07 Dec Prenatal Yoga
It is true that if you have never experienced pregnancy and given birth, you can not really understand the journey of motherhood… Nevertheless, even if have never given birth I still feel compelled to reach out to you, the women out there, who are in need of assistance. I will approach this article in my capacity as a yoga therapist and a spiritual healer.
The most important thing I have come to understand with my own yoga practice is to respect and honour my body. Yoga has been for me an incredible tool of self exploration. It has essentially taught me to be in my body instead of being solely in my head and to connect with the deep wisdom within me. Pregnant women can greatly benefit from practicing yoga. The inner wisdom a pregnant woman can draw upon during yoga is invaluable. Yoga does not only teach you to connect with your own needs but also to your baby’s needs by simply going inside, breathing and relaxing and ultimately calming both mind and body. Yoga makes the labour easier and helps you to face the delivery of your baby calmly with strength and energy.
Prenatal yoga combines stretching and strengthening exercises together with breathing and relaxation techniques to build strength and stamina preparing you for the physical demands of pregnancy and labour. The yogic exercises (asana) softly stimulate your reproductive organs, gently open and strengthen your pelvis, and create space between your hip bones and your lower floating ribs to allow your baby to grow. Blood circulation is stimulated, providing the foetus with more nutrients, relieving back and leg pain and reducing swelling caused by water retention. The practice of dhyana (meditation) raises your level of awareness, improves your concentration and relaxes your body and mind. The breathing exercises (pranayama) increase the supply of oxygen and prana for you and your child but also give you tools to cope with the pain during contractions.
Each trimester will bring you different experiences. In the first trimester (0 to 13 weeks), most women experience morning sickness and fatigue as deep biological and musculoskeletal adjustments are taking place in the body. Some schools of yoga recommend that women do not practice during the first trimester as the risk of miscarriage is higher. This is a misconception. The practice of gentle yoga will strengthen your uterus, reproductive organs and pelvic area for an efficient and normal delivery. However, if you experience severe morning sickness, wait to start practicing yoga until the second trimester when morning sickness has diminished.
The second trimester (14 to 28 weeks) is a good time to begin practicing yoga. You are not too big and probably feeling very good at this stage. If you are little light-headed, eat a light meal or a snack an hour before practicing to prevent low blood sugar. Make sure you drink a little of water while practicing to avoid dehydration and uterine contractions, particularly when your throat is dry or if you feel nauseated. From the second trimester on, do not practice any positions on your back as it may reduce the flow of blood in the vena cava, a large vein that runs along the side of the spine and curves behind the uterus. Practice all standing positions with your heel against a wall or use a chair for support so you don’t lose your balance.
When you reach the third trimester (29 to 40 weeks), your body has changed a great deal and the movements of your baby are stronger. The extra weight and your large belly make balance difficult in most positions. You may fear straining your back. The sacroiliac joints are loose and breathing may be difficult. Avoid compressing the belly, keep your legs apart during standing or seated forward folds. Do not practice any position during which you feel discomfort.
I recommend that you attend a prenatal class. If you can only attend a regular class, attend a gentle class and let the teacher know you are pregnant. Pregnancy yoga books or DVDs are also helpful and can guide you during the different stages of your pregnancy. You will find below several positions that you can practice safely at home even if you have never practiced yoga before. However, you have to take some precautions.
Check with your doctor that is it safe for you to practice yoga.
- During pregnancy the body produces a hormone called “relaxin”, which softens the connective tissue allowing your pelvic joints to be more flexible and your uterus to expand. Therefore be careful to not strain, pull or overstretch your muscles while practicing as doing so may cause sacroiliac joint and lower back pain. You will feel so flexible that you may be inclined to go a little too far.
- If you experience cramping or bleeding, or if the foetus stops moving for a long time, stop practicing and call your doctor.
- Always stay connected with your body and most importantly with your baby. If you feel any pain, stop immediately. Avoid positions where you experience difficulty breathing, nausea, or dizziness. Do not practice a position if you feel your baby dislikes it.
- As you advance in your pregnancy, modify the positions to protect the placenta and the baby.
- Practice gentle twists so as to not stress the placenta. Twist gently from your shoulder and avoid compressing your abdomen.
- Avoid positions on the belly and only stretch your abdominals very gently.
- To avoid fatigue, do not stay in positions too long
- If you feel exhausted after your practice, see this as a sign that you have pushed yourself too much.
- Breathing should be natural and automatic. If you feel restriction in your breathing adjust your position so your diaphragm is soft and free.
- During the last 8 weeks of pregnancy concentrate on the downward flow of energy and the correct positioning of the baby’s head while practicing.
