A woman’s body shape changes throughout the entire pregnancy as the baby continuously grows. This is followed by the birth, and then breastfeeding. When you start to see your hips thicken toward the end of your first trimester, it’s a sign that your pregnancy is on track and going well. Your body needs additional support to protect the baby you are carrying and a hormonal shift causes you to put on this extra padding.
Baby bumps welcome
Most women who take this kind of class have never done yoga before, and have decided to do something nice for themselves during their pregnancy. Some very athletic women see prenatal yoga as a way to stay in shape, while the shape of their body changes. Every woman is unique and has different limitations, depending on what trimester she is in; there is no point in comparing ourselves to other yogis in these classes.
Let’s start by dispelling the myth that prenatal yoga is only for the mother. As the belly breathes, baby benefits as well. Newborn yogis, whose mothers practised yoga during pregnancy, might even be more Zen than other infants.
Ayurveda for expecting moms
According to Ayurveda, pregnancy is a time when all the cells in a woman’s body are rejuvenated. In the West, however, we tend to associate pregnancy with health problems. For nine months, the downward energy of Apana Vata, a subdosha, supports foetal development. When a pregnant woman’s doshas are in balance, Apana Vata is enough to meet the needs of both the mother and her baby. If the mother is stressed or fatigued, the upward flow of Vata, called Prana Vata, is redirected downward to prioritize the baby’s needs. With Prana Vata out of balance, instead of savouring the joys of pregnancy, expecting mothers will feel exhausted, tired, and even depressed.
Make way for baby!
Avoid doing any intense hip and lower back stretches, such as deep lunges.
Sun salutations: Rest your hands on blocks or bolsters during Uttanasana and spread your legs wide enough to make room for your belly. Keep your knees on the floor during Chaturanga.
Don’t hold your breath!
Practice Savasana on your left side.
Recommendations for practicing yoga during pregnancy
Prenatal yoga is accessible to all expecting mothers, except in the early stages of a fragile pregnancy if the couple has had trouble conceiving, or if the mother has hypertension, or when there is a risk of premature birth. Some instructors caution women not to do yoga during the first trimester due to the increased risk of miscarriage.
What are some good poses to do during pregnancy?
Expecting mothers are advised not to do yoga using a book or a DVD to make sure that they don’t attempt any positions that are bad for baby. All inversions, such as Camel or Bridge poses, are off limits, as is the case with belly-down poses, including Cobra, Locust or Bow. It is also not advisable to stay in a pose on your back for too long, especially after the first trimester. This can put excess pressure on the heart, and may cause dizziness, shortness of breath or nausea. Lastly, avoid rapid, irregular or heavy breathing.
Supporting the changes in your body
As your pregnancy progresses, your internal organs shift, your pelvis expands and the curve in your spine becomes more pronounced. Prenatal yoga helps expecting mothers cope with the changes to their bodies and alleviate some of the more common discomforts, such as heavy legs, backache, insomnia, digestion problems, nausea, lower back pain, sciatica and chest pressure.
Prenatal yoga can ease discomfort and pain and make for a smoother pregnancy. When the big day finally comes, you’ll be happy you stuck with it! Yogis tend to have a highly toned pelvis and perineum—this is even more true for pregnant women. Classes focus on labour positions, breath control and the mind, to help students stay in tune with their bodies, and their babies.
Become aware of your perineum, while increasing its strength and flexibility
Develop body awareness and learn about your physical changes as they occur
Build your mental strength and physical endurance
Strengthen your bond with your baby
Get your blood flowing and oxygen pumping to your tissues
Prevent gestational diabetes
Balance your nervous system to promote a more positive mindset
Store up endorphins, pain-killing hormones that are so crucial during labour
Develop and maintain pelvic mobility, even if it’s your first child; this prevents spinal compression and the separation of the abdominal wall as the baby gains weight
When should I start?
If you already practise yoga, you can continue your regular practice up until the beginning of the second trimester. Beginners can start prenatal yoga during the first trimester, provided their instructor is trained and aware of all necessary safety precautions.
