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Practicing Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga: FAQs
Please read over the following guidelines and precautions before starting your prenatal vinyasa yoga practice
When should I begin my Prenatal Yoga Practice?
Everyone agrees that staying active and exercising while pregnant is the best way to maintain a woman’s health and fitness and prepare her for the often strenuous and challenging rigors of childbirth, but starting a prenatal exercise program can be daunting. In the first trimester (conception to 3 months) women often experience extreme fatigue and varying degrees of nausea or “morning sickness” (which is absolutely not confined to mornings.) Most healthcare providers and prenatal fitness experts will agree that women should listen to their bodies and rest during this transitional period. Women, in general, tend to not feel like exercising much and for those who were previously very active this can be a bit disconcerting.
Once the first trimester is over, most women have spent a couple of months out of an exercise routine and are intimidated to start something new or resume their past exercise routine. I have many women show up in the beginning of their second trimester feeling guilty and concerned that they have done nothing for 2-3 months and intimidated to start prenatal yoga. It seems to ease their minds when I tell them that 90% of my students are in the same boat, they come to their first class after doing virtually nothing during their first trimester and this is entirely appropriate since the number one rule to any prenatal activity is, “If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!”
I tell my students who have been out of an exercise routine for a while that when they start back up they should start very slowly, start with 15 minutes once or twice a day and see how that feels for a few days. I tell them they should start this way because their bodies have been changing over the last few months and are changing every day and the things that felt great before they were pregnant might not feel good at all now. A simple twist or side stretch might feel uncomfortable. Every woman is different, some women might need a few weeks of building up their exercise routine before they do a full class, others can do a full class, starting slowly and listening to their bodies, right away.
The question I get over and over is, “when is the best time to start a prenatal yoga routine?” and my answer is that there is no one right way when it comes to prenatal fitness. Every woman is different and is ready to start exercising when her body tells her it is time as long as she has no complications with her pregnancy and has gotten the ok from her doctor or midwife. This typically occurs at the beginning of the second trimester but some women can exercise during their first trimester or not start until the third trimester. My advice, if it feels good to exercise during your first trimester, is to take it easy, don’t push yourself, and consult with your doctor or midwife.
We have gotten so accustomed to “asking the experts” and getting the latest research (which almost always contradicts the previous research) that we have lost the connection with our own bodies. Pregnancy is a great time to reconnect with your body, to get in touch with what feels good for you and what doesn’t, whether it be food, exercise or any activity that you participate in, do it mindfully and pay attention, your body has a lot to say!
Is it ok to do Downward Facing Dog during pregnancy?
First of all, as with every other posture… if it doesn’t feel good, you shouldn’t do it! I know it seems a little counterintuitive to do downward dog when you are trying to get the baby to engage in the pelvis. There are very good reasons, however to do downward dog if it feels good. When you are pregnant the pelvic floor muscles are supporting the weight of your uterus which grows to 10x it’s non pregnant size, this, combined with the weight of the baby and other organs of the lesser pelvis puts a lot of stress on these muscles. Doing downward dog allows the pelvic floor muscles to rest and release tension that they might be holding. This can actually allow the baby to get into a better position in the pelvis when you come out of the pose. This being said, we don’t hold downward dog as long as a regular vinyasa class and encourage 3rd trimester women (and ALL pregnant women) to listen to their bodies and move into child’s pose when downward dog doesn’t feel good during the practice. There are a few exceptions: Women should avoid Downward Dog altogether when pregnant if:
- They have hypertension, high blood pressure, or have been diagnosed with preeclampsia or their doctor says they are at risk for preeclampsia
- She has a condition called polyhydramnios (excessive amniotic fluid) in the second or third trimester
- If she had fetal positioning complications in the third trimester trying to get baby to a head down position and succeeded, discontinue downward dog (e.g.. if baby was breech or transverse and she has gotten baby into a head down position, she would stop doing downward dog)
- If downward dog doesn’t feel good due to heartburn or any other reason
Child’s pose can always be substituted for Downward dog!
Can I do inversions while pregnant?
Many women who have regularly included inversions in their practice before becoming pregnant wish to continue doing inversions while pregnant. Women should listen to their bodies. If it doesn’t feel good they shouldn’t do it. It is not recommended that women who do not regularly practice inversions before pregnancy do inversions while pregnant. There has not been enough research done to make an absolute statement regarding full inversions so my recommendation is not to do them while pregnant. I also caution my pregnant students not to do anything that will put too much of a load on the cervical spine (the neck) due to the increase in mobility in the joints during pregnancy and increased likelihood of injury. I do not teach full inversions in these DVD’s or in my Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga classes.
Can I do backbends while pregnant?
As with inversions, if they haven’t been doing backbends before pregnancy, women shouldn’t start doing intense backbends while pregnant. Moreover, because the abdominal muscles are being stretched considerably during pregnancy, especially in the late second and third trimesters, intense backbends could encourage more separation of the rectus abdominus muscles. This paired with the release of the hormone relaxin which loosens joints and connective tissue, is what prompts me to discourage intense back bending during pregnancy.
Why can’t I lay flat on my back while pregnant?
After about four or five months of pregnancy, women should not lay on their backs for more than a minute at a time. The reason for this is that one of the major blood vessels called the vena cava runs from the legs, up the right side of the spine and to the heart. The vena cava is responsible for bringing blood to the heart from the rest of the body. When a woman lays on her back the heaviness of the uterus, baby and fluid, can compress the vena cava, thereby diminishing the blood supply to the heart and to the baby. The results of lying on the back for a prolonged period of time are dizziness and lightheadedness as well as decreased blood flow to baby.
Can I use yoga to help turn a breech baby?
One of the most effective ways to turn breech babies after 36 weeks of pregnancy is to use yoga-like positions.
Positions and techniques for turning breech babies:
Forward Leaning Inversion is similar to downward dog but the angle is a bit more drastic. This can be done on a couch or bench with elbows on the ground or on the stairs (both require supervision) and should be done for about 30 seconds and followed by the breech tilt.
The breech tilt: Moving into a bridge position with support under the hips and legs up the wall. This can be further helped by using a cold compress near the baby’s head to encourage rotation away fro the cold. This will not be particularly comfortable for the mother and baby might move around a bit. Visualization of the baby turning is also very helpful during this inversion.
Note: Once the baby moves into a head down position, the woman should frequently sit in Bound Angle pose, with her feet together and knees out. This position encourages the baby’s head to engage in the pelvis. Women should avoid this pose while the baby is breech.
For much more information on turning breech babies please visit the Spinning Babies website.
Can I do Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga if I have PGP?
PGP is Pelvic Girdle Pain (formerly known as Pubic Symphysis Dysfunction). Women who are experiencing this should be under the care of a physical therapist who can help with exercises appropriate for this condition and pelvic floor balancing. Prenatal Vinyasa yoga includes quite a few lunges and hip openers and should be avoided for women experiencing this kind of pain.
For more information about fetal positioning please visit Spinning Babies at www.spinningbabies.com