Pregnancy yoga: it's not all about heavy breathing

Pregnancy yoga: it's not all about heavy breathing

Having been both pregnant and a yoga teacher, I have attended my fair share of pregnancy yoga classes. I tried a few different teachers when I was pregnant with Leo and was quite often a little disappointed in the lack of actual exercise that took place. Of course, breathing and relaxation components so make up a large part of pregnancy yoga - for good reason - but I would urge instructors to include a good amount of more physically challenging asanas (yoga poses) to help ladies maintain their strength.

Pregnancy is a real endurance event, which ends with the marathon of actually giving birth. You don't have to have a vaginal birth to be facing a marathon, either, when you consider the potentially long recovery required from a c-section. Whichever path you choose for your birth, by the time you have carried a baby for almost 10 months, then delivered it, then cared for it whilst your body and mind recover, you need strength!

In general terms, a good overall level of stamina and fitness is an excellent place from which to start your pregnancy journey. Increased oxygen levels for you means increased oxygen levels for your placenta and baby. Even if you are starting out from a position of doing no exercise pre-pregnancy, that's no reason not to take up a little gentle exercise once you are. The great thing about yoga is that it is gentle on your body; it won't pound your knees or strain your ligaments as they become laced with the hormone relaxin during pregnancy. 

That said, I believe yoga still has to offer actual physical health benefits along with the less tangible benefits of breathing techniques and relaxation. It can be gentle but still highly beneficial for your strength and stamina.

When choosing a pregnancy class, speak to the teacher about the type of class they are offering. What is the focus of the class? Will the teacher be allowing students to work at their own level and making modifications for those who need to take it easier, or is it all set at a base level? Any teacher who is specialised in pregnancy yoga should be able to outline the benefits and contraindications of certain asanas for their students, as well as help those who wish to work a little harder.

Strong standing poses, such as Warrior I, II and III are great for grounding you to the earth and building on those all-important leg muscles. Working alongside some suitable balances and you can give the legs a really good top-to-toe workout without putting any strain on the bump.

Not that your abdominal area should be entirely untouched in a yoga class when pregnant: your core muscles and pelvic floor have to work the hardest of all through pregnancy and birth, so getting some expert guidance on how to engage them and keep them strong is essential to prenatal fitness and wellbeing. And just to be clear, by abdominals I don't mean your abs/six pack (which will have disappeared for the time being!) but the transverse abdominals that support your whole core. More on these in a later post...

So, don't dismiss all pregnancy yoga as an hour of slow-moving and breathing exercises. Take the time to find a teacher who will help keep your core supportive, your legs strong and your stamina maintained until its time to welcome your little one into the word with open (and toned) arms.


Currently teaching pregnancy yoga in Dorking, Surrey, and postnatal yoga in Godalming, Surrey.