Daily adaptations for a smoother pregnancy
There is no typical prenatal yoga class. While asanas are adapted for pregnancy, they are also based on what the students want. At the start of the class, the instructor takes some time to talk with the women to find out what they need that day, whether it’s to re-energize with more dynamic poses, or to simply relax. The instructor will also take stock of any pregnancy aches and pains, in addition to other sources of discomfort. Practising with a midwife or a specially trained instructor will ensure that your practice is safe.
Getting in touch with your body to prepare for labour and delivery
As a woman nears the end of her pregnancy, it is helpful for her to pay special attention to her pelvis and perineum. The softening of various muscle chains helps maintain mobility, which is important for the progression of labour and for pain management. Prenatal yoga helps expecting mothers naturally find positions that will ease their discomfort at the various stages of labour, and breathing techniques that serve to maintain their calm during intense contractions.
How often should I practice yoga?
Pregnant women are advised to practice prenatal yoga at least once a week, and twice a week during their final month of pregnancy.
How far into my pregnancy can I practise yoga?
You can continue practising right to the end, provided the pregnancy is going well.
A few tips:
Adapt your poses with cushions and chairs, or by pressing your back against a wall to help with balance.
Don’t force anything. Stay within your limits for each day.
Stay hydrated by taking small sips of water before, during, and after class.
Birth and baby
When the big day finally arrives, the benefits of increased energy and relaxation prove very useful. They make it possible to labour and remain comfortable, to find the strength to get through contractions, and to take breaks to recuperate. The breath work we do alleviates the contractions, and the softening and stretching of the tendons makes for a less painful experience as the pelvis opens.
Post-natal yoga will help you:
Restore your energy
Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well and keeping physically active
Regain physical and emotional balance in your new day-to-day life
Cope with your emotions and stay calm and peaceful; yoga becomes your best ally in handling the drop in hormones that occurs after birth and can cause the baby blues, in learning to deal with fatigue and a life turned upside down, and in taking back control of your body
Enjoy the precious first few weeks with your baby
And the baby?
During a prenatal yoga class, the baby is rocked and massaged by the mother’s pelvic movements and breathing exercises. The Indian tradition also teaches that the joy that yoga postures evoke in the body are passed on to the foetus, leaving a deep, beneficial imprint on the baby’s life. This is called a Samskara. In our society, we are not connected to our bodies in the way we need to be during pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time when your animal instincts take over and you must let your body be your guide. “It’s the very essence of yoga to create order in organic movement, and to regulate the hormone cycle. Precise movements of each body part, especially the belly, are combined with physical exercise, greatly improving the mother’s comfort, and, in turn, that of the foetus.” Corine Biria, from the Iyengar Yoga Centre in Paris.
No one can tell you are pregnant by looking at you, but your body is rapidly undergoing some significant internal changes. The baby has begun to nestle in your uterus, growing from a tiny embryonic cell into a foetus. This is a good time for meditation, Pranayama and restorative postures. Higher hormone levels may cause nausea, fatigue and sore breasts. You may also experience emotional hypersensitivity and heightened senses. In your yoga class, you can expect slow movements, soft poses and ample relaxation.
You feel more energetic, without the awkwardness of your growing belly. Nausea and fatigue subside. At this stage, you will mostly be doing standing and hip-opening squat poses. These will help you build your endurance, strengthen your thighs and release the pelvic and perineal area. Around the fourth month, all symptoms will be less pronounced, leaving you more stable, but also more tired. As the baby starts to move more, your connection with one another will grow stronger. By the fifth and sixth months, the uterus expands, compressing the stomach and the diaphragm and resulting in reduced appetite and breathlessness.
You are in the home stretch. Now is the time to really prepare to give birth. Conserve your energy, choose yoga poses that aid with recovery, meditate, visualize, and think positively. You will feel each kick and react by adjusting how you move your body. In the eighth and ninth month, your baby is getting heavier and will drop down to rest on the cervix, tugging on the groin and putting pressure on the bladder, which will make you need to urinate more frequently. During this time, you will work on relaxation and breathing techniques that free up more space for the baby and prepare you both for birth.
