The benefits of yoga during pregnancy
The benefits of yoga during pregnancy
To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman and distressingly inhabited. Soul and spirit are stretched – along with body – making pregnancy a time of transition, growth and profound beginnings. (Buchanan and Kingsporn, The Quickening Heart).
Pregnancy is probably the best and the hardest thing a woman will ever go through. For a lot of women, it can be wonderful and relatively easy. For others, every fibre in their body seems to protest. I was blessed with straightforward and easy pregnancies, but having 3 babies in as many years certainly put my body (and soul!) to the test. I remember achy joints, leg cramps and a strange sensation of my brain not really taking on my new body shape with a result that I was forever walking into doorframes!
Yoga Guru, Darren Bloom gives his advice and some simple exercises to help support you through each chapter of this amazing journey.
Pregnancy is a time of great change for women. What are the main physical changes and what are they due to?
D: There are many normal physical changes affecting the body’s major systems– all necessary to assist the baby’s development and prepare the mother’s body for labour. These range from muscular-skeletal to cardiovascular and hormonal. You might feel symptoms such as sickness, dizziness, weakness, tiredness or heaviness.
Can you talk us through some of the main changes trimester-by-trimester?
D: The first trimester is a time of ‘invisible’, profound changes. Outwardly there may be little to show for being pregnant, but hormones are already triggering the body to begin nourishing the baby. Most women will experience some nausea and fatigue during these early weeks of pregnancy.
During the second trimester, the abdomen begins to expand and the ligaments that support the uterus are stretched – by the end of the trimester, the uterus will be near the rib cage. To compensate for this ‘extra load’ the pelvis will tilt and the lower back will arch to maintain balance and stability. Falls in pregnant women are at a similar rate to women over the age of 70 years with most of the falls happening during this second trimester. Pressure is increased in the inferior vena cava (large vein that returns blood to the heart) because it is partially compressed by the growing size of the uterus. The increased production of the hormone relaxin causes a laxity in the soft tissues, cartilage and ligaments – vital to allow the body to accommodate and birth its growing load, but the cause of many pregnancy ‘nasties’ such as sciatica and pelvic girdle pain.
The third trimester can be the most physically and emotionally challenging due to the baby’s size and position and the impending labour and delivery. It can be so difficult for mum to get comfortable enough to sleep or relax.
How can Yoga be helpful in pregnancy?
D: Yoga can support both your body and your baby during pregnancy – it helps you breathe; and relaxes and calms the mind and body – all of which help you adjust to and cope with the physical demands of pregnancy and labour. Yoga also helps with body awareness, stability, balance and recuperation.
What if you have never done Yoga before?
D: As with any exercise while you are pregnant it is important to discuss with your midwife or Doctor before starting anything new - but there are very few contraindications.
Could you share some simple poses/exercises for each trimester with Mumazine mummies?
D: I have listed three poses here which can be practised in all trimesters. It is advisable to seek the advice of a qualified teacher who has experience in teaching pregnant women so that a dedicated programme can be implemented to suit your needs.
Baddha Konasana – Bound angle pose
Soothes back pain, strengthens the muscles of the pelvic region and lower back, gives freedom to the pelvic floor muscles
1) Sit on the floor (on height if necessary for example a blanket), legs outstretched.
2) Bend both legs at the knees and bring your feet towards your groin.
3) Place the soles and heels together bringing the heels towards your perineum.
4) Keep the back straight. You can use a belt to hold your feet if you cannot reach them to help keep you upright.
5) The groin should release to allow the knees to descend towards the floor.
6) Use support under the knees/shins if the posture feels painful. If the knees are high above the hips sit on more support so the inner thighs can extend towards the knees.
Upavishtha Konasana – Seated wide-angle pose
1) Sit on a folded blanket and take your legs as wide apart as possible.
2) Keep the knees and toes upright
3) Keep the legs straight and press them down and raise your waist and sides up.
4) Keep your palms on the floor beside your hips. Push the shoulder blades into your back to open your chest. Lift the chest to create space between your diaphragm and lower abdomen.
Both Baddha Konasana and Upavishtha Konasana help to tone the muscles of the pelvis readying it for delivery. They help build up tolerance to pain, and maintain the required suppleness to bear the strain.
Virasana – Hero Pose
Swelling in the legs can cause considerable pain along with varicose veins. Regular practice of Virasana prevents and relieves pain and swelling in the legs, counteracts fatigue and helps regulate mood.
1) Kneel on the floor, keeping your knees together as much as possible.
2) Spread your feet, slightly wider than hip width apart, and turn them so that the soles face the ceiling. Keep your toes and feet in a straight line, extending backward.
3) Sit down between your feet.
4) Place the palms of your hands on the soles of your feet, roll the shoulders back keeping the shoulder blades into the chest.
5) Keep your chest expanded and your neck erect looking straight ahead staying in the position for as long as possible.
If sitting on the floor is too painful for your legs then sit on some height. If you suffer with stiff ankles you may have to rest your feet over the edge of a platform of blankets.
Can any of these be used to support labour?
D: Baddha Konasana and Upavishtha Konasana can be used to support the first stage of labour (start of contractions and opening of the cervix). Keeping the arms above the head holding ropes or a bar to create even more space for baby and contractions also helps at this stage.
Also, try sitting in a squatting position during the second stage, perhaps having your partner support you from behind, using breathing techniques to help push the baby towards the cervix. After a deep inhalation, put you head down, close your eyes and slowly but steadily push and guide the baby down the birth canal to the pelvic floor with concentrated exhalations.
Yoga can support you through all the major changes of pregnancy and with the labouring process…and is a wonderful gift to share with your child as she grows!