I believe that good health is far more than simply the absence of disease. Good health is vitality and contentment, relaxation and peace, and good health is required to fully enjoy your pregnancy and the postnatal period.
I have found one of the easiest ways to achieve good health during pregnancy is through the practice of prenatal yoga.
Prenatal yoga is aimed at developing your fluidity; by cultivating a “go with the flow” attitude to life, you can simultaneously be active while surrendering to outside influences, it offers you a wonderful opportunity to practice moving in union with your breath and body, which is so very important as a practice tool for your labour and birthing day.
This form of exercise is also valuable during the postnatal period, to tone the muscles in depth around the newly contracted uterus, reshaping the figure and restoring health and fitness. So once you have given birth, return to your mat and bring your baby to join you in post birth bonding and exercise.
Now there is a difference between an ordinary vinyasa or Hatha yoga and Prenatal yoga practice, and you can definitely practice and enjoy the benefits of both styles through your pregnancy, but today I want to share with you the benefits of prenatal yoga, and some hints and tips you can add to your own practice.
When we practice yoga, we are laying the foundations down for self care, self love and support.
Creating a routine that includes a daily yoga practice, allows you to set aside time each day to connect in with your body, your breath and yourself.
Whilst practicing yoga when you are pregnant, you begin to connect in with your baby too.
What a special experience, to be moving, and breathing in connection with this other little life.
Prenatal yoga, is slow, gentle, and easy on the body, this practice integrates the physical, emotional and spiritual. Pregnancy is always a time of intense change and personal transformation, and practicing yoga in a soothing calm environment can put your mind at ease. This form of exercise facilitates relating to your baby in the womb, and promotes powerful relaxation. It is very beneficial to your baby too, toning the foetal muscles and inducing a greater alertness long before birth.
The Full Pregnancy Cycle:
The pregnancy is divided into three trimesters,each three months long. The progress of pregnancy is monitored in weeks. A standard pregnancy is 40 weeks, however anything from 37-42 is considered normal.
I have broken down the prenatal practice hints and tips into each trimester, to make it easier to follow.
First Trimester (0-13 weeks)
Symptoms and Signs: Nausea, vomiting, tiredness, frequent urination, heightened emotions, tender breasts.
During this phase most women are learning to accept the idea that they are pregnant, and need time to adjust to this new experience. Most women will need to reduce the intensity of their asana practice, as they come to terms with the new requirements on their bodies.
It is important to leave out any postures that don’t feel good, even though you cant see any major physical changes on the outside, there are huge physical, hormonal and nervous system changes happening on the inside, and it is important not to push the body to its limits during this early stage.
Poses to avoid:
- Extreme back bending
- Closed twists
- Extreme forward bending- or any pose that compresses the blood flow to your belly
- Over breathing, or very deep breathing in the first trimester, can increase the sensation of nausea, rather slow your breathing down, and include exhaling out of the mouth.
Poses to start incorporating:
Gentle flowing movements in the hips and shoulders- as standing or holding poses for long periods of time can lead to lowered blood pressure and faintness, rather focus on slow, but continuous flowing motion.
Begin to practice an open leg/open hip standing pose- take up more space on your mat, make room in the pelvis for the changes that are happening, widen your stance for added balance and support.
My favourite poses during First Trimester included:
- Virabhadrasanas- Warrior 1, 2, 3
- Ardo Chandrasana- Half moon Posture
- Prasarita Padottanasana- wide legged forward fold
- Vrksasana – Tree Pose
- Garudasana – Eagle Pose
- Utkatasana – squat
- Baddha Konasana- Bound angle pose
- Upavistha Konasasna- Seated Angle pose
- Viparita Karani- Legs up the wall
Picture: Badda khonasa
The Second Trimester: 14 – 26 weeks
Signs and Symptoms: Most women enjoy a renewed sense of energy during this trimester; they are able to enjoy a slightly more strenuous practice, and can incorporate a stronger more energetic flow.
I thoroughly enjoyed the high intensity vinyasa practice during my second trimester, and used it as a stress releasing cardiovascular practice. – Just a cautionary note; I have been practicing and teaching yoga for many years prior to this pregnancy, and I am very much aware of my body’s strengths and limitations.
I incorporated a lot of Surya Namaska ( sun salutations) during this trimester, but I definitely needed to take regular breaks in balasana – child’s pose to regain my breath and slow down my heart rate.
My best advice for any women during her second trimester, is to focus on resting and hydrating between bursts of high intensity.
