I am proud to say my children are little Yogi's who have been practicing Yoga since they were was in the womb. We have all continued to enjoy the benefits of regular Yoga practice together since then!
The very week I enrolled in my Yoga teachers training course was the same week that I discovered I was pregnant with my first child, my son. Needless to say my concentration during the duration of my studies was to focus on specializing in prenatal and postnatal Yoga. Having hands on experience was of course great benefit to me, not only as a teacher in training, but also because I was able to physically live and experience each miraculous moment of my pregnancy being complimented by regular Yoga practice.
The effect of Yoga on its own is immense for anyone, but during pregnancy the affect is far more pronounced. I believe this is because there is a lot greater strain on the body to sustain not only the health and well being of the pregnant mother, but also to sustain and grow the life of the tiny being that she is carrying. Under such circumstances the need for a regular Yoga practice becomes more evident and the benefits of Yoga practice become far more pronounced and obvious.
I was practicing Yoga long before I was pregnant and it helped play a great role in preparing my body for the demands of pregnancy, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Pregnancy is like a rollercoaster, it has its ups and its downs, where sometimes you feel euphoric and other times you feel downright scared! Some days you feel great and energetic and others you feel like you have ran a marathon and it is still only 9 o’clock in the morning!
When you are pregnant you just don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. Just when you think that you have just begun to get used to the symptoms and feeling a certain way, ‘boom’ you are hit with more strange feelings and more new symptoms, it can be very tough to handle!
Yoga is an excellent grounding force during pregnancy, it helps keep you rooted and centered during times of uncertainty, emotional upheaval and hormonal ups and downs. Just as each trimester of pregnancy has its own characteristics; your Yoga practice should reflect that and there are many Yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation exercises which are very beneficial and appropriate for you to practice no matter what stage you are in during your pregnancy.
Before we consider how Yoga can help the mum-to-be, let’s have a look at some of the physical and emotional symptoms that are commonly experienced during pregnancy. Please keep in mind this list is in no particular order and that not all mothers will experience the same thing, some may experience only a few symptoms while others will experience them all.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight gain
- Irregular appetite
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Aching feet
- Swelling in hands and feet
- Faintness and dizziness
- Heartburn and indigestion
With the help of regular Yoga practice I was able to escape most of those symptoms, and those of which I did experience, I was able to manage. I did have some nausea & fatigue in the first trimester although, I was happy to experience that as I do believe that this is natures way of forcing us to slow down, rest and allow the growing baby to use up most of the energy we would usually use running around doing all the tasks we would be doing if we felt energetic and well.
Throughout the rest of my pregnancy I felt great, I had loads of energy, I wasn’t dizzy at all, I was glowing and I hardly gained any weight. I did not suffer the usual backache that most pregnant women do. I didn’t suffer from sleepless nights, constipation, heartburn, swollen ankles and feet and I had a healthy and hearty appetite. Many people thought I was so lucky, but I believe that luck had nothing to do with it. I put all of that down to my regular Yoga practice!
When I say regular Yoga practice, what I mean is daily Yoga sessions ranging anything from 10 minutes to 1 hour and a half. Some people might claim that they do not have the luxury of that much free time on their hands to commit to Yoga; however, I would argue that if your health and well being is really important to you, which it should be especially when you are pregnant, then you would make the time.
Many people practice Yoga once or twice a week and feel that is enough for them, but honestly, from experience I can say that it is better to do just 10 minutes of practice daily as oppose to 1 hour sessions once or twice a week. The key is frequency and consistency and this is what will help both strengthen and relax your body and mind on a regular basis, and this is exactly what your body needs to do the work it needs to do during pregnancy.
Although I did Yoga throughout my pregnancy, I did not practice any postures during the first trimester as this is a period in which there is a greater risk of miscarriage. It is safer at this time to stick to meditation and relaxation visualization exercises and simple breathing exercises such as deep abdominal breathing. Besides, doing physical postures are almost unbearable to think about when are experiencing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, so think if it as a special privilege being excused from practicing postures instead of looking upon it as being a punishment because you can’t exercise!
The breathing, mediation and relaxation visualizations are adequate to help you survive the early weeks of pregnancy. During this period of great emotional fluctuation, fatigue, nausea, weight gain, bloating and tiredness, often all you really need is the feeling of being centered, grounded and balanced and this is what these simple exercises can help you achieve.
As you progress into the later weeks and months of your pregnancy the demands upon your body become greater and more physical, this is when the postures become helpful. As well as building strength and resilience to the growing strain that comes with a constantly changing body, the postures will induce the same feeling of being centered, grounded and balanced that was achieved with the exercises that didn’t involve posture in the first trimester. I personally found that being centered and grounded was the single most important goal of my practice because if I had a scattered mind and emotions, I felt the effect of that stress somewhere else in my body, and of course that would be transferred to the baby which I did not want.
