Over Easter weekend I taught prenatal yoga to four women in their final trimesters of pregnancy, at a retreat ran by Yoga lovin’ Rach Cox at Brazier’s Park* in Oxfordshire.
Yoga has incredible benefits for pregnant women in their second and third trimesters. For the physical body, postures to develop strength and flexibility can release aches and pains and help to ease the birth process, and work to isolate and strengthen the pelvic floor is particularly invaluable. Mentally, the ability to control your state of relaxation through the breath and to focus your mind on the present moment are amazing tools to manage pain and calm fears.
The level of yoga practice that women can maintain during pregnancy is of course individual and depends on their yoga experience prior to pregnancy. You can see Yoga Teacher Summer Huntington’s advanced prenatal yoga practice at 36 weeks on youtube (not instructional). Generally, yoga is not recommended in the first trimester when pregnancies are most at risk.
Some elements of yoga should be avoided, (including some breathing exercises, stomach twists, lying on the stomach, and exercises on the back in later stages,) and it’s certainly recommended that pregnant women check-in personally with their doctor and a qualified yoga teacher.
Three insights I keep front of mind for prenatal yoga are:
1. Focus on connection to the breath and the baby. Developing an awareness of her body, breath and emotions can be the most important thing a mother-to-be can learn from yoga. Start, finish and keep returning to this connection during the session.
2. Only work to 80% of capacity. Women in the late stages of pregnancy have the aptly named hormone relaxin in their system. This helps their body to open up for the birth, but increased flexibility can lead to strains if they push themselves too far. Most pregnant women also experience fatigue, so this is an excellent time to take it easy and practice compassion towards our bodies.
3. Indulge in hip openers. Squats (Malasana) with the back against the wall can be performed daily. Kapotasana (pigeon pose) can be practiced with a pillow to prop up the long extended leg and create room for the bump, or sat on a chair with one ankle raised and crossed at a right angle over the opposite knee. Baddha Konasana (bound ankle pose) is another delicious option.
Prenatal yoga is a fantastic way to rejuvenate deserving women and to spread feelings of peace to growing human beings. Practice with care and and teacher, students and babies reap the benefits.
(* Brazier’s Park is a fascinating 65-year-old experiment in communal living, based around a Jacobean-era Mansion House and its surrounding farmland in Oxfordshire, and is well worth a visit.)