Yoga is an ideal pregnancy exercise - mindful, holistic and gently dynamic. The postures support the body through the various changes of pregnancy and prepare it for childbirth. It's inward focus naturally encourages a deeper connection with your pregnancy and unborn baby and helps you develop the inner awareness and strength that will carry you through the child-birth experience. As a pregnancy yoga teacher in York I am often asked by pregnant women how to make the most of their yoga practice during their pregnancy.
So here are some tips on how to make the most of your pregnant yoga practice:
1. Practise Pregnancy Yoga from 14 weeks pregnant
Pregnancy Yoga can be practised anytime between 14 weeks and when your baby arrives. Do check with your midwife that you have no special pregnancy needs that may affect your yoga practice. If you already practiced yoga before becoming pregnant you'll probably need to adapt or change your practice, especially if it was a rigorous one. Avoid hot yoga altogether and substitute your dynamic Vinyasa Class for a more gentle nourishing practice. Joining a pregnancy yoga class is of course best, as everything we do is tailored to the pregnant body. During the first trimester concentrate of simple breathing practices like ocean breathing, and try to get lots of rest - tiredness can be huge in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The most important thing is to listen to your body and only practice what feels nourishing and comfortable.
2.Discover Breath Awareness
Breath Awareness is at the heart of yoga. Practising it settles the mind, calms the nervous systems and relaxes the physical body. How able you are to stay with your breath during childbirth will also determine how the experience is for you. It is ideal to begin your practice with either sitting/lying breath awareness. If sitting, ensure you are comfortable and your hips are higher then your knees. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Watch your body as it breathes itself. Your mind will wander. That's normal. As soon as you notice it's wandered simply come back to the breath. The mind will keep wandering. That's OK. Keep returning to the breath. As you persevere, the mind will start to settle. Keep your awareness on your breath as you move into your posture work. Watch how the body expands on an inhalation and lets go on the exhalation. This is key for preparing for the experience of labour. Whether moving dynamically or holding a posture for 5 breaths, keep that gentle expansion, relaxation rhythm within the pose.
3. Your Belly and Baby are Your Centre of Gravity in Pregnancy
Now that you are pregnant your womb is your centre of gravity and, as it expands to house your growing baby, it will determine how and what postures you practice. Develop your awareness of all the activity unfolding in your belly; your baby, your digestive system, your breath and your abdominal support. Integrate the abdominals into whatever posture you are doing to support the back and maintain tone. Avoid poses which compress, squeeze or put excess pressure on the abdomen. Practice open twists instead of closed twists and avoid poses which require you to lie on your belly.
4. Your Pregnant Body is Your Best Teacher
In a pregnancy class all yoga poses are suitable for pregnancy (this is not the case in other classes). Whilst many pregnancy complications like oedema, heartburn and back ache can be eased by yoga still every body is unique, as is every pregnancy, so let your body tell you what feels nourishing and enhancing and what feels compromising. If a posture or exercise doesn't feel right, simply adapt or change your pose. In this way you will develop and trust in the reliability of your body's feedback that will serve you well during Labour and Childbirth too.
5. Transition In and Out of Pregnant Yoga Poses Slowly and Carefully
During pregnancy the body is lubricated by the hormone relaxin which softens ligaments which loosens joints. Sudden movements can leave the body vulnerable to injury. Protect your body by transitioning between poses with awareness and patience. - especially as your belly expands. Additionally blood pressure changes during pregnancy can mean transitioning through planes (lying, sitting, standing) can sometimes cause dizziness. Giving yourself plenty of time to transition will ensure you remain steady and balanced and avoid discomfort and injury.
6. Balance Your Pregnancy Yoga Practice
A good yoga practice is an even practice that brings balance to the body and mind. Make sure your sessions includes strengthening and toning work as well as mobilising work. Aim for a balance between forward bends, backward bends, lateral bends, twists, inversions and balances. This will leave the body refreshed and energised. The good news is that most pregnancy yoga classes will do this for you.
7. Substitute Deep Inversions for Gentle Inversions In Pregnancy Yoga
Unless you are a really experienced yogini, during pregnancy it is better to avoid more challenging inversions like headstand and handstands and instead adapt or practice gentler inversions like Legs Up the Wall Pose - an ideal pregnancy restorative pose instead. You can also substitute downward facing dog with puppy pose or dog at the wall, or use bricks under your hands.
8. Work Mindfully in your Pregnancy
Yoga practiced without presence is exercise.The mind bit is key to an authentic yoga practice. It will help you to develop inner as well as outer strength and flexibility. So choose to stay in the body, flowing with the rhythm of the breath and listening to your body's feedback as move through your practice. Punctuate your practice with plenty of restful periods of stillness and presence in either Mountain Pose or Adapted Childs Pose.
9. Don't be Afraid to Lie on Your Back in Pregnancy
Listen to your body, as long as you feel comfortable, and not restricted in any way, you can practice yoga on your back until the 3rd trimester. When resting on your back either use some support beneath your knees or rest with your knees bent. This will help release the lower back. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or short of breath roll over onto your left side.
10. Balance the Pregnancy Yoga Posture Work With Rest and Relaxation
An ideal yoga practice integrates posture work with breath work and relaxation. After practice, when the energy is flowing and the body and mind are settled, is the ideal time to connect with your baby, listen to a yoga nidra or mindfulness meditation and give the body the space and time it needs to rest and restore itself. This is the powerful healing work of Yoga. Whilst you are pregnant your body is your baby's living environment so make it as pleasant and stress-free as possible a home to reside in. Yoga practised mindfully is a pleasurable experience and will enable you to enjoy being pregnant.