Pregnancy is a wonderful time for a woman to take her yoga practice to a new state of awareness, according to prenatal yoga instructor Joan McDonough Wolfe.
“The basis for yoga is connecting mind, body and spirit. When you’re pregnant, there’s another spirit inside you that you can connect with. You are completely physically connected in that the baby is totally reliant on you, but you can connect with him or her more on an emotional level by taking the time in yoga class with breath and meditation,” said Wolfe. “I feel that pregnant women in yoga are more in tune with changes in their bodies. I think that is a great benefit of prenatal yoga, for the woman to get to know her body really well and be able to pinpoint those changes.”
Areas to ExerciseWolfe emphasizes legs, hips and heart, when leading pregnant women though their yoga practice.
Strengthening the legs strengthens the back. A strong, supported back is important during pregnancy because the added baby weight at the front of the body in the abdomen causes back strain, which often results in back pain, poor posture and the inability to find a comfortable resting position.
Creating flexibility and space within the hips prepares the body for birthing a baby.
Heart opening postures promote upper body strength. This is important not only during pregnancy, but after birth when the new mother will regularly pick up, carry, hold and nurse her infant.
“The individual is in charge. If it doesn’t feel good, take a break,” said Wolfe.
According to Wolfe, pregnant women should take the following precautions when practicing yoga.
The pregnant body produces relaxin, a hormone that helps soften the pubic symphysis in order to prepare the body for birth. Relaxin also adds suppleness to other ligaments. Therefore, it is important that pregnant women not over-stretch and injure their muscles or ligaments.
Pregnant women should not lay on the abdomen and should not twist from the abdomen. Instead, twist from the heart and shoulders.
Inversions such as headstands, shoulder-stands and handstands are not recommended. Instead, inversions such as downward facing dog and wide-leg forward fold are preferable.
The inferior vena cava is the vein that returns blood from the lower body to the heart. Extended periods of time on the back can cause blood flow to be restricted under the weight of the baby. Therefore, long stays on the back should be avoided.
It is also important to keep breathing, as the baby must not be deprived of oxygen. Any pranyama, meditation or activity that involves holding one’s breath should be avoided.
Pregnant women risk getting over heated, and therefore overheating the baby, during hot yoga and may risk strain during power yoga. Women who have not practiced yoga prior to pregnancy should start with beginner or prenatal yoga.
Each woman and each pregnancy is different, as is each woman’s pregnancy size and previous yoga experience. So, women should consult their obstetrician or midwife with any questions or concerns about their physical abilities or limitations and questions about best practices for the health of their babies.
About Joan WolfeWolfe, 44, obtained her prenatal yoga certification in 2006 under Stephanie Keach. She also completed her 200-hour power vinyasa yoga and Samdhaana yoga teacher training in 2010 with Melody White and Greg LaBarbera of Tru Yoga. Since 2006, Wolfe has taught more than 800 prenatal yoga classes, and in 2007, she co-founded Charlotte Prenatal Yoga (www.charlotteprenatal.com).
Wolfe and her husband, David, are the parents of three boys, ages fifteen, twelve and nine.
“Providing a safe, nurturing place for empowering women on their pregnancy journey has been and continues to be a joy-filled experience,” said Wolfe.
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