after the baby is born.
Modifying Your Style
The following are a few modifications and suggestions that can help to make yoga more accessible during pregnancy:
- Always tell the yoga instructor that you’re pregnant!
- Avoid suspensions or inversions that demand balance to avoid a fall
- Don’t focus as much on getting your forehead to your knees during your forward folds— remember that you need room for your baby and your growing midsection
- Back postures should be stopped or modified after about 18 weeks of pregnancy
- Take frequent breaks, and don’t be afraid to immediately stop any posture that causes pain or discomfort
- Pregnancy requires more oxygen and can compress the lungs— avoid breathing exercises that require you to hold your breath beyond your comfort level during this time
Continuing the Practice After Birth
Whether you’ve just started yoga, or it’s something you’ve been doing for years, it’s important to speak to your OB/GYN prior to continuing the practice after pregnancy. Make sure that you’re healthy enough for exercise, and that the stretching won’t irritate already sensitive areas.
You may need to wait for several weeks prior to participating in any physical activity. If you had a C-section or any type of difficulty during your pregnancy, it’s important to make sure that you take care of yourself before pushing for any type of physical exertion.
Yoga is a fantastic practice before during and after pregnancy. Once you’ve cleared it with your doctor, embrace the lifestyle and all the benefits that it can afford you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenn Mullin is a freelance writer, focusing on social, economic, and political issues. Her inspiration is writing about topics which provoke thought and start conversations surrounding important and controversial issues.