While it may not have been so in the past, it is now commonly accepted that exercising during pregnancy is just as important as exercising when not pregnant. Obviously there are many different routes a woman can take when choosing an exercise regime during pregnancy. A popular form worth considering is pregnancy yoga.
Yoga at its origins, is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline. It incorporates breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures to promote health, wellbeing and relaxation. However the objectives of yoga go beyond simply strengthening the body, to also calm the mind and promote the ability to transcend physical and mental limitations. Pregnancy and labour are taxing on body and mind. Unlike forms of exercise purely aimed at maintaining physical fitness, pregnancy yoga offers a release from mental and emotional stressors and aims to holistically nurture the body and mind.
There eight major styles of yoga. These are Hatha, Restorative, Iyengar, Anusara, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, and Hot yoga. Each requires different levels of fitness and some are more physically taxing than others. Let’s briefly look at each form.
Hatha yoga is a generic term which refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Hatha classes generally include a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures and are designed to promote strengthening, increased flexibility and relaxation.
Restorative yoga is specifically designed to promote relaxation. Bolsters, blankets, and blocks are used to prop students in passive poses which enables the body to experience the benefits of a pose without exerting effort.
Iyengar yoga is highly focused on finding proper alignment in each pose. To achieve this Iyengar yoga studios often have on hand a broad range of props including straps, blocks, chairs, blankets, bolsters, and commonly a rope wall. Because of its exacting nature, Iyengar teachers must undergo a comprehensive training and so are generally very knowledgeable.
Anusara yoga is based on the principle of unleashing your inner goodness and aims to open student’s hearts so they may experience grace. This style of yoga is rigorous on body and mind.
Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings and requires that an exact set of poses be performed in the exact same order in each session. It is a very physically demanding style.
Vinyasa yoga is based on fluid, movement-intensive practices with classes choreographed to promote smooth transitions from pose to pose. Vinyasa classes are just as intense as Ashtanga, but the poses used and their sequence is not predictable.
Bikram yoga requires a specific sequence of poses to be followed in each class, like Ashtanga. Classes are traditionally performed in heated rooms to promote high levels of perspiration.
Hot Yoga is virtually identical to Bikram yoga with some deviations in the poses and sequence used. Again this is a physically demanding style of yoga which generally occurs in heated rooms.
Most pregnancy yoga classes tend to follow a common pattern in terms of class structure. This will generally include focused breathing, followed by gentle stretching, assuming postures, and finally a cool down and relaxation period.
Breathing: In order to slow your mind and prepare your body for the class you will be encouraged to focus on your breathing. This includes breathing slowly and deeply, and possibly practising different breathing techniques. The focus on breathing will continue throughout your pregnancy yoga class.
Stretching: Like any exercise regime, in pregnancy yoga warming and gently stretching the muscles is an important injury prevention technique. However beyond this, the gentle stretching you will perform also aims to move different areas of your body through their full range of movement, promoting flexibility.
Postures: Perhaps the most common thing that comes to people’s minds at the mention of the word yoga, is postures. Postures essentially involve moving your body into different positions, with a focus on developing flexibility, strength and balance. Differing postures may be performed while standing, sitting or lying down and some may utilise props such as blankets, cushions or belts for comfort and support.
Cool down: A cool down is an important part of any exercise regime. This is no less true in a pregnancy yoga class. You will be once again encouraged to focus on your breathing and to relax your muscles, restoring your resting heart rate.
Relaxations: Beyond cooling the body, this part of your pregnancy yoga class aims to fortify the mind before you head back out into the world. To achieve this you may be encouraged to focus your attention on sensations, thoughts and emotions, or to repeat a mantra or word. Often this will be achieved by taking you through a meditative exercise. The objective here is to bring about a state of self-awareness and inner calm.
The benefits of pregnancy yoga to women are essentially two-fold. Pregnancy yoga provides development of physical fitness while at the same time honing your ability to mentally centre yourself and focus your breathing. While there are certainly some safety considerations to explore, research has shown that pregnancy yoga offers many benefits both to women and their babies. Those most commonly identified in research include:
Beyond these physical and mental benefits, attending pregnancy yoga classes can also:
Like any form of exercise during pregnancy, before starting a pregnancy yoga regime there are safety considerations which are important to explore. To best ensure your and your baby’s safety:
The most important aspect of finding a yoga pregnancy class is ensuring that the teacher is appropriately trained and knowledgeable in leading instructing pregnant women in the art of yoga. The PBB website offers a Find a Yoga Teacher search function which can assist you to locate a suitably trained and experienced pregnancy yoga teacher in your area.
The PBB Health Centre, located in North Parramatta NSW, holds prenatal yoga classes onsite led by fully certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Jan Baxter. With over 25 years’ experience, Jan has experienced firsthand the benefits of yoga in her own pregnancies, as well as having taught many pregnant women, including her own daughters.
PBB Health Centre prenatal yoga classes are designed to develop your ability to breathe effectively to relax body and mind, promote bonding with your baby, relieve the common discomforts of pregnancy, and enhance your birth experience. Find out more…
Written 26 Mar 2014 for www.pregnancy.com.au
Beddoe AE, et al. (2009) The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. 38:310.
Curtis K, et al. (2012) Systematic review of yoga for pregnant women: Current status and future directions. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012:1.
Gaiam Life. (n.d.). A Beginner's Guide to 8 Major Styles of Yoga. Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://life.gaiam.com/article/beginners-guide-8-major-styles-yoga
Kinser P, et al. (2008) Prenatal yoga: Guidance for providers and patients. Advance for Nurse Practitioners. 16:59
Narendran S, et al. (2005) Efficacy of yoga on pregnancy outcome. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 11:237.
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Prenatal yoga: What you need to know. Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-yoga/art-20047193
PBB Health Centre. (n.d.). Prenatal Yoga Classes. Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://www.pbbhealthcentre.com.au/our-services/prenatal-yoga-classes
Yoga Australia. (n.d.). What is yoga? Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://www.yogaaustralia.org.au/what-is-yoga