a guide to a safe and fun practice in pregnancy
A regular yoga practice during pregnancy can be both safe and fun when you take into account some simple considerations and modifications. Before discussing a detailed breakdown of the three trimesters, take the following three main guiding principles into account for your yoga practice during pregnancy.
1. Each woman is unique and so is each pregnancy.
There is no golden standard from which to follow because women differ from each other in terms of their physical abilities, fitness levels, health conditions, genetic predispositions, lifestyle choices, diets, overall levels of energy and activity, and various ingrained beliefs of what makes them feel good or bad. On top of that, since individual pregnancies are separated by time and space, they inevitably differ from each other. Practices that worked well or were risky the first time may change in the subsequent pregnancies.
2. Awareness is key and so is your intuition.
Awareness is that ability to listen carefully and respond adequately to your body. It is an ability to tune in and make the appropriate choices required in each individual moment of time. Intuition, gut-feeling, listening to your heart, whatever you may call it, speaks of the ability to rely on the inner wisdom of the body rather than following a potentially faulty line of reasoning from the mind. Our minds tend to play tricks on us and seduce us into doing or believing things about ourselves which are not necessarily true from the standpoint of the body.
3. The highest authority is you, but considering others’ experiences may prove useful.
No matter how brilliant, intuitive, and experienced you may be, it is always good to expand on your own understandings in the process of continuous learning from the self and others. There is no limit to knowledge, and the search for it is a wonderful principle to be guided by in life, provided you don’t depart too far from common sense. Exercise your own judgment wisely and stay away from the people engaging in the kind of practices that seem too alternative, dangerous, and unsupported by the modern scientific research. If unsure, ask your doctor.
In the first trimester, the fate of your fetus is being decided: whether it stays or whether you need to try again next time. About 10 percent of women experience a termination of pregnancy during the first 12 weeks for no specific reason and without having done anything wrong per se. For this reason, you practice yoga in the first trimester at your own risk. Some women decide to quit any physical activity at this time, especially when getting pregnant was a difficult process. Other women continue their usual activities, adjusting intuitively to the levels of intensity and the times of rest.
When doing pregnancy yoga in the first semester, pay a special attention performing yoga postures on your tummy (for example the sphinx, the cobra, and the locust variations), being careful not to put too much body pressure on this area, especially if it feels tender and overly sensitive. Also, try to stay in the safe zone when performing deep backbends like camel, wheel or pigeon, not going too deep, especially when you feel too much of a stretch in the groin area. Moreover, be extra careful performing spinal twists, both standing twists such as twisted triangle, twisted side angle pose, twisted half-moon pose, and seated twists. Rather, opt for gentler versions for the upper spine and shoulder area or twisting in the more open way as opposed to the opposite side.
Some female yoga practitioners have a fear of causing a termination of pregnancy by performing jumping back and forward actions, as well as jogging. Listen carefully to your body, and do not do anything that is more intense or difficult than your usual practice.
Because the risk of termination is reduced by the end of first 12 weeks, pregnancy yoga now tends to be more fun. In your first pregnancy, the baby bump develops very slowly and you can do your usual practice, sometimes even feeling stronger than usual. If this is your second, third, etc pregnancy, you will be surprised how fast the belly shows itself compared to the previous times, making certain things impossible.
Some women find backbends very pleasant to relieve the tension in the upper spine and open the heart area, while others may not like the stretch in the tummy. However, all women at this point should avoid ab-training exercises and postures, like boat pose, crane and other arm balances. As your body makes room for the growing baby, the stomach muscles have two choices: either expand and stretch gently or be ripped apart as a result of putting too much strain on them. Separated abs are not fun and cause all kinds of chronic body tensions, pains and imbalances.
Finally, pregnancy yoga in this trimester and in general, is not a time to experiment or learn an intense advanced posture or technique. Pregnancy is not a time for progressing in your yoga practice or feeding your ambition. On the contrary, it is a time to slow down, relax and surrender to the process of transformation, allowing it to happen naturally and with minimum risk to you and your baby.
As you approach the last three months of your pregnancy, you need to slow down in your practice once again to make sure you are not putting your baby at risk of a premature birth. At this point, all inversions, arm balances, forward bends and backward bends are not necessary anymore. The third trimester is the official time for hip-openers and gentle body stretches.
Consider practicing mostly standing postures, cat-cow variations and gentle body openers. Remove any stretching routine at this time to avoid injuring yourself due to hormones that loosen up your body in preparation for the grand finale – the birth itself.
Lying on your back for final relaxation at this time may cause difficulty in breathing, nausea, dizziness, and other types of discomfort, and probably signifies the baby is pressing on your vena cava, reducing the blood return from your lower body to the heart. As a result, adopt the position of turning to one side and consider putting a pillow between your legs for extra comfort.
A gentle pranayama practice (just breathing with awareness) and meditation are especially beneficial at this point for preparing both the body and the mind for birth by making sure that you get enough oxygen despite the pressure that the big tummy puts on the ribs and the diaphragm.
When practicing pregnancy yoga this late in your pregnancy, pay special attention to your baby’s positioning, making sure that your yoga practice does not cause the baby to flip. Additionally, monitor your baby’s activity, making educated guesses about his or her well-being.
A safe prenatal yoga program can significantly benefit you during your pregnancy, throughout labor, and with birth outcomes. Choose a regular practice that suits you and always consider a modification to stay safe.
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