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Pregnancy, Yoga & Ashtanga Yoga






Is yoga safe during pregnancy?


Yes. Yoga is safe to practise during pregnancy and it can have a number of health benefits. Yoga can help prepare you for the physical demands of pregnancy, labour and motherhood. Creating a good yoga routine can also lead to physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing throughout the pregnancy and help you to connect with your body and your baby.



  • Yoga can help you to stay calm during pregnancy and through labour due to breathing techniques (Ujjai breath) and relaxation.


  • It can help you to maintain strength, mobility and flexibility.


  • Reduce pain: This low impact practice means there is less strain on the joints and back.


  • Improve quality of sleep as the calming affect can help support balanced sleep





What are the health benefits of yoga?

The 5 physiological health benefits


1. Lowering blood pressure

Studies have shown that yoga reduces an expecting mothers heart rate and blood pressure more than cardiovascular exercises such as walking.



2. Reducing the risk of pregnancy related complications

Studies have found that yoga can reduce your stress levels and in turn reduce your risk of a misscarriage and premature birth. This is because yoga includes a combination of breathwork techniques, meditation techniques as well as supportive poses encouraging relaxation and has been linked to reduce levels of depression in expecting mothers, as well as postnatal mothers.


3. Weight management

Yoga can help manage your weight since it is a physical activity and as such, requires more energy expenditure. Also since it encourages more body awareness through meditation it can encourage more mindful eating (listening to what foods your body needs rather than mindless eating or overeating).


4. Encourage ease of delivery

The breathing and meditation techniques you learn in yoga can help keep you calm and focused during labour. Which, in turn, can reduce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to be released. When these stress hormones are released Oxytocin (the hormone that helps to progress labour) are also reduced leading to less contractions and overall more pain.


5. Help you find a community of other mothers

Practising yoga with other like minded expecting mothers can be a positive community experience and allow you to share knowledge or experiences with others of being pregnant. Perhaps even making some friends who you can organise play dates with once the baby has arrived and bond over the next exciting chapter in your life.






Is yoga safe during the first trimester?


Yes, yoga is safe during the first trimester as long as you take precautions, modify as needed, listen to your body and avoid certain poses (asanas) altogether, if you feel any pain or discomfort at any point to stop. It is also advised to check with a healthcare professional before starting a new routine and practice.




What poses can I do?


Standing poses in particular such as crescent lunge, warriors one, two and three, triangle pose and side lunge as well as balancing poses are fine to practise.


It is recommended to practise a restorative variation of yoga for the first trimester as this is when you are most at risk of miscarriage. During the first three months of your pregnancy the foetus is being implanted and the placenta tissues are being created. This fragile stage of development means extra care when practising yoga,so be cautious of any high intensity Vinyasa flow classes or any energetic jump backs in styles such as Ashtanga.




Which types of yoga are best when pregnant?


There are so many varieties of yoga to choose from it can feel daunting when you first start to choose. The most obvious option is to join a prenatal yoga class as the teacher will have specialised knowledge surrounding yoga and pregnancy and what modifications to make.


However, perhaps you are already an experienced yogi and want to know more about specific styles of yoga and their safety.



What yoga should be avoided during pregnancy?


Hot yoga or Bikram yoga should be avoided to reduce the risk of overheating. Other forms of yoga can be more easily modified or adapted



Which yoga poses to avoid or modify when pregnant


Standing poses

These are safe to practise but you may have lower blood pressure during the first trimester leading to feeling faint or dizzy. It is advised to stand near a wall for support if you experience any dizziness. Poses to try include eagle, warrior 3 and tree pose.


Twisting

Be mindful with lower back twisting to avoid compression of the belly

Avoiding any lower spinal twists, But encouraging more upper spine and shoulder twists.

Open seated twists are ideal in the first trimester as they can help to relieve back pain.


Hip openers

Seated and standing are beneficial as they create space and flexibility needed for labour. Be mindful though if your hips are already quite open not to over stretch as this can lead to injury.

As you go through your pregnancy, pregnancy hormones soften and lengthen the body's connective tissues such as the ligaments and cartilage. Especially in the hip joint which if the hips are already quite open can lead to over stretching and injury .


Forward folding

Don't allow yourself to fold completely at the waist as this can compress the stomach

Instead, during standing forward fold keep the head and spine more lifted with either hands on the waist, the thighs or on the head

When in a seated forward fold use bolsters or blocks to keep head higher or bring your arms over the bolster and hug it to yourself.


