Yoga during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of extraordinary change, as your body completes the miraculous task of creation and prepares for the birth of your baby. It can also be a challenging time, both physically and emotionally, as hormones fluctuate and your lifestyle changes in preparation for parenthood.
Yoga can empower you to manage these physical and emotional changes with grace and ease. An ancient and holistic system, which incorporates gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, breathing, relaxation and meditation, the practice of yoga during pregnancy will help you and your baby to be healthy and strong.
Prenatal yoga is practised slowly and consciously, making it an ideal form of exercise during pregnancy. Most movements are combined with breath awareness, which helps to maximise oxygen uptake in the body, which is so important for your developing baby. The exercises are gentle, yet effective.
Yoga tones muscles without straining them, improves circulation and alleviates fatigue. This has been shown to reduce labour times and the possibility of medical intervention. Studies have also shown that yoga can help to lower blood pressure in pregnancy by calming the nervous system and reducing the effects of stress.
Yoga can ease many of the physical symptoms of pregnancy:
1. Back ache, pelvic pain: your changing weight and shape places extra demands on the legs, lower back and pelvic floor muscles. From 20 weeks, pregnancy hormones are rising dramatically, including the hormone relaxin. This hormone causes the ligaments of the pelvis to loosen, allowing for the ‘swinging back’ of the sacrum during labour.
This loosening causes instability in the pelvis, which can result in back ache and pelvic pain. Prenatal yoga strengthens the legs, back and pelvic floor muscles, helping to prevent this pregnancy-related discomfort. Safe core strengthening exercises also help to support the low back.
2. Tiredness, sleep problems: The relaxation and breathing aspects of yoga can help you to cope with tiredness and promote better sleep.
3. Calf cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome, restless leg syndrome: Yoga stretching and strengthening exercises for the legs, feet, ankles and wrists will help to ease and prevent these problems.
4. Diabetes, high blood pressure: Studies have shown that yoga and mindfulness meditation can be effective in reducing stress, blood pressure and related complications during pregnancy as well as improving foetal outcomes.
5. Weight gain: Yoga exercises help to prevent rapid weight gain, not simply because you are burning calories as you exercise but by helping you to develop body awareness and encouraging you to make healthier food choices. Yoga will also improve muscle tone and help you to get back in shape after the birth.
6. Varicose veins: Yoga improves circulation, thereby reducing the likelihood of varicose veins appearing. If this problem has already developed, yoga offers specific poses designed to elevate the legs safely, supported by props. This can alleviate discomfort and reduce swelling.
7. Frequent urination: Pelvic floor exercises can help to improve bladder control. Avoiding caffeine will also reduce your need to use the bathroom.
8. Nausea and heartburn: Prenatal yoga postures open and lengthen the front of the body, creating more space for digestion. Yoga’s sister science, ayurveda, recommends fresh ginger tea as an excellent remedy for nausea during pregnancy.
9. Constipation: Gentle squatting and twisting poses in yoga help to improve the tone of the pelvic and abdominal muscles and facilitate digestive transit.
10. Breathlessness: Yoga focuses on creating space in the torso to facilitate your growing baby and allow more room for the lungs.
11. Birthing: Pelvic floor exercises increase the strength and tone of the pelvic floor. This can make birthing easier and helps muscles and tissues to heal more quickly afterwards.
It’s never too late
Whether you’re a couch potato or a gym bunny, yoga can help you to find strength and ease in your body at this exciting time. It is never too late to start yoga in pregnancy. You will feel the benefits after just one class so even if you’re in your final weeks, it’s worth taking part in a class. You can continue doing yoga right up to your due date if this feels comfortable.
If you are unsure about when to start or stop yoga, make sure to ask your doctor or midwife.