When they hear the word ‘yoga’, the mental image that comes to mind for many people is one of a skinny man in a turban with his feet on top of his head. The extreme body contortions that most people associate with yoga, then, are probably the furthest thing from most expectant moms’ minds. Does that mean that yoga is out of the question for pregnant women? Definitely not! The good news is that women can continue to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of pre-natal yoga exercises well into a pregnancy if a few precautions and guidelines about particularly appropriate postures are kept in mind.
Inversions (where the head remains down and the body is inverted) are beneficial in the first trimester of pregnancy and after giving birth. In early pregnancy, they are particularly good for women who are prone to miscarriages; after childbirth, they improve circulation and hormone flow, lubricate the reproductive system and help prevent water retention.
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The ‘cat and cow’
This exercise helps you become more supple, at the same time strengthening your abs. To do the ‘cat and cow’, get down on all fours with your hands and knees beneath your shoulders and hips respectively. Breathe in, push your pelvis down, and look up at the ceiling. When you breathe out, round your back and tuck your navel in.
The ‘child’s pose’
This exercise helps open up your chest and pelvis. Go down on all fours, with knees a little wider than your hips. Slowly and gently rest your bottom between your heels, then rest your forehead on the floor with your arms out in front or at your sides.
The ‘pelvic tilt’
This exercise helps strengthen your abdomen, lower back, and buttocks. Lie down, then bend your knees. As you inhale, tilt your pelvis and pubic bone upward; breath out, bringing the pelvis back to the starting position. Women in the second trimester of pregnancy should do this standing up against a wall.
The ‘chest expansion’
This exercise is designed to strengthen, stretch and open up your chest and upper back. Sit cross-legged, with your shoulders back and your spine straight. Hold one part of a yoga strap in each hand, with your arms wider than your shoulders. Lift your arms back and behind your head until you feel a stretch. Breathe in and out three times.
This helps open your hip and groin region and is great for relieving backaches, always a handy thing during pregnancy. Take a pillow and lay it lengthwise behind you. Lower yourself onto it, with your head resting at the top. Stretch your body out. Women more than three months pregnant can do this sitting up.
What Precautions Should I take?
Avoid pre-natal yoga exercises that stretch your body too strenuously, particularly your abdominal muscles. Keep in mind that you’re more likely to injure yourself while pregnant; the hormone relaxin, which helps the uterus expand, affects all connective tissue in the body.
Always listen to your body; if a particular pose causes discomfort, alter it or stop doing it. Adapt the prenatal yoga exercises to suit your body as it changes throughout your pregnancy.
It’s VERY important not to compress your abdomen. If you need to bend forward while you’re sitting, place a towel or strap around your feet and hold each end. Then bend from the hips and lift your chest. When you do prenatal yoga exercises that involve twisting, you need to twist more from the shoulders and back; this will avoid putting pressure on your abdomen.
If you know what you’re doing, and how to avoid injury, prenatal yoga exercises can be extremely beneficial to you while pregnant. By adapting the poses to suit, you can continue to enjoy the physical, mental and spiritual benefits yoga has to offer. It’s simply a case of knowing which prenatal yoga exercises are the best ones to do and being aware of your own limits. Keep these in mind and you and your baby will be better off for it.