Yoga Pregnancy is always a topic that raises questions. Should I do yoga while pregnant, is it safe, how long into term can I do it and what poses are ok to do?
This image I am sharing with you is NOT intended for self-comparison whether you are currently, have ever been, or never intend to be pregnant. Simply, this is my experience that I hope may benefit you in some way.
A yoga teacher for over 15 years and pregnant for 8 months when I took this picture, this is my first embodied experience with pregnancy. I have taught yoga to and done body work on many pregnant ladies, and what I have witnessed most often are complaints of shortness of breath, back pain, edema, slow post partum recovery, and lack of abdominal contraction post delivery. Having now lived the journey first hand, I would like to share with you what I have learned. With that said, it is overwhelmingly important to trust one’s instinct, and practice what feels right.
Every body is unique and must be approached as such. Some woman have short torsos, therefore may have more heartburn or difficulty breathing earlier in their pregnancy. Other women have a great deal of elastin in their connective tissue and need more joint stabilization to carry the weight of the baby pain-free.
Prenatal shortness of breath is a result of an increase in the hormone progesterone to allow for greater lung capacity and to breathe more often for oxygen to be carried to the baby. As the baby increases in size, it will begin to push on the diaphragm, which may also cause shortness of breath. Our individual body shapes may contribute to how we breathe. If you carry your child high, the diaphragm will be compromised more so than if you carry low. I believe that the more malleable the diaphragm is BEFORE pregnancy, the better off your breath will be during pregnancy.
To stretch a diaphragm, practice uddiyana bandha: an abdominal lock created on exhale by a hollowing out of the abdominal cavity. Not only will it stretch the diaphragm allowing for greater breath capacity, it also tones the internal digestive organs and increases the power of the core. Please note that this is NOT a pregnancy exercise! This is work to be done BEFORE you are actually pregnant. You should never withhold breath while pregnant, as it would keep breath from your baby. The work one does before pregnancy is vital to 9 months of carrying as well as to ones recovery process.
TO AB OR NOT TO AB?
The disclaimer for abdominal work and pregnancy is that if you are high-risk, the first trimester may not be the time for you to push your abdominal exercises to their limit. In addition, the state of a women’s body before pregnancy has imperative value in deciding their prenatal workout. That said, I think the biggest crime passed down from doctors and teachers is telling their pregnant patients and students not to do abdominal exercises. As the belly grows and carries more weight, it pulls on the back musculature and spinal bones.
Of the many abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominus are the most superficial layer, the popularly named “6 pack.” These are five pairs of muscles that run vertically over the abdomen separated by a sheath of connective tissue known as the linea alba. The rectus abdominus are responsible for postural support as well as flexing the lumbar spine. This is the set of muscles most at risk for diastasis (tearing of the abdominal wall) and excessive strengthening should be avoided as it needs to stretch to accommodate baby. Still, it is valuable to have strength in the rectus in order to sit up from a chair relatively easily as well as be able to pick up your baby pain free, post birth.
My favorite abdominals to engage while pregnant are the oblique muscles. These diagonally crossing muscles essentially hug the baby like arms around your belly. The stronger their support, the less force of pull you will experience on your spine. My prefered oblique exercises are the revolved abdominal series as well as side plank. I was able to be on my back throughout my pregnancy and did these exercises all the way up until delivery. I am also happy to report that I had no back pain during any of my 9 months!
Lastly, there are the transverse abdominals. These run horizontally just beneath the internal oblique muscles from the hips to the ribs, even connecting to the diaphragm – like a girdle around your middle. They are responsible for providing pelvic and lower back stability as well as assist in pushing during delivery. If targeted during pregnancy as well as after, the transverse abs will support the return to your pre-pregnant belly. I do not wish to perpetuate the obsession with a “flat belly” 2 weeks post delivery as Hollywood encourages; instead I promote retaining stability and strength throughout one of the most physical transitions a mother will experience.
Edema is most often present during the third trimester and manifests as swelling in the ankles, legs, and hands as a result of an increase in fluid that collects in the tissue. It is also due to the growing uterus putting pressure on the vena cava (the vein that pumps the blood from the lower extremities back to the heart) that slows the return rate of blood causing it to pool. This is why pregnant women are encouraged to lay on their left side. Note that constant pressure on the left hip while attempting to avoid edema may result in hip joint pain from the imbalanced weight distribution. This requires pelvic and hip work such as the pelvic primer series to keep the pelvis in alignment. Not to mention the necessity for open hips during the labor process!
Inversions can also help reduce edema, though it is unknown what actually occurs to the blood and oxygen supply of a fetus while a mother is inverting. I have yet to hear of a women miscarrying due to inversions and have met many women who have chosen to invert while pregnant. I have also worked with many women who experience dizziness while inverting, an obvious sign that it is not meant for them. From the picture you can tell that for me, it worked. I loved being upside down with my daughter as well as learning how to use my abdominals to balance the new weight distribution.
I would not recommend beginning an inversion practice while pregnant, but if you have been upside-down pre-pregnancy, you are more likely to know if it feels appropriate. There are many more mild inversions than handstand, like viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) to alleviate leg and ankle swelling.
Along with stretching the legs frequently, walking is probably the best tactic for avoiding edema. On average I walked 4 miles a day up to my 9th month and was lucky to never experience swelling.
The state of a woman’s body pre-pregnancy has as much to do with hormone rebalance, uterus contraction, and the general return to pre-pregnancy conditions as genetics and discipline. As I write this I am just 2 months in to my own healing. I whole-heartedly believe that my recovery time has been aided by my physical discipline throughout my pregnancy. I must admit that I am quite stubborn in nature (an attribute gifted to me by my grandmother who is currently two weeks shy of 105 and played tennis well into her 90s) and my natural tendency was to immediately move my body again.
Post pregnancy, the body will continue to bleed when you have overexerted yourself, a tell tale sign of how to address your own healing process. There is also a huge difference between vaginal and cesarean birth recovery, the latter taking much longer.
There is still much left to be desired for our societies expectations of women and their individual physical/emotional/hormonal journey into motherhood. I often feel that eyes are especially upon me to see “How does the Yoga Chick look now?” What is most important is my physical and emotional ability to be present for my daughter which involves a constant negotiation between sleep, working out, and eating well. Some days I get the combination right, others end with ice cream. When I am able to make space for my yoga and other exercise, I feel the most balanced and able to be the mother I wish to be. This is also the most important time to listen to your intuition, and ask for support.
Along with Yoga Tune Up® exercises, you may want to schedule pregnancy massages and/or invest in a cheaper option, Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls. You can roll your own back, leg, and shoulder pain away any time of day or night!
Watch our Free Hip Fix Video.
Read about abdominal exercises for pregnant women.
Leg cramps during pregnancy? – Read about it here.