The following positions must be absolutely avoided throughout the pregnancy:
- Balancing positions on one leg (unless supported by chair or wall)
- Upward bow
These positions can be safely practice while pregnant:
- Baddha Konasana (Bound angle pose)May be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.Caution: The muscles and ligaments in the groin and sacroiliac area are more relaxed during pregnancy, so be careful not to overstretch.Benefits: This position relieves tension from inner thigh muscles, removes tiredness from legs and helps relax and open the pelvis. It prevents sciatica and strengthens the uterus. It can be used in labour.
- Sit on folded blankets or a bolster with your back and buttocks against the wall.
- Bring your heels to the pubic bone, but not too close, with the soles of your feet together and the knees moving away from each other. You may want to put additional blankets under your buttocks if your knees are higher than the hips.
- Press your heels together and extend the sides of the trunk and chest.
- Fully relax the inner thighs.
- Rest palms on thighs and keep belly soft.
- Hold this position for one to five minutes, breathing normally.
- Release the position by lifting your knees with your hands and then extend legs forward and go into the next position: Parchimotasana.
Parchimotasana (seated forward bend)May be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
Cautions: Do not compress your abdominal muscles and only stretch the abdominal muscles very gently. Do not strain the back. As your baby grows, accommodate the belly by spreading your thighs apart.
Benefit: This position massages and strengthens the abdominal. The entire pelvic region is stretched and blood circulation is increased. The ovaries, the uterus and reproductive organs are invigorated. The flow of life force through the nadis is stimulated.
- Place a bolster or folded blanket under your buttocks to raise them. Adjust legs to hip-width (or spread your legs wider if you prefer) to give your belly more room to come forward.
- Bend from the hips, leading with the breastbone. Avoid compressing your abdomen and extend your spine, pulling up instead of folding forward. This creates space for the ribs to move making breathing easier.
- Place a towel or yoga strap behind your feet and hold both ends or, alternatively, rest your hands on your thighs.
- Cat-Cow StretchShould not be practiced during the 9th month.Caution: Do not strain yourself or contract your belly too much.Benefits: This pelvic movement stretches and counter stretches the entire spine and improves flexibility of the neck and shoulders. It tones your reproductive system. Having rehearsed these movements of tilting your pelvis will help to facilitate your baby’s delivery when the time comes.
- Get down on you hands and knees (on all fours) with your shoulders in a vertical line above your wrists and your hips above your knees.
- Inhale and lift the chest up, raising your head, tilting the tail bone up and depressing the spine so that the back becomes concave. This is cow pose.
- Exhale, press on your hands and move your tail bone down, while lowering the head and stretching the spine upward. Round the back while pulling the buttocks. This is cat pose.
- This completes one round: Repeat 5 – 10 times.
- Leg stretched backShould not be practiced during the 9th month.Caution: Do not strain the abdomen.Benefits: Keeps your lower back limber and strengthens your legs.
- Kneel on all fours.
- Inhale, lift and extend the right leg straight up behind you and raise your head.
- Exhale, bend your knee and point the toes toward your head.
- Hold the position for a few breaths, breathing gently.
- On the next inhalation extend your leg back.
- Exhale while lowering your leg.
- Repeat with the left leg.
- Gentle Back bendShould not be practiced from the 7th month on.Cautions: Avoid abdominal pressure.Benefits: Strengthens the legs.
- Stand with your feet together and put your hands on your buttocks.
- Inhale, drop the head back.
- Exhale, roll your shoulders and push your chest back.
- Inhale, arch your back.
- Exhale; push your hips forward and arms back.
- Hold and breathe gently.
- SquattingMay be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.Cautions: Unless you are used to squatting, use a chair to support yourself so you don’t lose your balance.Benefits: Opens out the pelvic area and strengthens the legs. Keeps the lower back supple and provides gentle abdominal pressure, prevents constipation, increases blood circulation to the pelvic floor and helps you get used to the feeling of opening up.
- Use a chair for support and squat on your toes.
- If you practice this daily, your heels will gradually come to the ground.
- Relax in the position for 1-3 minutes.
- Arm exercisesMay be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
- Raise your arms up and place your fingers on both shoulders.
- Slowly rotate both arms together in large circles.
- Try to stretch the elbows as far back as possible.
- Try to touch the elbows together at the front.
- Do 5 times in one direction and 5 times in the reverse direction.
- Gentle twistShould not be practiced during the 9th month.Cautions: Twist gently from your shoulder and do not stress the placenta. Avoid compressing your abdomen.Benefits: Tones the waist, back and hips and relieves back stiffness.
- Sit in an easy cross-legged position.
- Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee for leverage and the right hand behind you.
