Prenatal yoga classes are very popular, and when paired with a cardiovascular exercise (such as walking), yoga can be an ideal way for moms-to-be to stay in shape. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, yoga can keep you limber, tone your muscles, and improve your balance and circulation during pregnancy – all with very little impact on your joints.
Yoga is also beneficial because you’ll learn how to breathe deeply and consciously relax, which will be helpful as you face the physical demands of labor, birth, and new motherhood. Learning to breathe fully is actually one of the first things you’ll learn in a yoga class. To use the breathing technique practiced in yoga, known as ujjayi, you take in air slowly through your nose, fill your lungs as you expand your belly, and exhale completely until your stomach compresses.
Learning to do ujjayi breathing primes you for labor and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labor progress. A regular yoga practice will help you resist the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and make it easier to relax instead.
According to a recent review of 10 research studies, prenatal yoga also lowers your chance of having pregnancy complications, your pain and stress levels, and possibly even your risk of having a baby that is small for his gestational age.
The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to your pregnancy and physical well-being. “Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women and to become part of a community,” says Cynthea Denise, a registered nurse and prenatal yoga instructor in Oakland, California. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.
Yoga tips for the first trimester
First, check with your provider to make sure it’s okay for you to start or continue a yoga program. If you get the go-ahead, try to find an instructor trained in prenatal yoga. If that’s not possible, make sure your instructor knows you’re expecting, says Denise.
You probably won’t have many restrictions this early in your pregnancy, but remember to follow rules of safe pregnancy exercise such as drinking lots of water before, during, and after exercising to stay hydrated.
Breathe deeply and regularly as you stretch. If you’re already a pro at yoga, recognize and accept that your regular routine will require modifications as time goes on.
“Listen to your body and trust what it tells you,” says Denise. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, make an adjustment or ask your instructor to recommend an alternative position.