While I wholeheartedly believe that prenatal yoga offers a plethora of benefits to every BODY, especially a body that is creating a new human, I also believe that it is essential that mommies are informed of a few key items ahead of time- so as to make the most of this beautiful practice, and to make sure the baby is always safe and happy, too. If you are new to yoga, then these tips can assist you in making more informed decisions about how you wish to participate in yoga.
There are many types of yoga available out there… yoga for athletes, yoga for children, yoga for beginners, and yoga for mommies! Some yoga classes are much more strenuous than others, so allow yourself time to become informed before participating in any particular class. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
If you are new to yoga, consider classes that are specifically designed to address prenatal bodies or feel free to participate in gentle hatha yoga classes. Avoid classes such as Ashtanga (or other power yoga classes) or Bikram yoga (also known as Hot Yoga) as these types of practices may be too strenuous and cause your body temperature to rise beyond what should be tolerated by a pregnant body.
If you have been practicing yoga for a while, you may wish to consider continuing your current practice, making modifications and adjustments as needed. Just remember, it is not a competition. It is a time to honor your body and the changes you are experiencing, and allow them to happen as they come. Debra Flashenberg, director of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City, says, “Often, the hardest thing for experienced practitioners is accepting and surrendering. They could have been practicing for years and years, and their egos are very much involved in their practice. They have to let go of something they’ve strived for and might be very proud of and accept that it’s not just about them anymore.” (Yoga Journal, http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/2602)
Here are some realistic guidelines for participating in prenatal yoga:
- Talk to your doctor, midwife, or other healthcare provider before beginning a yoga class. Do not participate if you are at increased risk of preterm labor or have medical conditions such as heart disease or major back problems.
- Set sensible goals. For the most part, it is advised that pregnant women get about 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Don’t push yourself if you can’t quite reach that many minutes during one session. It has also been found that shorter and less frequent workouts can still help a woman stay in shape and prepare for labor. So don’t stress about it, just move that body for however long you can and be proud of it!
- Pace yourself. A good rule of thumb is that you should still be able to speak without being out of breath while practicing prenatal yoga. It is not a race or competition. It is simply about making space and movement in your body as it changes and prepares for your new baby.
- Keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water during your yoga practice. Also practicing in a well ventilated room will help maintain a proper body temperature.
- Avoid a few specific poses- these are pretty simple to remember:
- Bend from the hip joints, not the back (this will help maintain the dignity of your spine).
- Avoid lying flat on your back or on your belly (instead use props such as pillows and blankets to allow for an incline when doing poses on your back- your instructor should be able to assist with this).
- Avoid deep forward or backward bends.
- Avoid deep twists that put pressure on the abdomen (small twists that begin at the top of your abdomen, moving only your upper back, shoulders and rib cage are fine).
- Don’t go upside down (some experienced yogis may still choose to participate in these movements, but should do so with much caution).
- Use props for ANY pose to help get comfortable. Don’t be too shy to ask for assistance or guidance from your teacher.
- Don’t do too much! Pay attention to how you feel. Start out slow and avoid doing anything that is beyond your level of experience or comfort level. It is always best to listen to your own intuition. No matter what the instructor is guiding you to do, listen to your own body first and foremost!
- It is also important that you don’t over-stretch. How will you know? Basically, you should only allow yourself to stretch as far as you could stretch prior to becoming pregnant. Your body’s ligaments will begin to relax as it prepares for the baby’s arrival, so you may feel more flexible that usual. Don’t take advantage of this ability. You may feel like you are more flexible than usual, but it is better not to take advantage of that ability to reduce chance of injury.
- If you experience pain, bleeding, contractions or any other red flag during yoga, stop and contact your health care provider immediately!
I can’t say enough about how prenatal yoga will serve you if you are expecting a baby. If you are curious or interested in taking a prenatal yoga class, look for a class taught by an instructor who is prenatal yoga certified. This will ensure that they specifically know how to care for your body’s needs. If this person is not available in your community, consider observing a class prior to participating to be sure you are comfortable with the instructor’s style, the class size and environment.