Pregnancy is a really beautiful time and practicing yoga during pregnancy can offer a really special tool to connect the mother to her unborn child, as well as prepare her for labour and beyond. Of course, during this incredible period of creating new life, a mother goes through a huge amount of change in both the physical and emotional bodies, and so a regular practice of yoga can help to keep her grounded and connected to her sense of self as her role begins to change and she embarks on her journey into motherhood. The benefits of yoga outside of pregnancy are mirrored and magnified during this precious time, and on a physical level, yoga during can also offer relief for many of the common ailments experienced during pregnancy, as well as offer a mental and spiritual practice to support our wellbeing holistically.
There are various and countless guidelines when it comes to practicing yoga during pregnancy, so I will preface this with one thing: The key thing to remember is that, just as every individual is different, every pregnancy is different too, so always seek advice from a medical professional who knows your pregnancy before embarking on anything new. And trust your intuition. We tend to forget how much wisdom we have within us - but we really do know so much more than we give ourselves credit for, so listen to that by getting quiet and away from distractions.
The first 12 weeks are a very sensitive time during pregnancy, so it’s not the most sensible time to dive into something totally new. However, those with a regular practice may choose to continue that during this time, making appropriate modifications. This particularly applies to the physical side of the practice. Breath practices are welcome to be introduced at any point, as goes for other tools to help you slow down and get more present at this time.
During pregnancy, the heart works up to 50% harder in response to a significant increase in blood volume. As a result, body temperature can rise and blood pressure can fall. In addition to this, later in pregnancy the breathing rate at rest increases as the shift in the internal organs means the diaphragm can’t move up and down so easily. Therefore it becomes more important to take regular rest during the practice to prevent fainting, light-headedness and breathlessness.
At this time, the level of the hormone relaxing increases in the body, meaning that there is greater risk of overstretching and causing injury in the body. Everything is shifting to accommodate your growing baby and prepare the body for birth. The curves of the spine alter too and as a result of the changing weight and position of the baby, the lower back can become under pressure. So there is a lot of benefit of strengthening certain parts of the body as well as gentle stretching to create space.
One of the key guidelines in a physical practice is to make space for your baby. When twisting, you want to avoid twisting across the bump and instead opt for an open twist.
Another place to find balance is with the pelvic floor. While strengthening is important, the pelvic floor also needs to release in order to support birthing the child. In a traditional practice of yoga, practitioners are encouraged to engage mulabandha (pelvic floor) throughout the practice. While some recommendations suggest continuing this practice, I have been trained to understand that this has the potential to interfere with second stage labour and, therefore, needs to be adjusted during pregnancy.
There are many other guidelines that will support the practice of yoga during pregnancy. It is always best to seek individual guidance where possible.