If you’re visibly pregnant, haven’t started showing, or are even thinking about having a baby, one thing you can guarantee is that by bringing up the subject everyone will have some advice to offer you. At least one of these people, be it your friends, your GP, a midwife or a host of semi-strangers, will suggest: “Do some yoga; it’s great for you and the baby!” You can of course dismiss this, along with those tales about the wondrous qualities of bone broth.
As the pregnancy progresses through swollen ankles, back pain, forever-entertaining night cramps, more back pain and several hours spent inspecting the inside of your toilet bowl, you might wonder if there was some merit to that particular piece of advice. After all, a quick Google search (or browse of this website) will easily tell you the wonders that yoga can work for your mind and body. Sounds brilliant! So are you already signing up for that weekly Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga or Bikram Yoga class?
Pregnancy Yoga is Just Slow Yoga, Right?
Most standard yoga classes follow a common formula:
- A dynamic warming up sequence
- A series of open twists
- Forward folds and back bends
- A standing sequence
- Supine poses
- Relaxation, done flat on your back
Unfortunately, this is not the ideal choice for a body now doing the extraordinary amount of work to support two people. Poses that stretch or put pressure on the abdominals (such as Boat Pose or Upward Facing Bow) can contribute to issues with this group of muscles later on. It is also impossible to do them when the tummy grows bigger. Supine poses reduce the blood flow to the uterus, especially in later pregnancy. Unsupported balancing poses pose a risk of falling. Even standing for extended periods of time puts unhealthy pressure on the pelvic floor.
On top of all this, pregnant mothers are prone to overstretching and injuries due to the influence of relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that has a softening effect on joints and ligaments. As you can probably sense, most standard yoga classes are wildly unsuitable for the next few months of your and your baby’s life. The good news is, there is a variety of pregnancy yoga classes on offer. Some of them flowing and gentle, some more demanding and faster-paced, but all tailored especially for you.
Top Five Benefits of Antenatal Yoga
1. Building a Community
According to my students, the best and most important benefit of pregnancy yoga is creating and becoming a part of a circle of women. Unlike other yoga classes, a pregnancy yoga class starts with a chat and a roll-call of names, weeks of pregnancy, some moaning and groaning and some laughter. Suddenly, your community is no longer a big group of strangers, and sometimes some of them become great friends that last beyond your postnatal class.
2. Mum and Baby Connection
In prenatal yoga you are encouraged to become mindful of the sensations in your body, and to send your awareness inward to meet the baby. The breath work (pranayama), movement (asana) and sound work (mantras) are centred on the new life in your belly. The most amazing thing that happens at postnatal classes is when the little infants recognize mantras or movement patterns from a few months before, when they were still in the womb!
3. Great for the Body
Antenatal yoga specifically targets pregnancy pains by using exercises that release the joints that feel the most tension. Regular practice will also make the body stronger, which is a great bonus for the postnatal months. Toned yoga arms are also a plus when your little bundle of joy becomes a substantial bundle of joy.
4. Great for the Mind
Sadly, a modern pregnancy isn’t always a walk in the park. Some of us are lucky to be able to take time off work but modern life means long hours at a computer for many, sometimes till the end of the last trimester. Deadlines and finances somehow become even more pressing when the baby is already present in our wombs. Meditation and relaxation are an important part of any yoga class and this is no different for a prenatal yoga session. Shifting the focus inward, learning how to disentangle from the daily grind and gaining some perspective from all of this can become a saving grace amongst all these things to think about.
5. Yogic Labour
Giving birth is about breathing, moving and making sounds. Antenatal yoga is about breathing, moving and making sounds. Yes, antenatal yoga can give you a perfect repertoire of tools to use while birthing your baby.
What Do I Need to Start Pregnancy Yoga?
Most studios will provide everything you need, but it’s always good to check what equipment is available. In general, you’ll need a yoga mat (the thicker the better to provide padding for the knees), a hard cushion or a yoga block (to elevate the hips) and a blanket (for relaxation). Wear loose comfortable clothing and layer up.
It’s unusual for yoga practitioners to eat during class, but mums have a wild card. If you know you get dizzy, low blood sugar, very hungry or all of the above, bring a healthy snack like a banana, a flapjack or some nuts to nibble on. Remember to stay well-hydrated.
Most yoga teachers welcome mums who have completed their first trimester into class. Yoga, or any vigorous exercise, is not recommended in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy due to the risk of miscarriage. Even if you are very fit, take it easy during this period. Have long nourishing walks in nature, do some gentle breath work and meditation, sleep a lot and send lots of love to yourself and the baby.
Once you’ve started some prenatal yoga classes, it is great to continue as long as you can into the last weeks of pregnancy. However, you should expect your yoga to become quite slow and focused by then! If you don’t have access to a specialized prenatal class in your area, ask your general yoga teacher if they know how to accommodate for you in the class.
It seems in the end, your doula, midwife, colleague from work, or beautician were right after all. Prenatal or antenatal yoga is great for you! So go ahead and have a browse for classes near you to get started. If you’re interested in any further reading, check out the Active Birth Centre, Birthlight or YogaBirth, or check out more of our articles about pregnancy yoga.