Julie in Half Moon at 31 weeks.
I absolutely love yoga. I remember not loving it when I took my first class over 12 years ago. I was not very flexible and what kind of workout is just stretching? You don’t even sweat (or so I thought). Fast forward a few years and I was experiencing really bad insomnia due to what I think was the stress of being in graduate school, barely making any money in a very toxic work environment and living across the country from all my friends and family. I started taking yoga about once a week and really started feeling the mental benefits. The physical benefits were just a plus to the stress relief, and learning how to breathe and relax. I continued to practice and then discovered hot yoga and fell in love with that too! Honestly, I love all varieties of yoga and have continued practicing the last 12 years. I practiced throughout my first pregnancy learning modifications and what felt right in my body. I am still practicing now and hope to continue for the rest of my pregnancy. As I get further along in my pregnancy, I feel that there are less and less types of exercise that truly feel good. Through my 3rd trimester, my main forms or exercise will most likely be lifting weights, walking and yoga.
Yoga is an incredible form of exercise at any time but can be very beneficial for pregnant and post-partum women as this time can be very stressful for many women. Carrying a baby, giving birth and holding and feeding a baby are not exactly awesome for our body alignment. Though yoga can be very challenging, it also can be very gentle on our bodies.
Though I do teach yoga, I am very green compared to the other formats of group exercise that I have been teaching for more than a decade. Because I am so new to teaching yoga, I wanted to reach out to a few awesome yogi mamas for their thoughts and tips for yoga while pregnant and afterwards.
Julie, owner of Studio Love Yoga in Erie, Colorado has been teaching for 10 years and is the mom to three beautiful kids ages 4, 2 and 1.
Hilary is a yoga teacher and personal trainer in Seattle, WA (www.hilaryparis.com) She is expecting her first baby boy in early August.
Below is my interview with these beautiful mamas:
How long have you been teaching yoga? And what formats do you teach?
Julie: I have been teaching for 10 years and I teach power flow, yin, tone and any specialty type classes and workshops.
Hilary: In June, I will have been teaching yoga for eight years to people of all backgrounds, including pregnant women. I teach many different styles of yoga from restorative to power vinyasa.
Did you do yoga through all your pregnancies Julie?
Julie: Yes, on my first two I practiced and then went into labor within 3 hours.
When did you start again after giving birth?
Julie: I was back on my mat, moving and stretching the day after birth and at a class 2 weeks postpartum.
Do you recommend yoga for pregnant women and why?
Julie: Yes, you get all the benefits that exercise offers but the most valuable thing you gain from yoga is awareness, of how you are when your body is changing, uncomfortable and experiencing constant shift.
Hilary: I recommend a regular yoga practice for women in all stages of pregnancy, but it will feel different for everyone. My experience will be completely different than everyone else’s, so keep that in mind. Additionally, there are so many types of yoga out there. Finding the class and instructor that is right for you is so important. It all depends on your activity level. For example, for someone who has never taken yoga before, or for someone who is sedentary, I would not recommend they go straight to a vinyasa or heated class. I would suggest that they take a prenatal yoga class first, and as they feel ready, they might want to dabble in some other styles of yoga. It is a practice, however, so she should attend classes regularly instead of just once in a while. Just like strength training, the body needs time to progress, respond and build muscle memory.
What do you believe are the benefits of doing yoga while pregnant?
Julie: Yoga gives you access to the tools to cope with all the changes that are happening. Yoga helps keep you present, present to the fact that this is 40 short weeks and you can make it through with beauty, strength and grace!
Hilary: For women trying to conceive, yoga can be very effective. Often times, women can experience frustration while trying to conceive, causing even more stress and raising cortisol levels. Yoga, mindfulness and meditation have been consistently reliable methods to lower stress levels. Once a woman becomes pregnant, a regular yoga practice can be very helpful to put her mind and body at ease. Healthy and stress free mommy = easier pregnancy and labor. Prenatal yoga is a great way to prepare her body and mind for labor and motherhood while relieving many pains and discomforts of pregnancy. Prenatal yoga helps strengthen the muscles that support a growing belly and changing body. Yoga also relieves tension caused by soft and hard tissue changes. Some of the strengthening poses challenge the body and mind to prepare the pregnant woman for the challenge of labor.
What are some contraindications for doing yoga while pregnant? Are there specific poses pregnant women should avoid?
Julie: Deep, compression twists and laying for length in prone or supine positions are the only contraindications. The body is amazing at guiding itself if we are listening, if it doesn’t feel right, adjust or stop.
Hilary: It is important to never practice in a room that is set to a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, I would not recommend a Bikram class, where the classes are set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I found 75-90 degrees to be very pleasant while practicing. I also took all of the jumping out of my practice, and took it easy on any supine core work.
First Trimester: Again, I can’t stress this enough: listen to your body. Meditation, pranayama (breath work) and restorative yoga will be the best thing a woman can do for her body during this time. A regular prenatal yoga practice will help with all of the fatigue that comes with the dramatic hormonal changes in her body. With women who experience nausea or vomiting, any forward movements or big backbends might make it worse. Women should avoid any deep, closed twists starting now and throughout the pregnancy. Open twists from thoracic spine are fine, keeping the shoulders over the hips. It is important to let the body “do its thing,” rather than forcing it into a pose. Focusing on the natural gravity of the body can feel really wonderful.
Second and Third Trimesters: This is when most pregnant women start to feel improved energy levels (yay!), but as their bellies get bigger, certain poses become harder. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Take the legs wider in forward folds, chair pose or any other pose that feels like it needs to be modified. Although she may feel more energy, and perhaps stronger, the hormone relaxin, which softens ligaments and tendons, is still being released. This can lead to overstretching, leaving a feeling of soreness. She should only go to her “edge,” again not forcing herself into a pose.
Backbends may start to feel uncomfortable during this time, as the skin around the abdomen can become tighter. Deep backbends should not be practiced. Think of opening your chest more, rather than leaning into your back. Also, any prone poses will feel rather odd. If you have a regular vinyasa practice, coming to hands and knees during chaturanga might feel better. With pretty much every pose, it’s best to scale back. Now is not the time to prove to the world you are a yoga champion.
Avoid any supine core work, but single leg lifts (with one foot on ground) and bridge pose are ok at a slow pace. In general, it’s best to avoid inversions, but it really depends on the person. Towards the end of the pregnancy, no mama should be upside down. I know they’re fun, but It’s only a couple of months… handstands can wait. Always consider gravity… the baby will be coming out through the pelvis, not the head. Using props really helps during pregnancy. Blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps really help.
During the third trimester, mama’s belly will start to reach its fullest capacity, making forward folds rrrrreally challenging. Listen. To. Your. Body. If you have made it eight to nine months with a regular yoga practice, you should be a pro at this by now. I like my third trimester yoga students to really focus on their breath. Lengthening the breath, and breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth while keeping the shoulders soft can be very relaxing. Taking a 10 second breath while silently counting is very meditative and calms the nervous system. Practicing Ujjayi breath can help prepare the body for labor as well.
In general, expecting moms are the experts on their own bodies. Everybody is different pre and post pregnancy. Try not to compare yourself to others during this time. Yoga should be a healing practice during this time, not a competition with others and especially not with yourself.
Hilary in Dancer’s Pose.