Often women start to gain weight during this trimester, with the belly and breasts starting to grow and expand.
Important to remember: The Hormone relaxin is now flowing through your body. This hormone is responsible for widening the hips and making space in the pelvic girdle for your growing baby. You may notice an increase in flexibility, a looseness or lax sensation in the hips and lower spine, and enjoy a wider range of movement.
It is very important to be mindful of your movement, not to overstretch, and to take care of your alignment to protect your joints and connective tissue.
Poses to practice, and things to remember:
- You may feel a super surge of energy- go with it, enjoy the experience, but remember to not over heat, or over exert the body.
- Its time now to modify poses that put pressure on the belly- no longer lie on the belly and start modify upward facing dog, use blocks for support, or simply practice the cat/cow stretch.
- Start to engage the abdominal muscles in all poses: the sensation is that you are hugging your baby with belly.
- Lifting up the pelvic floor, and pulling tummy muscles back to the spine, is protective, nurturing and supportive to your body and growing baby.
It is now safe to practice backward bending and inversion again
- Ustrasana -Camel supported with blocks,
- urdhva Danurasana -wheel with the support of a teacher or partner for the first few times until you feel safe and secure upside down
- Supported Handstands
- Supported Plough- feet onto blocks or bolsters
Picture: Backward Bending- creates space in the shoulders, chest, belly and hips, and offers a wonderful stretch for the spine.
This is a strong energizing pose to practice toward the end of your sequence when the body is warm and mobile.
Relaxation poses include:
- Balasana- Childs pose
- Supta Badakhonasa- supported with blocks or over bolsters
- Savasana- Upper body raised over a bolster, pillow or blocks to avoid supine Hypo-tension.
The Third Trimester: 27-40 weeks
Signs and Symptoms: Heartburn, lower back pain, Hip or sciatic nerve pain, calf cramps, water retention, general exhaustion.
Special attention must be payed to posture and spinal alignment during the third trimester, the growing belly and breasts, can often cause a pregnant woman to slouch forward, causing rounding and muscle tension in the upper back and neck.
From around 27 weeks it is best to avoid inverted poses like:
- Halasana – plough pose
- Sirsasana- headstand
Alternatives like down facing dog, viparita karani, offer the same benefits, but are far less strenuous.
- Postures lying on the back, can become uncomfortable, and restrict breathing or even cause dizziness, I found lying over a bolster, so that the upper body is higher than the lower body is far more comfortable and enjoyable.
- When practicing Pranayama ( breathing exercise) and focused relaxation or meditation, sitting onto blocks or bolsters with the back supported by a wall, is far more beneficial than lying down.
My favourite Poses to incorporate during this Trimester include:
- Goddess Squat
- Gate Pose
- Half Pigeon
- Bridge Pose- with blocks or bolsters supporting lower back and glutes
- Seated forward bends encourage the hips to externally rotate, preparing for labour and birth, and brings an easy and gentle stretch to the muscles and ligaments of the inner thighs.
Picture: Supta Baddha Konasana- Opens up the Hips, and the heart, a deeply restorative asana, and a great option for relaxation or Savasana.
I really started to enjoy a slower practice during my third trimester, and spent time in the seated poses, using pillows, bolsters, and blocks to support my growing belly.
I also started to move my practice from group classes, to the privacy of my own home.
I found it harder to keep up in a group vinyasa class, and decided that the last few weeks of my pregnancy Id spend focusing on a pure prenatal home practice; with lots of rest, breathing, and affirmations.
Important questions to ask yourself daily:
What gives you energy?
What takes your energy?
What makes you feel good about yourself? – Practice that
Some affirmations to practice during Prenatal Yoga:
- I am healthy, happy, filled with energy
- I am powerful and strong
- I allow energy to flow through me
- I am surrounded by love
- My baby and I are are in constant communication
- I am powerful
- I am peaceful
- I accept the changes in my body with love and grace
- My pelvis will open
- My muscles will strengthen
- I release all worries, and trust my body
- My birth will be a wonderful and joyful event
My reason for practicing Prenatal yoga:
The feeling of Power I have when I sit down on my mat.
I am in full control of my body; how it moves, how it breaths, and ultimately how I respond to the sensations of that movement.
It brings me back to the present moment, the place where my breath and body connect and nothing else, past or future can really affect me at that point.
I have found my yoga practice to be a salve on the days when I feel achy, tired or overly anxious, and I hope this little blog post will guide you to feel strong, confident and comfortable on your prenatal yoga journey.