Yoga and the Pregnant Body
With the growing popularity of yoga in the Western world, many people are turning to yoga as a safe and gentle way to exercise during pregnancy or to ease back into exercise during the postpartum time. But is all yoga created equally and are all kinds of yoga considered safe for the pregnant body?
In Nashville, we are lucky to have Kundalini Rising Yoga in West End for group prenatal yoga classes, but for many, such as those in Murfreesboro or some of the more rural parts of Middle Tennessee, there aren’t many options for prenatal yoga or the schedule doesn’t line up with their availability. A private yoga session with Music City Doulas is a great option for those with tricky schedules, those who like individualized attention, or those who do not have a yoga studio near them.
As an seasoned yogi and experienced yoga instructor who specializes in prenatal yoga, many people ask me if they can just go to any yoga class while they are pregnant or if they have to go to a prenatal yoga class. The short answer is yes, but with modifications. What does that even mean? There are actually a lot of poses in a traditional yoga class that are not totally safe for pregnant women or their babies. People who practice yoga regularly may still do a lot of the exercises below, but unless you are a very seasoned yogi, it may be best to skip these.
Twists are meant to wring out the internal organs, just like you would do if you were wringing out and twisting a wet towel. Due to the growing belly, there is a lot of internal pressure on the abdominal muscles. By twisting, you may be causing the rectus abdominus muscles to tear and separate, leading to a condition called diastasis recti. If you are craving a twist, a gentle open twist is safer than a closed twist (where your torso crosses the knee) and think about opening the chest, rather than twisting from the belly.
Much like twists, abdominal exercises can put too much pressure on the abs and cause them to pull away from each other, leading to diastasis recti. Instead, wait until after the baby is born to start working on your core again or try our Abdominal Videos on YouTube Part One and Part Two for a safe, gentle, and effective abdominal workout. Pelvis tilts such as a gentle cat cow, believe it or not, actually help keep your core strong as well!
If you love to bend your back as much as I do, this one may be a bit more challenging for you to discontinue. If that’s the case, a gentle backbend such as supported bridge pose with a bolster may give you just what your body is craving. Much like twists and abdominal exercises, backbends can overstretch the abdominal muscles and put you at risk for diastasis.
Forward Folds and Prone Positions
As you may have noticed, folding forward and laying on the belly (prone) while pregnant can be uncomfortable as your baby grows. Think about making space for your baby by choosing a wider stance with the legs, not taking the fold as deep as you would pre-pregnancy, or even using props like blocks or bolsters.
For many women, once the second trimester starts, lying directly on the back can be uncomfortable. Many women even experience dizziness or lightheadness while laying flat on their backs in the supine position. The weight of the baby and uterus can put pressure on the vena cava, the major blood supply in the body, interfering with the flow of blood to yourself and your baby. Instead of lying flat on your back, use a block and a bolster to create a slight incline to prop yourself on.
The main issue with inversions is simply that it puts you at a risk for falling, due to the change in your center of gravity. Turning yourself upside down, even in gentler inversion poses like downward facing dog, can also cause nausea or heartburn. In the third trimester, if baby has turned into a head down position, it is best to avoid any inversions, including downward facing dog to prevent baby from coming off the cervix, out of the pelvis, and turning into a breech position. If baby is breech in the third trimester, you can try this sequence of poses to relax the muscles and create space in the uterus, which may help them turn into a head down position, at which time you would then avoid inversions again. Avoid squatting while baby is breech to try to prevent baby from getting deeper into the pelvis, making it harder for them to turn.
I know, I know, I am so sorry about this one! Women who are big into hot yoga are very disappointed to learn that they should forego their typical hot yoga classes. During pregnancy, it is best not to allow the internal body temperature to get above 101 degrees. Working out already increases the internal body temperature, but with the typical hot yoga class being heated to 95 degrees or even 105 degrees, the body temperature raises above safe levels. Not only can the increased internal body temperature cause dehydration and overheating but can also cause fetal distress and developmental issues for baby. Overheating can be serious because unlike you, baby can’t sweat to cool down. Save those hot yoga classes for after your baby has been born and you are well out of the fourth trimester if you are breastfeeding, since dehydration can cause issues with milk supply.
With all these contraindications for yoga during pregnancy, you may be wondering what poses you can do! There are still plenty of poses that can be done, such as strength poses, hip openers, shoulder openers, squats, and pranayama (breathing practices). You can also check out our YouTube Channel for some short sequences you can do while pregnant (and for postpartum). You can also schedule a private yoga session with Music City Doulas, which would be personalized and focused on what you can do, rather than what you shouldn’t be doing!
~ Ashley Stebbins, e-RYT RPYT ~
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