Yoga is a good way to tone mind and body to prepare you for birth. Whether you are completely new to yoga or have done it before, check with your doctor or midwife before you begin.
If you attend a general yoga class let the teacher know you are pregnant. If you are attending a prenatal yoga class, notify the teacher if you have had any complications in previous pregnancies.
The benefits of yoga
Yoga helps you to get in tune with your body and your baby. Practising yoga on a regular basis will help you become aware of what nourishes you and what doesn’t, making it easier to make healthy choices.
What makes yoga different from other forms of exercise is the deep relaxation and meditation it leaves you with.
How yoga can help you during pregnancy
From about 12 weeks yoga can help you deal with many of the minor niggles of pregnancy and helps calm your mind and settle your emotions during this time of hormonal upheaval.
On the physical level, practising yoga asanas (postures) helps strengthen the abdominal muscles, spine, back muscles and pelvis. But some postures should definitely be avoided.
If you have not done yoga before, then the first trimester is not a good time to start, although meditation and deep breathing could benefit you enormously. Even if you have done yoga before, you may prefer to take a break until your second trimester.
Positions and stretches to avoid
During your pregnancy be sure to avoid all inverted postures (e.g. shoulder stands, headstands, handstands), in which your head is below your hips. Also avoid any asanas in which you are lying on your tummy (e.g. cobra posture), as they will place too much abdominal pressure on the baby.
While you should certainly strengthen the abdominals mindfully and gently, avoid doing any strong abdominal work, extreme bends and strong side or backward twists. Throughout all the poses be sure not to hold your breath for long periods of time, just keep breathing!
It is important for pregnant women to relax on their left side. You have better cardiac output when lying on this side and it also encourages your baby to lie in the best position for you both to be comfortable and develop fully.
Lying on your side
After about week 16, begin to lie on your side for relaxation, rather than on your back, to encourage your baby to move into the best position. This also avoids the weight of the uterus restricting your blood supply, which could make you feel dizzy and nauseous. If your baby is in breech (feet first) after 34 weeks avoid the squatting poses.
How your body changes with pregnancy
During pregnancy there is a natural softening of the pelvic joints as a result of the hormone relaxin. Most women are naturally more flexible during this time, but you also need to have toned muscles or else your pelvis may become unstable. This can be painful and makes it difficult to walk.
It can also become uncomfortable either in the sacroiliac joints in your back, or in the symphesis pubis at the front, as the joints move more than usual. Yoga simultaneously tones the pelvic areas and improves flexibility.
A 1 hour prenatal class may begin with simple breath awareness or guided meditation, helping you centre yourself and leave behind distractions and responsibilities.