Yoga is a wonderful balance to our busy modern live in so many ways, but never more so than when you're pregnant. Yoga during your pregnancy is easy to take on because it's safe, and of all the exercises that we can do when we're pregnant, yoga lends itself to the changing body of a woman and also emotionally for her and for her mind.
Some of the key benefits of pregnancy yoga
Yoga has that beautiful union of mind, body and spirit and when a woman is in a time of transformation, the practices of slowing down of her breathing and tuning in to her body and using relaxation skills to help the growing baby are all really well suited. It’s a preparation for motherhood as much as it’s a preparation for birth and to keep a woman healthy and strong during the pregnancy so she can carry the baby easier, so it tends to reduce pains, the aching of joints, the issues that come with breathlessness and even feeling tired and exhausted. Yoga can actually increase the circulation so give up mother a sense of reducing the overwhelming fatigue that can often happen with the changing of the hormones and the anxiety of the unknown or just the anxiety itself that can come has been reduced, so the stress associated with pregnancy is well suited to yoga. When I talk about yoga, I'm thinking about the physical form of yoga and so where we stretch and do Asana practice but it also includes the breathing and the awareness of meditation and how using meditation can actually improve the way we view ourselves and the way we view the world.
It’s gaining a positive outlook during your pregnancies - that definitely happens when you do yoga.
Making space to slow down and connect with yourself and your baby
I think the other thing is when you first become pregnant, you haven't ever had to slow down or make space for yourself you know, if you haven't previously meditated or done yoga you haven't really needed to because you can use things like watching TV or whatever to calm yourself down or maybe you're just really busy with work and I think when you do become pregnant it’s so important to actually take that time and create that space in your life to start preparing yourself with your changes and your baby. That connectedness, that focus on your growing baby is beautiful to incorporate into your yoga practice.
The world, or our working life, doesn't encourage us when we're pregnant to stop and notice that we're pregnant and that often the industriness of life means that we should just keep on going like we always kept on going, but somehow what happens when you're pregnant is you start waking up and there’s a huge possibility to wake up to what your needs might be first of all because you’ve now got the baby growing inside of you and so your needs like you might find yourself getting lower back pain or headaches or your fatigue or nausea gets stronger simply because you’re working too much, you're spending too much time outwardly and the pregnancy requires you to look inwards and spend time with yourself and meeting your needs, but also meeting your baby’s needs.
It’s really an opportunity to tune in and that idea of connecting a woman to her baby and noticing that there is a way of communicating with the baby. To listen to the body and to slow down is such an important part of the class. It’s hard to do that if you don’t have that interruption or opportunity to stop and slow down. In the classes women will come even when they're tired. They'll come because they often leave feeling energized and much more in touch with themselves and the baby, but when they come they've often not thought so much about themselves and on and on, then it’s like okay let's stop and so for that hour and a half we get to learn about ourselves and learn about the babies. So yeah, definitely it’s often a wakeup call.
What about things you shouldn't do in yoga when you're pregnant?
The most important thing is to recognize that your practice will change with your pregnancy. A lot of people that have been doing yoga will often go "Oh I can keep on doing exactly what I've been doing" and yes you can, you can do that right to the end of your pregnancy, but if you do that, then you've missed out on this huge window of opportunity to learn to listen more intuitively to yourself, rather than just doing the same postures you've been doing all the way through. The first pregnancy sometimes is easier to carry on than your second or third pregnancy because you've got a toddler to look after and life’s a lot different. So you may find you look forward to yoga in a different way, you treat yourself differently because you've got less time.
When you're pregnant your body starts softening and you need to be careful about how far you push yourself to avoid straining your body and causing injury. You likely don’t notice that you're pushing it too hard. I usually say to women who are used to training their bodies quite strong, to pull back 10% into that stretch or into that posture that you're doing, because if you push past what you normally would do when you're not pregnant that's okay, you'd rather stretch some ligaments and create some greater relaxation. However if you do it when you're pregnant then you are more likely to injure yourself by pushing too much into the ligaments. So I'd say pull back 10% if you're a really stretchy person and into doing a lot of physical activity.
It’s also important not to do the deep twist, because we don’t want to change the atmosphere of the uterus - that includes the temperature plus the muscles surrounding it. So we don’t do twists and we don’t do deep forward bends - you always need to remember to make that space for your baby. So just make the space for the baby as you move into a posture.
Other key things to remember is not holding your breath. So if you're someone who's been practicing any breathing techniques and you may have had breath holding, it is important not to do breath holding anymore because we just want the breath to flow in and out, to keep that a continuous one for the baby.
The pelvic floor work good to do, but we don’t overdo it. So if you're looking to have a natural birth we actually recommend that in the third trimester you stop doing any strong pelvic locks, and you start to practice relaxing those locks so that you're preparing your baby for birth.
Changing meditations to focus on your baby
Meditation as well can change from just focusing on your breath to actually focusing on the baby, and having that time to really think about the energy that's changing inside of you. You're creating life.