Backbends

Avoid intense back bends such as drop backs and wheels. Instead try a gentle bridge, maybe using a block under the sacrum to reduce extra strain on your abdominal muscles


Inversions

Inversions such as downward dog, child's pose, wide step forward fold and dolphin pose are ok to practise. Be mindful of more difficult inversions such as headstands and handstands, these are fine to practise depending on your experience. It is advised to seek support and advice from a qualified teacher if you are new to these.


It is advised to hold inversions for no more that five breaths though when practising and to avoid inversions where your feet are over your head such as Halasana (plough pose) as this can cause compression of the abdomen.


Abdominal strength

Gentle abdominal exercises such as cat-cows, opposite arm and leg extension and modified plank are fine but avoid poses that put extra strain on the abdominal muscles such as Nirvasana (boat pose) or jump throughs. As you progress through your pregnancy the abdominal muscles stretch to allow for the growth of the baby, this stretching can lead to the abdominal muscles being more fragile and weak. Gentle core exercises are recommended to increase stability of the core.



Can you do Ashtanga when pregnant?


The answer is yes, but it is advised to speak to a health care professional and a qualified yoga teacher before starting any new practice or continuing your previous practice, Especially If you have been practising for less than a year.


Like other yoga styles this is ok, but you would need to make modifications such as no jump throughs or be mindful of abdominal twists.


Why Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?


Ashtanga helps the mind to be more clear, the body more strong and flexible and encourages focus. A lot of vinyasa flow, and other modern forms of yoga are based upon the primary series within Ashtanga, but Ashtanga is a set structure of poses that a student progresses through.


Some may not enjoy the set structure but as my ashtanga teacher once phrased it to me the beautiful part about the practice is that it never changes but you yourself change within the practice each time.


Each day can be different and as you progress you see the benefit of the physical and spiritual body change within. It is a practice that is thought top help realign the body and the mind.


Ashtanga can be very dynamic and athletic but that does not mean to say adjustments and modifications can not be made for all levels, speak to an ashtanga teacher you are looking at starting the practice.




How often should you do ashtanga yoga when pregnant?


As you pregnancy progresses practice ashtanga as and when you can, if that means you can only practise 1-3 times a week instead of the traditional 6 times a week then listen to what your body can do and make adaptations to your practice.


It about how much you feel you can do and being kind to yourself, if you don't feel like practising that's ok, and if you practice ends up being a quick 20 minutes rather than the full two hour primary series this is also fine, as long as you are listening to what your body needs and making adjustments where necessary.



What to do when you go to the studio?


  • Create a space that can support you when you practise in the studio or at hope for instance move yourself close to a wall if you need support to balance and give yourself extra props or a bolster for poses.


  • Make sure to bring some water if you feel lightheaded


  • Let your teacher know that you are pregnant.




Can I practice Ashtanga yoga during the first trimester?


  • You can practise normally during the first trimester but jump throughs are not recommended.


  • Start to let go of the deep twists such as Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, the Marychasanas and so on.


  • Like all other yoga, be mindful of abdominal crunches within the poses.


  • Backbends can be quite supportive as a counterpose and the extra strain on the back due to pregnancy and the natural curvature of the back, but just be mindful if there is any discomfort in the belly to stop and speak to your teacher.



Second Trimester


  • As you belly begins to grow, widen the stance of forward folds to enable more space for the belly


  • Focusing on lengthening rather than deepening folds.


Third Trimester


  • You may feel too uncomfortable to practice during this stage, but if yo do feel like able to practice to so with ease and patients. Only allowing yourself to try gentle folds, twists and restorative/ modified poses.


  • Any poses that you feel discomfort or pain, either modify or skip completely.


  • By focusing more on the gentle stretches and breathing techniques for encouraging relaxation you can support reduction in discomfort, reduce swelling, and promote relaxation and better sleep.


  • Best rule overall, don't over exert or exhaust yourself and listen to your body when practising and respect your limitations.





Overall take away


Yoga is a varied practice and can be adaptable for pregnancy with guidance, and patients. Its is advised to speak to a qualified teacher to identify what works for you depending on your experience and abilities. Yoga is a wonderful supportive practice for pregnancy, for physical and mental health. Work with your body and its changes and respect your limitations.




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