Yoga for Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of great changes in a woman's body. These changes produce both physical and emotional stresses. Yoga, the Hindu mind-body system of postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and spirituality, is especially well suited to maintaining physical and emotional health during pregnancy. It is equally suitable for a mother-to-be who is an experienced yogi and someone new to the discipline who wants a gentle way to exercise herself and prepare for the birth of her baby.
Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
Yoga has been proven to be a safe and gentle way for pregnant women to remain active, maintain flexibility, and prepare their bodies for natural childbirth. In 2005, a study on the effects of yoga on pregnancy outcomes published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that women who regularly practiced yoga had significantly fewer premature babies and that the birth weight of their babies was significantly higher than those babies in a control group of mothers who did not practice yoga. Another study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in May 2008found that women who participated in a pregnancy yoga program rated their labor less painful and had a higher comfort level during and after labor than a control group of women who did not practice yoga.
Other specific benefits of practicing yoga during pregnancy include:
- Reducing fluid retention
- Reducing constipation
- Improving digestion
- Helping control nausea and morning sickness
- Improving mood and reducing mood swings
- Relieving stress and tension
- Strengthening the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to make childbirth easier
- Improving breathing control and mental preparedness for childbirth
Yoga can be done safely throughout pregnancy. However as pregnancy progresses, certain poses should be avoided. The American Yoga Association recommends that pregnant women not perform any inverted poses.
The First Trimester
During the first trimester of pregnancy, changes are occurring inside that are not visible outside the body. Many women experience nausea, morning sickness, and fatigue. Yoga can help reduce nausea and stress and keep the mother-to-be mentally balanced.
Recommended poses during the first trimester begin the work of loosening the hip joints and pelvic girdle in preparation for childbirth. Poses that also strengthen the abdominal muscles, and relieve stiffness and stress on the neck and spine are particularly appropriate. Meditation helps balance mood. Women who have never practiced yoga before should begin with easy flexibility poses and breath control. Many poses are appropriate for the first trimester of pregnancy. An experienced pregnancy yoga instructor can guide the mother-to-be into poses that suit her level of practice. A few of the recommended poses are Half Butterfly, Pigeon, Sleeping Abdominal Stretch Pose, and Cat Stretch Pose.
The Second Trimester
During the second trimester, the body begins to change shape and women begin to gain weight. This may cause a shift in their center of balance. Morning sickness usually has ended and energy returns. Most women feel best during the second trimester of their pregnancy. Many poses from the first trimester continue to be appropriate, especially poses that focus on strengthening the muscles used for labor and delivery and relaxing the hip and knee joints. A few poses recommended during the second trimester include the Gracious Pose, Knee to Ankle, Flapping Fish Pose, and Hand Raising Pose.
The Third Trimester
By the third trimester, the growing belly begins to interfere with daily activities and energy levels start to lag. Many women feel awkward and off-balance physically, as well as feeling anxious about the impending delivery. Yoga can help women re-balance themselves and prepare mentally for childbirth. Many of the more stressful poses are not appropriate in the third trimester, but women can often continue to do the Half Butterfly, Abdominal Sleeping Pose, Ankle Crank, and Shoulder Rotation.
After the Baby Is Born
Yoga is an excellent way to regain body fitness after pregnancy. It can help restore the uterus and pelvic floor to pre-pregnancy conditions. In addition, post-natal yoga helps relieve back strain and physical tension. The mental and emotional stress of new motherhood are also reduced and made more manageable by the regular practice of yoga.
Finding a Yoga Instructor and Yoga Class
No American or international certification is available for yoga instructors, so the background and training of yoga instructors can vary considerably. The teacher should have experience working with pregnant women, as well as a good foundation in all aspects of yoga—physical, and spiritual—and a strong understanding of anatomy. Good communication is important, and the instructor should understand and accept that pregnant women may have different physical and mental yoga goals than other students. Special pregnancy yoga classes often best meet these goals.
There are many different types or schools of yoga, all with slightly different emphases and practices. Women should choose an approach that feels right to them.
The American Yoga Association web site is especially helpful for beginners. It contains an extensive discussion of what to look for in a yoga teacher.
Yoga + Joyful Living Magazine is a subscription print magazine that posts supplemental articles on many aspects of yoga on its website.