These days, more and more people are taking up the practice of yoga as a way to keep themselves fit and healthy both physically and mentally.
Yoga itself has long been lauded as bestowing upon its practitioners many direct and indirect health benefits from increased flexibility to reduced blood pressure, but is it safe to practice yoga during pregnancy?
Is it safe to practice yoga during pregnancy?
The answer to this question is often yes as its an ideal way to prepare the body for the rigors of pregnancy and childbirth while, at the same time, promoting relaxation during what can be a stressful time in your life. Of course before beginning any exercise program, including yoga, expectant mothers should first get the approval of their health care practitioner.
From the early days of pregnancy, the body naturally begins to produce and release a hormone called relaxin. This causes the connective tissue around the pelvis to loosen, making room for baby. The resulting naturally increased flexibility is a good thing but overdoing our flexibility by overstretching can, in the long term, destabilize our joints, leading to chronic back and pelvic issues post-pregnancy. Its therefore important to take the time to seek out a qualified yoga instructor, one who specializes in prenatal yoga, to guide you in your practice. Prenatal yoga instructors understand the specific needs and limitations of your particular situation. Some have even gone through pregnancy themselves.
During the first trimester (0-13 weeks), the body undergoes a number of biological changes that leave most women feeling tired and fatigued. Doing anything of a physical nature is the last thing on the mind of many expectant mothers at this time. However if you already have a strong yoga practice and feel up to it, then there is no harm in continuing with your normal practice using the appropriate modifications, as directed by your instructor, for this stage of your pregnancy. Just be aware that inversions, twists and jumps can threaten the implantation of the fetus and placenta and so should be left out at this point. In fact all yoga practitioners should listen to their body during their practice and avoid any poses that leave them feeling unwell or cause them pain.
Moving in to the second trimester (14-28 weeks), mum begins to get a little more energy and this is when the majority of expectant mothers decide to take up yoga. Due to low blood sugar, you may feel a little lightheaded when involved in any activities involving physical exertion, so counter this by eating a light snack an hour or so before your practice begins. From the six- month stage onwards, lying on your back for extended periods can be contraindicated due to the potential to cut off blood flow to the baby via the vena cava. However, shorter periods in this position are generally acceptable, but again, please seek the guidance of your health care practitioner and trained yoga instructor as each case can vary depending on how smoothly your pregnancy is progressing.
In the third trimester (29-40 weeks) mum begins to feel moving around a little more tricky thanks to the baby bumper out front. This is when restorative yoga comes in to its own. Restorative yoga comprises of a series of modified gentler yoga asanas or poses that promote relaxation and calm. The peaceful nature of the classes provide mum with some private me time with baby, giving her a chance to acknowledge and absorb the vast changes taking place within her body. Additional potential benefits of restorative yoga may also include lower blood pressure levels, stress reduction, increased blood flow to the major muscles while decreasing muscle tension and muscle cramps, increased positive self image, improved concentration and energy levels.
Breath regulation using various breathing exercises, known as Pranayama, is another integral part of yoga and in particular pre natal yoga. Breath techniques learned here in class can become invaluable in helping mum cope with the ardures of labor.
Bear in mind that prenatal yoga classes are often community based, offering mum a chance to mix with other individuals in similar circumstances where she is able to share stories, fears or concerns in a supportive and friendly environment.
Comfortable clothing is a must when you attend your classes. Theres a wide range of fashionable clothing out there these days designed specifically for prenatal yogis, offering additional support in the appropriate places and that can be used throughout your pregnancy as active wear, not just in your yoga class.
Following childbirth most new mothers are able to resume exercise approximately 6 weeks postpartum. Yoga can be a great tool for helping you to strengthen and rebuild that core. Once again you should allow yourself to be guided by your health care practitioner but on receiving the thumbs up, what better way to give yourself a break from the responsibilities of motherhood, whilst regaining your pre pregnancy figure. Many classes also allow for mum to bring baby along to help those mothers challenged by child care issues.
So reduce the stress of your pregnancy with some restorative yoga classes. New yoga studios are popping up all the time and Im sure that with little research you will easily be able to find a location and instructor in your local neighborhood to suite your needs.
Remember if you are new to exercise and suffer from any pre-existing medical condition, always seek medical clearance from your IVF Consultant at Genesis Fertility Centre prior to beginning any form of physical activity program.
Alan Kemp is a Vancouver-based personal trainer who has experience working with a wide spectrum of clients including special populations such as pregnant women. If you have any further questions, please contact him at alanfitness.ca.