“Without intention, all these postures, these breathing practices, meditations, and the like can become little more than ineffectual gestures. When animated by intention, however, the simplest movement, the briefest meditation, and the contents of one breath cycle are made potent.”
— Donna Farhi, a yoga teacher
Yoga helps you to experience pregnancy, labour, childbirth, and motherhood in a manner you otherwise wouldn’t. It calms the mind and body and gives physical and emotional relief to your body needs when you are expecting a child.
Yogic exercises that are specifically suited for pregnancy gently massage and relax the reproductive organs and the pelvis, enabling calmness at the time of delivery.
Understand your body
Yoga connects you with your body, in more ways than one. You become aware of the needs and demands of the body, and this helps you to read your body signals better. Needless to say, a heightened state of awareness of the body is especially beneficial during the time of pregnancy.
Relax. Mood swings are one of the most common features of pregnancy. Along with the joy of bearing a child, there are apprehensions as well. The body is undergoing immense changes, and mood swings are also a part of the condition. Pregnancy is a period of exhilaration, but also stress, no less. The conflicts and negative emotions that surface from time to time have to be dealt with. Through deep breathing exercises or pranayama, and relaxation exercises such as yoga nidra, you can learn to calm and relax your mind. This, in turn, helps you to cope with turbulent emotions and mood swings.
Maintain posture. Pregnancy changes body posture, and this may cause you to slouch. With yogic exercises, the shoulder and back muscles are strengthened. Yoga helps you to stand tall and straight despite the “weight” of pregnancy. Also, breathing deeply opens up your chest, and you do not slouch as you might otherwise.
Air supply. Yoga ensures that through the process of pranayama and deep breathing, you get abundant supply of oxygen in your body. This helps not only you, but also the baby developing within.
Detox. Yogic exercises help you to get rid of accumulated toxins. This becomes even more meaningful at the time of pregnancy when the body needs to be clean and strong for the baby to be nurtured within.
Awareness. Yoga creates within you an incredible awareness of your body and yourself. It helps you to stabilise and integrate within yourself the idea of becoming a mom.
Moral support. If you do yogic exercises at a special class/yoga centre for pregnant women, you will feel a special bonding with all the other mothers-to-be. This also acts as a support group. The calm and care of a collective environment geared just for expectant mothers helps in alleviating doubts and apprehensions during pregnancy, labour, and childbirth.
Not all yoga poses are safe during pregnancy.
The cobra pose, for example, is recommended only during the first trimester, provided you are comfortable in this face-down posture. Triangle pose may be performed without problems — a chair may be used for support if balancing becomes a problem. Other stretches that are relatively safe are: the cat-cow pose and the butterfly stretch which can be performed with ease. You can see the simplicity, yet the effectiveness of yogic stretches, by trying the butterfly stretch which helps to increase the flexibility in your inner thigh muscles.
Place a yoga mat on the floor. Sit with knees bent and the soles of your feet touching each other. Keep the back straight and hold your ankles. Gently press your knees downward and feel the stretch in your inner thighs. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Release. Rest. Repeat again, if you can.
Your breathing should be normal as you carry out this exercise. Do not overstrain. If you feel pain in your knees, avoid doing the exercise.
Although yoga is very beneficial during and after pregnancy, there are a handful of precautions you need to take:
- Take care if you do backbends, handstands, headstands, the camel pose etc., These exercises are strenuous; they can also strain your abdominal muscles and be harmful. These should be avoided
- Pay attention to what your body tells you. The asanas [pose] need to be modified to suit your changing physical body
- Ensure that you do not put any pressure on the abdomen. Be careful with twisting exercises. Try to concentrate on moving your shoulders area at best. The abdominal muscles should not be stretched in any way. Remember, you are more prone to strained muscles now. Also, remember, that there is no need to strain the body in any way
- Avoid any poses on your back, after the first trimester, as this can reduce the blood flow to the uterus
- When bending forwards, hinge forwards from the hips
- From the second trimester onwards, go through the standing poses with your back against the wall, or use a chair for support. Ensure against any kind of fall and subsequent injury
- Avoid sudden changes in temperature while doing yoga. Some specialised yoga practices should be avoided during pregnancy
- Do not start yoga suddenly when you are pregnant, more so if you have not done yoga earlier, or you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Most important: It is advisable to do your yoga practices under the guidance of a teacher. If you attend a general yoga class, make sure the instructor guides you in the best manner possible.
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