Poses providing relief:
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Standing Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana: against a wall with feet turned inward).
Wide-knee Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Four-footed Pose (Dvi Pada Pitham)
Breathing: strengthen your bond with your baby
Candle, lie on the ground, legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)
Reclined Butterfly (Supta Badha Konasana)
Six prenatal poses
1/ Get ready for the big day: Reclined Butterfly
On your back, bend your knees like a butterfly, placing the bottoms of your feet together and pressing your knees toward the ground, without forcing them. Spread your arms on either side of your body, and breathe slowly and deeply.
2/ Improve circulation: Cat Pose
Come to all fours, round your back, and then slowly release your belly downward and lift your head. Repeat the sequence several times.
3/ Release the spine: Child’s Pose
On your knees, lower your bottom onto your feet. Spread your legs and lengthen the front of your body with your arms extended, then slide toward the front of the mat to stretch out your back. If this puts too much strain on your groin muscles, slide a cushion under your belly.
4/ Relax the ribcage: Lateral Stretch
Sitting on the ground, bend one leg and stretch the other one forward. Repeat on the opposite side. Lift the arm opposite your outstretched leg, and stretch the arm over your head.
5/ Strengthen your spine: Half Bridge
Lying down on the floor, bend your legs, extend your arms down the mat, lift your pelvis, and hold the position. Then lower your spine to the floor, one vertebra at a time.
6/ Relax: Savasana
This is a simple pose. Lie on your left side, breathe deeply and slowly check in with each part of your body as you release any tension.
Lower to all fours, with your knees under your hips and your wrists in line with your shoulders. With each inhale, slowly lift your gaze and coccyx, moving your belly down toward the mat. With each exhale, pull in your chin and your pelvic floor, rounding the spine.
Stand with your hands in prayer position, inhale and lift your hands toward the sky. Exhale as you stretch your arms out and bend the waist to 90 degrees. Inhale and exhale, rolling each vertebra back up to standing.
Spread your legs about a metre apart and lift your arms parallel to the floor, palms down. Keeping your back leg straight, push toward the front and bend the other leg. Stretch your arms and hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
With a block against your front foot, slowly draw your chest forward. Place your hand firmly on the block and reach the other hand toward the sky. Repeat the sequence on the other side.
On your knees, spread your legs apart and lower your chest to the ground. Place your arms on either side of your body or extend them in front of you on the floor. It is normal if your sit bones do not reach your heels.
Using everything you need to be comfortable, lie down on your left side with a bolster to support your head and the baby.
Pregnant women can now learn to use an aerial hammock, which will help them gently build their muscles.
The aerial hammock hangs lower than aerial circus fabric, which is suspended at eight meters, and is cut from a very stretchy elastic cloth. It allows you to move smoothly while supported in the air. Developed with a physical therapist specialized in perinatal care, these yoga classes focus on deep muscular and postural work and creating a sense of lightness in the lumbar spine. Hang out, stretch your body and free your pelvis!
Sources: lexpress.fr, huffingtonpost.ca, elle.fr, Passportsante.net, Biba magazine, pstprevention.com, journaldesfemmes.com, badyogi.com, etreenceinte.com, yogapariscentre.fr
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Prenatal yoga teacher training
Mother-baby yoga teacher training
Equilibrium Yoga (Montreal)
Continuing teacher training in prenatal yoga and mama-baby yoga with Durga (Marie-Hélène Tapin)
Prenatal yoga with Amanda DeGrace from Little Lotus Yoga
Happy Tree Yoga
Prenatal yoga teacher training
Metta studio de yoga
Yoga for Pregnancy, by Rosalind Widdowson, Creative Pub Intl., 2001.
Exercises for childbirth, by Barbara Dale and Johanna Roeber Frances Lincoln, 1991.
Prenatal Yoga for Conception, Pregnancy and Birth by Doriel Hall and Françoise Barbira Freedman, Anness, 2003.
Bien-être et maternité, by Dr. de Gasquet
Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood, by Geeta S. Iyengar, Rita Keller, and Derstin Khattab.
Last modified: October 29, 2018