Great pregnancy exercise: Prenatal yoga

Great pregnancy exercise: Prenatal yoga

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The benefits of prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga classes are very popular, and when paired with a cardiovascular exercise (such as walking), yoga can be an ideal way for moms-to-be to stay in shape. Whether you're a newbie or a veteran, yoga can keep you limber, tone your muscles, and improve your balance and circulation during pregnancy – all with very little impact on your joints.

Yoga is also beneficial because you'll learn how to breathe deeply and consciously relax, which will be helpful as you face the physical demands of labor, birth, and new motherhood. Learning to breathe fully is actually one of the first things you'll learn in a yoga class. To use the breathing technique practiced in yoga, known as ujjayi, you take in air slowly through your nose, fill your lungs as you expand your belly, and exhale completely until your stomach compresses.

Learning to do ujjayi breathing primes you for labor and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you're in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labor progress. A regular yoga practice will help you resist the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and make it easier to relax instead.

According to a recent review of 10 research studies, prenatal yoga also lowers your chance of having pregnancy complications, your pain and stress levels, and possibly even your risk of having a baby that is small for his gestational age.

The benefits of yoga aren't limited to your pregnancy and physical well-being. "Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women and to become part of a community," says Cynthea Denise, a registered nurse and prenatal yoga instructor in Oakland, California. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.


Stay in shape, and practice important breathing techniques for labor and birth, with prenatal yoga. In these videos, we show you how to do the cat stretch and 9 more yoga poses during pregnancy.

Yoga tips for the first trimester

First, check with your provider to make sure it's okay for you to start or continue a yoga program. If you get the go-ahead, try to find an instructor trained in prenatal yoga. If that's not possible, make sure your instructor knows you're expecting, says Denise.

You probably won't have many restrictions this early in your pregnancy, but remember to follow rules of safe pregnancy exercise such as drinking lots of water before, during, and after exercising to stay hydrated.

Breathe deeply and regularly as you stretch. If you're already a pro at yoga, recognize and accept that your regular routine will require modifications as time goes on.

"Listen to your body and trust what it tells you," says Denise. If you're feeling pain or discomfort, make an adjustment or ask your instructor to recommend an alternative position.

Yoga tips for the second trimester

  • Your joints are beginning to loosen up now, so sink into yoga positions slowly and carefully.
  • Hold poses only for as long as you're comfortable.
  • Use a wedge or pillows to raise your upper body when you're lying down.
  • Be aware that your slowly expanding girth will affect your sense of balance.
  • Take your time and don't push yourself to the point of pain or exhaustion.

Yoga tips for the third trimester

You're probably feeling less graceful now that your belly is bigger, so keep these tips in mind as you continue your yoga practice:

  • Do all standing poses with your heel to the wall, or use a chair for support to avoid losing your balance and risking injury to yourself or your baby.
  • Use props such as blocks and straps to help you move through different poses with greater stability.
  • Don't hold poses for a long time: It's important to keep moving because standing still for too long slows the rate of blood flow back to the heart in some pregnant women.

Yoga safety precautions during pregnancy

As with any exercise, you need to take certain general precautions when you're pregnant.

Avoid lying on your back, especially after the first trimester. Lying on your back can put pressure on your inferior vena cava (the vein that returns blood from the legs to the heart) and reduce blood flow to your uterus. It can also make you feel dizzy and cause shortness of breath and nausea.

Use a wedge or pillows to raise your upper body when you're lying down. Or limit the time you're flat on your back to one minute, and roll over onto your side for 30 seconds between each exercise on your back.

Skip headstands and shoulder stands. "Pregnancy is not the time to start an inversion practice," says Denise. The risk of falling or feeling faint from having your head below your heart makes these poses unsafe for most pregnant women.

Skip positions that require extreme stretching of the abdominal muscles. Deep forward and back bends as well as deep twists can lead to injury. Avoid stretching moves that feel uncomfortable or cause muscle soreness.

Avoid doing yoga in hot, humid conditions. Don't take Bikram or hot yoga classes (in which the room is heated to 90 degrees or higher) because this could cause dangerous overheating, cautions Tracey Mallett, a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor in Los Angeles, California, and creator of the 3-in-1 Pregnancy Workout DVD.

Best yoga poses for pregnancy

Denise recommends the following poses, or asanas, during pregnancy:

Cobbler's or tailor's pose: This sitting pose helps open the pelvis. If you're very loose-jointed in your hips, make sure your "sit bones" are well grounded on your mat or blanket. Place pillows or rolled-up towels under your knees to avoid hyperextending your hips.

  • Sit up straight against a wall with the soles of your feet touching each other.
  • Gently press your knees down and away from each other, but don't force them apart.
  • Stay in this position for as long as you're comfortable.

Pelvic tilt or angry cat: This position helps relieve back pain, a common problem during pregnancy.

  • Get on your hands and knees, with your arms shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart. Keep your arms straight, but don't lock your elbows.
  • Tuck your buttocks under and round your back as you breathe in.
  • Relax your back into a neutral position as you breathe out.
  • Repeat at your own pace.

Squatting: Denise recommends doing a squat pose every day to relax and open the pelvis and strengthen the upper legs. As you start to feel heavier in pregnancy, rest your bottom on props such as yoga blocks or a few stacked books. Focus on relaxing and letting your breath drop deeply into your belly.

  • Stand facing the back of a chair with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed outward. Hold the back of the chair for support.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Then lower your tailbone toward the floor as though you were going to sit down on a chair. Find your balance – most of your weight should be toward your heels.
  • Hold the position for as long as it's comfortable.
  • Take a deep breath and, exhaling, push into your legs to rise to a standing position.

Side-lying position: This is a good resting pose for the end of a practice.

  • Lie on your left or right side with your head resting on your arm or a blanket.
  • Put a body pillow or blanket roll between your thighs to give your hips some support.
  • If you're in a yoga class, your instructor may guide you through some breathing exercises.

Other good poses during pregnancy: Try the standing warrior and tree postures. (Look online for examples.) These poses strengthen your joints and improve your balance. Warrior poses can also ease backache and sciatica.

How do I get started with prenatal yoga?

To find a prenatal yoga class near you, start by searching the Yoga Finder website or look online for yoga DVDs or streaming programs. You also could ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation, or check for advertisements posted at your local hospital or prenatal health clinic.

Learn more:

Watch the video: Prenatal Yoga Routine. Lara Dutta (June 2022).


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