So it’s an amazing opportunity to get in touch with that creative energy that is happening in your body and they talk Kundalini, they talk about this rise in Shakti energy that we all have that's potent and dormant in us and it awakens upon this enlightenment, if we have that opportunity in our lives. We’re giving, being pregnant and then giving birth is an opportunity to ignite that Shakti, that creative energy that's there. Interestingly, we've found that women who are pregnant meditate deeper. The brain studies have shown that the dominance will become more right hemisphere dominant than normal when we're pregnant and that is that link to the sense of wonders and connection to all the things, and the capacity to drop into a deeper state beingness when you're pregnant. So this is amazing opportunity to stop and to deepen into practice so yes, well recommended.
How do you start yoga if you're pregnant?
The first thing to do is sort of look at what have you been doing before falling pregnant. If you've been going to a yoga class then you can tell your yoga teacher you’re pregnant then she or he may be happy to see you through your pregnancy because there's no other specialized class. You'd start to adapt your postures and you could stay with your teacher so long as they were happy to continue.
A lot of yoga teachers don’t want to take on pregnant women if they don’t know them. So sometimes you do find yourself a little bit stuck to try and find someone who will take you on, and that's where the specialized pregnancy yoga classes work because you can go along and you can usually attend. Most pregnancy yoga classes are happy for you to attend after 14 weeks. At Yoga Baby with the experience that the teachers have, we are comfortable having you from time that you find out you're pregnant and you're ready to come to classes, but most women go through the fatigue and nausea up until about 14 weeks.
So we don't often see women in the classes until they're about 20 weeks pregnant, that's the usual time women pick up the phone and go, “I’m ready”. It's already half way through the pregnancy and already there's a whole of laying down of the baby’s nervous system so really getting to yoga before 20 weeks is the best practice you could do because in those first 20 weeks that's when your baby is forming many essential systems. So my suggestion is that you check out local areas like cafes or you go online – there’s a great website called Find Yoga, there’s places you'll be able to tap into, finding out if there's an pregnancy exercise class – pregnancy yoga classes and fitness classes can work as well, it’s about tuning in to your body. Even some aqua aerobics works really well if you can find a gentle class. The important thing is to have a balanced class. You just don't want to push it, you don’t want to overheat. We're not talking about doing hot yoga when we're pregnant. There are some women that can do hot yoga and that's great because they did that before they were pregnant and they maintain their practice and talk about being beneficial, but if you have never done hot yoga before falling pregnant, you wouldn't go and do it now because you wanted to go to a yoga class.
That's true for most things as well, not taking up any extreme sports once you find out that you're pregnant.
But you could do some new activities. Such as swimming, which is really useful, obviously jogging we usually give up and bicycle riding we usually give up, but a lot of people like to keep walking and keep swimming. They may go to their local gym and partake in some of the classes but if you can get to a specialised class, that will still make a difference and you get to meet other pregnant mummies.
Meeting like minded pregnant mums
Often the mums that you really connect with are the ones that you've met through pregnancy yoga. You may need to put yourself out there a bit and initiate contact by suggesting coffee after class (for example), but if you're doing something like yoga then you’ll probably connect better with people that you meet through your yoga class as well because there’s a bit of like mindedness that happens. One of the women that I was talking to yesterday, she went along to the antenatal classes and she'd been coming to the yoga classes and she'd be meeting the women there I think she have got to feel like that was what was normal and then she went on to a general class with the public and she said she looked around and went "Oh wow, not all these people think the way I think about the world and what I’d like to, how I’d like to be in the world and have my child raised in the world etcetera" and then she realized that there is a difference.
The consciousness raising that occurs in Yoga. We come to Yoga to raise our consciousness -and to get fit- but result is that it raises our consciousness which is good. There are those people in that class that are interested in the same things as you and so they often become your best friends. Not necessarily there and then, but when you see them again in the breastfeeding class and you see them later on in some other group then it all makes those connections so that first time in the pregnancy is often in the yoga and then later on its to establish more and more through where you notice each other again.
It's actually a great idea to make friends when you're pregnant, because once you have a baby it can be really hard to have a deep and meaningful conversation with somebody for very long!
Pregnancy Yoga and Preparing for Birth
I've noticed in my classes over 15 years that there are couple of times during pregnancy that are particularly important for women. There's a couple of growth spurts. So one is when you're about 24 weeks and there's a changing of the body and the baby picks up the pace of growth, it’s a fully formed human being at 24 weeks, so the consciousness of the baby starts to participate with the mother. So around 24 weeks when we start to focus on the baby, and that they're going to have this baby and give birth to the baby.
There's another growth spurt around 32 weeks, and that's when we see that the mother begins to focus more on the birth and that's when we often have the active birth classes in Yoga Baby. At that time the birth becomes an important thing and it’s the baby reminding the mother that she should get herself ready for the entrance of this little human being inside. There's some deep changes that goes on, so yoga is a wonderful preparation for birth because it's that mind, body connection. It's trusting your body and learning to breathe with your body and to let your body do what it instinctively knows to do. So your body wants you birth your baby the safest and wisest way. So it’s going to choose a rhythm and a timing that’s just right. So learning to trust that in a modern day world that likes to control everything is learning to surrender.
That is so important through yoga because you really do focus your mind and sink more into your body, that's so important during birth. So how does Yoga help us birth? It helps us learn to surrender.
Article based on podcast interview with Suzanne Swan from YogaBaby.