- Twist gently to the right, look to the right and breathe deeply.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Kati Chakrasana (waist rotating pose)Should not be practiced during the 9th month.Cautions: Make sure you only twist gently from the shoulders and that you do not compress your belly. Do not swing your arms. Do not strain or jerk your body. The movement should be relaxed.Benefits: This asana tones the waist, back and hips. Relieves back stiffness.
- Stand with your feet about half a metre apart and the arms by the sides.
- Inhale and raise the arms to shoulder level in a cross.
- Exhale and twist the shoulders to the left and bring your right hand on your left.
- shoulder and wrap the left arm around the back. Bring the left hand around the right.
- side of the waist. Look over the left shoulder as far as possible.
- Inhale and return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Practice 5-10 times.
- Sideways stretchShould not be practiced during the 9th month.Cautions: Practice this very gently without forcing. Do not bend forward, backward or twist the trunk. This is a sideways stretch. Do not practice during the ninth month of pregnancy. Keep the body and head facing forward without twisting.Benefits: Massage, loosen and exercise the side of the waist.
- Stand with your feet about half a metre apart and the arms by the sides.
- Inhale, extend your right arm up.
- Exhale, slide your left hand on the left thigh and bend to the left side from the waist.
- Inhale and slowly come up to an upright position.
- Exhale, bring the right arm down.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Practice 5-10 times.
Upavistha KonasanaMay be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
Caution: If you have had a lower back injury, sit up high on one or more folded blankets or on a bolster and be careful while bending forward.
Benefits: This pose is useful to women during pregnancy. Sciatica may be relieved with hamstring stretching. Kidneys are detoxified. Groin muscles are released. The brain is calmed.
- Sit on folded blankets or bolster to bring your pelvis into better alignment.
- Form a wide angle between your legs by opening them out as far as possible.
- Bend the knees slightly.
- Lean forward and put your forehead on a stack of blankets, or bolsters or the seat of a chair.
- Hold the pose for five minutes.
- Aswini MudraMay be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.Benefits: Keep the anal and vaginal muscles strong and healthy. Helps you to develop awareness and control of the muscles so you can give birth easily.
- Sit comfortably.
- Exhale, contract the muscles of the sphincter and hold for a count of five.
- Inhale and relax.
- Exhale, contract the vaginal muscles and hold for a count of five.
- Inhale and relax.
- Modified Savasana (corpse pose)May be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
- Lie on your left side in a foetal position with pillows to avoid compressing the blood flow to the uterus.
- Use a rolled towel (or mat) under your head to make the neck more comfortable.
- Place a rolled blanket (or bolster) between your legs.
- PranayamaI recommend two kinds of pranayama that are especially beneficial during pregnancy: Should be done until the end of pregnancy as it makes the body and mind strong and has a very calming effect.Cautions: Avoid any kind of breath retention or hyperventilation that could limit the baby’s oxygen supply.Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)May be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
Cautions: Avoid compressing the uterus. Do not hold your breath.
Benefits: Improves the oxygenation of the blood and brings the metabolic and hormonal secretions into balance. Reduces spasms and strains during labour and facilitates the delivery of the child.
- Sit on a folded blanket placed under the buttocks to keep the spine lifted and avoid compressing the uterus.
- Left hand rests on the left knee. Using the thumb and third finger of the right hand, close alternate nostril. Index finger is placed between the eyebrows.
- Empty the lungs and inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right one. Inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left one. This is one cycle.
- Practice 3 to 7 cycles per session.
- Start with 3 cycles of breath and increase the number gradually. Practice every day.
- Concentrate the flow of air through each respective nostril.
Ujjayi breathing (Victorious breath) lying down
May be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
Cautions: Do not hold your breath.
Benefits: Your blood circulation is improved and your child is fed with purified blood.
- Lying down on the floor on a stepped arrangement of blankets or bolsters to support the trunk.
- Take in a long inhalation and exhalation. Close your eyes and tilt your chin toward your throat until your breath becomes audible on both inhalation and the exhalation.
- Empty the lungs. Fill your belly first (abdominal), then your lower lungs (middle-chest) and then your upper lungs (clavicle) expanding the rib cage as much as possible. Feel the breath as it fills your lungs with fresh air.
- Exhale, slightly contracting the belly until the lungs are empty.
- Keep the inflow and outflow even and regular.
- Listen to the sound of Ujjayi.
- After 3-5 minutes, breathe normally and rest in stillness.
- MeditationMay be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy.
- Sit comfortably on the floor.
- Gently relax the soles of your feet.
- Soften your buttocks and notice the weight of your body on the floor.
- Lift your chest and roll your shoulders back and relax them.
- Soften the muscles of your face.
- Breathe naturally in and out through the nose.
- Relax your eyes, lips, tongue and jaw.
- Observe the natural rhythm of your breath.