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Yoga for a Healthy Pregnancy
Practicing yoga safely during pregnancy may seem like common sense, yet there is still misleading information circulating about the practice of certain styles of yoga while pregnant, in particular Hot Yoga.
Motherisk program (please don't use this site now as it has been hacked--note from author on Dec 2022) based out of Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, advises women against practicing Hot Yoga in pregnancy due to an increased risk of neural tube defects and possible other malformations of fetuses exposed to excessive heat. (The same applies for the use of hot tubs and saunas while pregnant). They also point out on their website that excessive heat can lead to rapid exhaustion and “therefore increases the risk of overstretching, muscle damage, and torn cartilage due to fatigue.”
A woman’s temperature may naturally rise while pregnant and dehydration is one of the leading causes of miscarriage and premature birth. This is another reason to avoid yoga practice in elevated temperatures while pregnant.
A hormone called relaxin is released during pregnancy that loosens the joints and ligaments during pregnancy to prepare for birth. It is therefore important to modify regular unheated types of yoga, and preferably seek out a certified and registered prenatal yoga teacher (RPYT®)who’s familiar with specific modifications.
In fact once a pregnancy is confirmed any woman with a regular yoga practice is advised to stop all prone postures, twists (in the first trimester), Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shine Breathing) and full inversions immediately.
Keep this advice in mind if you are trying to become pregnant. In Well-Woman/Womb Yoga Therapy it is advised for those consciously seeking to conceive, to also avoid all hot yoga styles as well as more vigorous styles of yoga such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa.
A gentle restorative class is recommended instead and can continue after conception while the embryo develops into a fetus. The increase of baby building hormones throughout the first trimester can cause nausea and dizziness. It is recommended to rest as much as possible and to take it easy at this stage. The second trimester is a good time to begin regular gentle exercise and a prenatal yoga practice.
In prenatal yoga the mom-to-be can benefit from a wide and varied range of muscle movement that will support better circulation and tone. This can help prevent or lessen common discomforts such as edema or constipation and varicosities.
Both seasoned yoginis and those new to yoga can benefit from helpful pranayama breathing techniques, sounding bija mantras and movement tools, plus specific pelvic floor toning exercises and visualization techniques of prenatal yoga. These practices serve to improve labor and birth no matter what type of birth a woman has. Prenatal yoga can also create a space for a woman to deepen her connection and bond with her baby prior to birth.
Much of what a woman gains from prenatal yoga is simply being prepared and calm, being more resilient to cope with unexpected change, which is always a possibility. Many moms-to-be want to have an unmedicated natural birth. Sometimes this is not possible, but yoga can be of benefit to help moms-to-be cope with changes with greater acceptance.
The goal is for a new mom to feel positive no matter if the birth was unmedicated, medicated or a Cesarean section birth.
Stress hormones cross the wall of the placenta, therefore if a woman is experiencing stressful circumstances, anxiety and worry the hormones created in the process will transfer to the growing fetus. One of the most powerful practices of prenatal yoga is the practice of deep relaxation or Yoga Nidra, essential for complete rest, insomnia and overall stress management. Learning mindful ways of dealing with stress throughout pregnancy will benefit mom, baby and the whole family through childhood and beyond.
If regretful or negative thoughts and feelings about the birth arise they can be a risk factor for postpartum depression later on. This is one of the most important messages to get across while teaching yoga in pregnancy, one that yoga teachers need to understand and communicate to the pregnant women they teach: Be prepared for unexpected outcomes. There is no wrong way to birth, and even though it is advisable to have a birth plan, be prepared to let it go if necessary.
Modifications for Safe Practice
Not all pregnancies are the same. As a fetus develops some yoga postures may become contraindicated if certain conditions arise. A registered yoga teacher RPYT® will know which postures are contraindicated for conditions such as pubic symphysis disorder, placenta previa, or if a breech position of the baby is present in the later stages of pregnancy.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can become an issue for some women in pregnancy. Some of the extra fluid in the body may settle in the sheath under the ligament that runs across the wrist causing swelling and pinching of the nerve. If this is the case modify any posture that puts weight on the hands and wrists by using a foam block or alternately make the hand into a fist before putting weight on to it to prevent wrist discomfort.
Standing balancing postures require extra care so always stand close to a wall for safety and stability.
Time to Rest
Women often push themselves to do more, with a tendency to not stop until they drop. Giving a woman an opportunity to do less, rest more, move gently, and be kind to herself is essential throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (often referred to as the fourth trimester). A restorative Savasana in side-lying position supported with a bolster or pillows and folded blankets is recommended daily if possible, and after 30 weeks gestation it is generally more beneficial lying on the left side so the flow of venous blood can easily return to the heart.
Most importantly a prenatal yoga class can provide a sense of community. It is one of the few places in our society where women can come together with other women. Gathering together on common ground with good intentions to support and share with each other is a nourishing and enriching experience for moms-to-be and is uplifting to the spirit of both mother and baby. It is an opportunity to emphatically touch the essence of what yoga is really about.
Rebecca Bedford first taught prenatal yoga with the Integral Yoga Institute in 1995. As a certified Integral® prenatal yoga teacher RPYT®, Womb Yoga teacher and a HypnoBirthing® Childbirth Educator, she is an advocate for yoga as a way to support women’s optimum health and vitality at every stage of life. Devoted to bringing prenatal yoga and meditation to women in underserved communities, she regularly teaches at several prenatal outreach programs throughout Toronto, and is founder of YogaHub Canada (www.yogahub.ca)