Bodha Yoga

Pregnant Women Have No Fear!

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?

PRENATAL YOGA

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.

ABDOMINALS

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.

INVERSIONS

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!

PREPARATION

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!

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Too Hip?

I teach a hip class every Friday. I love teaching hip work partly because it’s easy for me since my pelvis and hips are hyper-mobile. Then I became pregnant, and this added to my ability to bend and stretch in gumby-like ways. Nature’s gift to pregnant women is the protein hormone relaxin that is believed to soften the pubic symphysis to assist in labor. Its peak is reached at both 14 weeks of the first trimester as well as during the labor process. Now I can’t say that I was aware of the relaxin in the state of hard pushing, as the feedback from every sensation in my body was magnified, but at 14 weeks I indeed noticed.

Some women are pleasantly surprised and grateful for the added ability to move their pelvis. If you are like me, at times what is called for is actually greater stability. Hyper-mobile joints can equally create pain as “tight” joints. It’s the Three Little Bear story embodied; one needs to find a balance to make it “just right”. My task was often to stretch and strengthen simultaneously, known as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). This technique is used to increase flexibility and range of motion, but for me, it also provided stability in my joints so I wasn’t a walking waterbed. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

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Leg Cramps

About 5 months into my pregnancy I started jolting awake in the middle of the night with searing leg cramps. Extremely physically active throughout my 9 months, I knew it was not due to idleness. Nor a lack of potassium and/or calcium as I am nutritionally hip to that. Pregnancy research does not indicate exactly what the culprit is of leg spasms that typically begin around the second trimester. It could be the extra weight carried puts pressure on the leg muscles, or the expanding uterus compressing blood vessels that move blood through the legs back to the heart. The interesting thing to me is the difference between how the Western world approaches pregnancy care compared to the rest of the world.

Also a certified massage therapist, I studied pregnancy massage that clearly points out many contraindicated points to avoid. The fear is that if pressed too deeply, one can induce labor before it is time. A series of these points to avoid literally surround the feet and lower leg! Gasp! What’s a girl to do to relieve leg pain, move to Europe? Maybe, or maybe just adapt to a European mindset. Overseas, pregnancy massage always includes leg and foot massage because they know it helps women with this exact issue. After many years of bathing in the fear infused waters of Americas massage therapists, I realized that what almost every woman wanted, was exactly what I was taught not to administer. How can that be? That our natural instincts could be so far off?

So I began to offer my clients the option from an educated decision. That said, still to this day if someone is high risk pregnancy or carrying multiples I tend to honor the contraindicative points and stay away from deep work in those areas. In my experience, baby comes when baby is ready. The “points” are there to assist in labor, and may help both mother and child with the transitions to bring baby into this world. Needless to say, when it was my turn to decide, I dove in to relieving my leg spasms in multiple ways.

I loved getting pregnancy massages though no one really administered what I really wanted, so I had to find it on my own. Yoga Tune Up therapy balls to the rescue! Following a series of leg and foot therapy ball work, I also frequently did sitting seza with a strap as well as calf stretches. This work alleviated my leg cramps completely!

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