Another great benefit of Yoga is the effect it has upon the baby. Of course, anything which is good for Mum has to be good for baby so all the benefits mum gets from Yoga will be received by the baby. Also, as an added bonus, the baby receives a relaxing massage each time mum practices Yoga postures because every gentle bend, stretch and twist mum makes, is felt by the baby from within the womb. The gentle friction from the movement of mums inner organs and muscles is received by baby as a relaxing massage. What a lucky baby!
So as you can see the effects of Yoga are amazing to help you make your pregnancy the most amazing, miraculous and wonderful experience that it was meant to be. Pregnancy doesn’t have to be a rough ride, sure, it is a challenge, but it can be a very positive and empowering one at that with the help of Yoga.
Dr Ashleigh Stewart D.MSc
How has yoga helped you? Leave a comment and share!
By Ashleigh Stewart
Ashleigh Stewart is the founder of Enlight Fertility where she aspires to help women reach their full creative potential in the areas of fertility, pregnancy and motherhood. Ashleigh specializes in fertility, prenatal, postnatal and kids yoga.
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Back posture and flexibility
Baby weight, especially with a sitting job, can pull shoulders forwards and make your upper back stiff. This leads to restricted breathing, poor core stability and back pain. Use the following exercises to relieve shoulder and back tightness. Remember they are releasing exercises so slow, long holds with breathing is better than quick stretches.
Pelvic and hip strength is vital to support your back and pelvis with the baby weight and during delivery. Getting these muscles strong and familiar with favored birthing positing (i.e. squat / all 4's) will give you an easier time during the birth.. It's important to remember to breathe through all these exercises, ideally you can use the core breath technique - exhale and pelvic floor contraction for the effort and inhale to return. There's no magic set/rep prescription, do it to fatigue, do it again, and build up as able. I'd say once you can do 50 in a row that's awesome, job done and just keep that up!
Whatever position you birth in, you're going to have your legs apart so it's a good idea to get comfortable here. It's also really helpful to learn how to let go of tension and relax, particularly the pelvic floor. This can help you conserve energy and reduce any resisting forces as you push the babe down during birth. Again, remember to breathe through these exercises, but this time don't contract on the exhale. Instead, inhale into back ribs and belly (umbrella - see core breath above) and let the pelvic floor descend, then as you exhale relax and let all the tension go. Visualization can really help. Remember all your muscles are connected to your brain, sometimes you have to consciously override tightness and ask a muscle to relax. It really works! This is great prep for birthing as you really get to know what your tension patterns are in your pelvis and how to stay present and own it.
Late stage birthing preparation
Peroneal stretching from 34 weeks is good to prevent tearing and to learn what a stretch of your pelvic floor feels like. You want to stretch down and out at 4 and 8 o'clock (6 o'clock is down towards your anus). You can use your thumbs or if you can't reach ask your partner to do it for you. A pelvic floor Physio can teach you both how to do it well. The idea is to take the muscle to a strong uncomfortable stretch, then breathe and actively let the tension go to allow the muscle to stretch even more. Hold for 30-60 seconds increasing pressure as the muscle gives. Alternatively I recommend the EPI-NO which is a great product that you insert partially into the vagina and pump up to stretch you. It gives you feedback on how many cm's open your perineum is so you can actually tell if you're progressing and it's much easier to do yourself.
As the above exercises may get more difficult, or you get tired, just do what feels right. It's ok to rest up and conserve energy. BUT definitely keep up the core breath and pelvic floor exercises. The core breath is also great to use when birthing, but obviously NOT contracting the pelvic floor on the exhale but as in hip flexibility above letting go and allowing the pelvic floor to relax and open on inhale and exhale.
Day 1 post partum keep going with the core breath and pelvic floor muscle exercises. If you feel uncomfortable, respect that and work with what you can do, but know that doing the exercises actually promotes healing and getting function back sooner. For more information on what to expect post partum and how to rehab safely see "your body after baby article". Don't forget to have your pelvic floor checked by a physio at around 8 weeks or certainly before picking up any exercises other than the above. This is vital to check for prolapse, diastasis, scar tissue, weakness, or anything that needs rehab or consideration before you exercise.
Take home message!
Enjoy the journey, let go to the process and listen to your body. Walk lots, maintain good posture, nail the breath work, get happy in a squat, do your Kegals and learn how to relax.
Your baby, and post baby body will thank you for it!
For a private Pre-natal pelvic floor assessment contact Anniken Chadwick