The time has come for you to trust your strength, endurance, and intuition. Empower your body to ride the journey of both pregnancy and labor with a dynamic yoga practice!
As a yoga teacher for over 15 years and mom to 15 month-old Maisy Blue, I am deeply concerned about the slow progress being made in prenatal yoga.
There is a huge gap between the time a woman conceives and when she actually needs 8 bolsters, a strap, 2 blocks, a blanket and a pillow. Where are the classes that teach the physical strength necessary for a woman to carry her growing baby? Why as a society are we taught to fear the use of our abdominal muscles when they are exactly what we need not only to support our spines but to push the baby through the birth canal?
There is such beauty in prenatal yoga. It holds the space for deep meditation to prepare the mind for labor. It connects us to the growing baby inside our belly and can provide essential opening of the pelvic floor and hips. It unites women in an extremely powerful, sometimes new and frightening time. Even with all of that, it is missing vital human physiology.
STRONG YOGA PRACTICE
Who were you pre-pregnancy? Did you have a strong yoga practice, run, spin, or interval train? Have you been a couch potato? There is no cookie cutter answer for what level of exercise women should be doing while pregnant. A trained athlete is quite capable of maintaining a fervent yoga practice even if relatively new to yoga, whereas a high-risk woman well seasoned in Ashtanga may need to slow it down. There are many signals the body tells us when we are pushing too far. Light headedness, nausea, an inability to catch ones breath are all indications that you need to modify. That said, it is neither productive nor supportive to make a pregnant woman feel as though she is sick, weak, an invalid, or in major danger if she were to be physically active. This is the repeated message I hear from the doctors of my pregnant clients, and I think what is (unintentionally) mirrored in prenatal classes.
Usually the “hot button” topic, should women abstain from abdominal work because a baby is growing within them? High-risk women who have previously miscarried are most sensitive to strong abdominal work in the first trimester as the fetus is implanting. However, that doesn’t mean they should abstain completely as strength is needed in the core to support the weight of the growing baby. Here again is where our competent intuition needs to be addressed. All it takes is a moment of checking in with your body. Ask yourself, “Does this feel good?” One of the most distressing effects I witness as a result of societal influence is women losing their confidence in knowledge of self. The same intuition you need to raise your children is the same one you need in growing them.
The rectus abdominus is most at risk for diastasis (tearing of the abdominal wall) and should not be made “overly strong” as it needs to stretch to accommodate baby. Back bending while pregnant can also create diastasis by stretching the tissue. Still, it is valuable to have strength in the rectus in order to sit up from a chair relatively easily as well as be able to pick up your baby pain free, post birth.
My favorite abdominals to engage while pregnant are the oblique muscles. These muscles essentially hug the baby like arms around your belly. The stronger their support, the less force of pull you will experience on your spine.
Lastly, there are the transverse abdominus. They are responsible for providing pelvic and lower back stability as well as assist women in pushing during delivery. If targeted during pregnancy as well as after, the transverse abs will support the return to your pre-pregnant belly. If you are someone who experiences diastasis, you will heavily rely on the transverse to support your spinal posture.
As you can tell from the picture, I chose to invert. I have also been inverting since the age of 7 and up until 9 months pregnant. It felt great. I do not typically invert pregnant clients who have no previous experience with the exception of Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) and Apanasana on a block, provided they can be on their backs, as they have no reference for what feels “right.” With inversions, the body will immediately tell you if it is not working for you by generating light-headedness or nausea. Inversions not only help reduce edema in the lower legs, they are the method used to turn a breech baby!
One of the greatest gifts prenatal yoga teaches mothers is how to slow down and connect to what we are feeling. The better physical space we are in to birth our children, the more likely we are capable of vaginal delivery, using less drugs, and quick recovery. So take a moment and ask yourself, “What does my body need today?” and trust the answer.
My preferred oblique exercises are the Yoga Tune Up® Revolved Abdominal series as well as side plank. I was able to be on my back throughout my pregnancy and did these exercises all the way up until delivery. This is not the case for all women as some experience low blood pressure from the weight on the vena cava. I believe that the more you do this work pre-pregnancy, the longer you may be able to do them prenatal. I am also happy to report that I had no back pain during any of my 9 months!