The following is a conversation with OB Dr. Giovannina Anthony about the effects of prenatal yoga on pregnancy and how to practice safely in every trimester.
Oftentimes expecting mothers wonder if it is safe to practice yoga during pregnancy. My response is yes, yoga is safe to practice during pregnancy and I recommend it to virtually 100 percent of my patients. Yoga is an extremely powerful tool in pregnancy and will help to manage a wide spectrum of issues: low back pain, groin pain, anxiety, poor circulation, excessive weight gain, and poor sleep. I also believe that yoga helps prepare women mentally and physically for labor and delivery. The practice of yoga is a process, similar to the journey to motherhood. Another wonderful aspect of a regular yoga practice is its ability to help teach a pregnant woman to respect and honor that journey.
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Yoga in the First Trimester: My personal feeling is that a pregnant woman in her first trimester can practice her regular and usual form of yoga as she normally would. Women in the hot studio need to watch out for dehydration and any signs of overheating. The abdomen in the first trimester is not yet too big to inhibit certain poses, though many women in the first trimester experience extreme fatigue, and this may limit their practice. For pregnant women who are new to yoga and have not practiced previously, I would recommend starting with a Beginner’s Series. It is extremely important that a pregnant woman listens to her body. In pregnancy in general I am pro-exercise and pro-activity, but yoga in particular has great benefits in keeping the pelvis strong, keeping the back relaxed, enhancing stress management, and enhancing flexibility.
Yoga in the Second Trimester: I believe that women in the second trimester can continue to practice their usual form of yoga. Women who do hot yoga likely are transitioning to a cooler practice. Every woman’s body is different, and she will have to adjust to what is happening in her body with her yoga practice. Fatigue and nausea have generally resolved by the second trimester, and many pregnant women will feel quite normal with regards to exercise in general. The second trimester is a great time to get into a regular rhythm and schedule with a yoga practice.
Yoga in the Third Trimester: Women in the third trimester should attend prenatal classes with an instructor who is experienced in teaching prenatal yoga. If this is not possible, she should modify in regular classes as needed around her belly and avoid straining to achieve or maintain any postures. It is the third trimester where her physical presence in space is dramatically altered, and she will be forced to move in ways she is not used to. Women late in pregnancy are recruiting rarely used deep core muscles simply to walk upright and maintain posture. Prenatal yoga will help with circulation in these core muscles and achieve a more balanced posture which decreases overall musculoskeletal pain. Women in the third trimester are the most likely to injure themselves if they are overly strenuous, because the joints and connective tissue are looser and under the influence of a hormone called relaxin. This requires extra caution with regards to strain and injury to connective tissue, cartilage, and pelvic floor muscles. In the third trimester, women are very limited by the abdomen in space and certain postures will be very uncomfortable. As in all stages of pregnancy, she needs to listen to her body.
Frequently Asked Questions:
So, is yoga during pregnancy that important?
I can’t tell you how often I tell pregnant women they need to practice yoga. Yoga can alleviate virtually any physical complaint that a pregnant woman may experience. There is almost no scenario when I would tell a woman not to practice yoga — either the yoga she is accustomed to in the first or second trimester or prenatal yoga in the third trimester.
My doctor has said I am high risk, can I still practice prenatal yoga?
Every pregnancy is a different scenario. It is very hard to generalize “high risk”. The prescription of bed rest has been completely debunked by evidence-based medicine, and for this reason it is rare that activity modification is part of managing most complicated pregnancies. For women who have an issue that makes the pregnancy “high risk”, it would be unusual that prenatal yoga would endanger the mother or the baby. However, given the uniqueness of every pregnancy, every patient should listen to directions from her personal prenatal care provider.
How can yoga help me emotionally during my pregnancy? Pregnancy is a very anxious time for most women. In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, I also talk to my patients about the emotional benefits of the practice during pregnancy. I inform patients that yoga will help them relax into the pregnancy and learn to manage the anxiety that can accompany new motherhood. I believe yoga helps keep the mother centered and calm as stressful issues arise during the pregnancy. Additionally, the physical aspect of an active yoga practice helps pregnant women remain centered, strong, and empowered during a time of uncertainty and decreased mobility. I also believe yoga helps women psychologically and emotionally to transition smoothly from pregnancy to postpartum. Yoga is a practice that new mothers can bring with them, if initiated in pregnancy, through the rest of their lives as a stress manager, as a way to build physical strength, as a way to maintain flexibility, as a way to remain calm and centered, and, essentially, as a lifestyle.
I am newly pregnant and have never practiced yoga. Is it safe to begin my practice now?
I believe women can initiate yoga practice at any stage of pregnancy. I recommend that they listen to their bodies and listen to any limitations that their bodies may tell them are present. I also believe that pregnant women who are new to yoga should initiate their practice with a Beginner’s Series that starts gently and focuses on how to do the poses properly and slowly.
Do you recommend any poses during pregnancy?
Some of the most common complaints in the third trimester are hip pain, groin pain, and lower back pain. Yoga poses that increase circulation in the hip flexors, psoas, gluteus muscles, pelvic floor, and the hamstrings will help alleviate and release any kind of tension that leads to all of these types of pain. Women in the third trimester are overcompensating for their forward center of gravity by arching their shoulders and back in the opposite direction — this leads to lordosis of the spine. With persistent lordosis, many women subconsciously recruit deep, rarely used core muscles simply to move around in space, stay upright, sit, and walk. This causes tension and pain in the lower back and hips. For example, in the office, I often ask my patient to perform a seated spinal twist, just to see how it feels. In a seated spinal twist, she gently crosses her legs and turns to the left and to the right, releasing the hips and IT band. Most patients express tremendous immediate relief in this twist. I also recommend legs “up the wall” as it is a beautiful restorative pose. It brings a lot of calm to an active mind and reverses blood flow from the upper extremities into the pelvis.
Stress management and yoga:
I think stress management is a vital component to a healthy pregnancy. The usual stresses of our modern day lifestyle can be toxic to the baby and to the mom. We know that a one factor is the stress hormone cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands. When cortisol levels increase, along with its companion stress hormone norepinephrine, the pregnancy is physiologically bathed in a stressful environment. Yoga is a well known technique to help manage stress, decrease anxiety, and to decrease levels of cortisol, thus creating a much healthier environment for both the baby and the mother.
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This piece was originally posted on YogaToday, written by Clare Durkin.
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