Yoga is a popular choice for taking up exercise during pregnancy, and for good reason. Pregnancy yoga can be very beneficial as it is relaxing and calming and strengthens the body gently and mindfully.
Following on from my last blog on the Dos and Don’ts of pregnancy yoga, and ahead of my new pregnancy yoga class at The Secret Space, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
This article is for general guidance only. Always double-check with your doctor or midwife before embarking on any form of exercise, including yoga.
Benefits of pregnancy yoga
The National Childbirth Trust recognises the following benefits of yoga during pregnancy:
- Reduced aches and pains
- Improved quality of sleep
- Improved posture and body awareness
- Better bonding with the unborn baby
- Increased confidence, and
- A boosted ability to cope with labour
What happens in a typical pregnancy yoga class?
Although pregnancy yoga classes naturally vary from teacher to teacher, they all share common elements:
- Practising static yoga postures and gentle dynamic flows
- Learning breathing techniques
- Strengthening pelvic floor muscles
- Time for relaxation and rest.
While asanas strengthen and stretch the body, breathing techniques help us calm the mind and can come handy during labour. Toning the pelvic floor helps this muscle group to cope better with the strains of pregnancy and after giving birth. Strong pelvic floor muscles will also provide a sound foundation for your future yoga practice.
Making time in a yoga class for relaxation and rest provides a welcome opportunity to have a break during an otherwise rushed daily routine. Check our the top 5 poses for releasing stress, which are all suitable when pregnant.
How to practice yoga safely
An (admittedly small) study on the safety of yoga postures in 2015 showed that yoga was well tolerated with no acute changes in maternal or fetal well-being. Before committing to a series of classes, consider booking a trial class. Find out first-hand that you are happy with the teacher, the venue, and the type of class. Pregnancy yoga teachers have specialist training on how to adapt asanas to the changing needs of mother and baby during pregnancy, so don’t be shy to ask your teacher about it. Above all, listen to your body and trust your own judgement. Feel free to modify or completely leave out certain postures or other practices if you feel they are not right for you.
Around the second week of pregnancy until up to five months after childbirth, the body produces Relaxin. This hormone relaxes the ligaments in the body. Therefore, it is important to keep joints stable during poses and refrain from stretching deeply (although it might be very tempting to really go for it and finally touch those elusive toes in the Standing Forward Fold, Uttanasana!).
What to avoid
Some asanas are not suitable during pregnancy like lying on your front in Cobra, Locust and Sphinx pose. Avoid jumping, strong twists, reversed poses, backbends, and anything else which puts pressure on our abdomen. When the bump becomes big, lie on your left side during Savasana.
Be careful to avoid hot yoga classes, which are practiced in a room heated to up to over 40 degrees C. Hot yoga can raise your body temperature too much, causing hyperthermia. Equally, power yoga classes might be too strenuous and can also lead to over-heating.
As with many things in life, keeping our common sense is the best approach when exercising during pregnancy. Doing little often is preferable to one extended workout per week. Set realistic goals, pace yourself, keep cool and hydrated, and respect your limitations. If you experience pain or other ‘red flags’ like bleeding or increased fetal movement, stop the class and refer back to your doctor or midwife.
What to bring and wear
Like in any other yoga class, the basic things to bring and wear include:
- A yoga mat. In a yoga studio, yoga mats will be provided but you can still bring your own. For a communal class, you are usually expected to bring your own mat, unless the teacher can lend you one first time round.
- Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. Wear something that feels comfortable and allows you to move freely. Wear layers so that you can take a jumper off to avoid over-heating and put it on again when cooling down during relaxation at the end of the yoga session.
- Water. Yoga is exercise after all and you may get thirsty. Especially during pregnancy it is important to avoid getting dehydrated.
When to start pregnancy yoga
If you already practice yoga regularly, you might be able to continue attending your normal classes or join ante-natal yoga classes straight away. Without any previous yoga experience, most yoga teachers will advice to wait until after 14 weeks.
If you have never done yoga before, being pregnant is the best time to try it out. It worked for me. I started yoga when I was pregnant and found that it was extremely enjoyable and simply felt really good. I also made friends with a couple of other mums-to-be and our joint yoga class became a cherished date in our diaries.