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6 Tips for Practicing Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal yoga, if performed the correct way, can be the perfect pregnancy exercise.
Prenatal yoga, if performed the correct way, can be the perfect pregnancy exercise.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Whether you're an experienced yogi or you've never set foot in a studio, practicing yoga while you're pregnant is a great way to get exercise and stay in touch with your changing body. "You're not broken, just pregnant," says Jen Oppenheimer, a prenatal yoga instructor at New York Sports Club in Manhattan. "There are very few yoga poses that are off-limits during pregnancy."

There are some guidelines to remember, however, when it comes to getting your om on with an ever-growing belly, along with issues like back pain, hormone fluctuations, and all-over weight gain. It's important to listen to your body, and to let your instructor know about any pain or discomfort you're feeling -- both on the mat and outside of class. He or she can suggest modifications to traditional poses, or completely new poses, that may help provide relief.

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"In prenatal yoga classes, moms-to-be focus on the breath and body connection, and they learn techniques to take with them that they can practice at home, or even at work, to help alleviate some of the pressure and tension they experience in their bodies and in their minds," says Oppenheimer.

Start with a yoga class or DVD specifically for pregnant women -- or talk to your instructor about how you should modify a regular yoga class. (Avoid Bikram or "hot yoga" classes, or anything that seems more strenuous than you're used to.) To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, keep the following tips in mind, as well.

Strengthening your core may relieve back pain.
Strengthening your core may relieve back pain.
Jens Lucking/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

It may seem counterintuitive when you've got such a protruding stomach, but it's just as important during pregnancy to keep your core muscles engaged. In fact, strong abdominals will help support your lower back, and help your muscles maintain their firmness as your belly expands, says Oppenheimer -- helping to relieve the added stress of carrying around extra weight and reducing your risk of injury.

Throughout class, stay conscious of whether you're activating your abdominals -- but at the same time, she cautions, don't forget to breathe.

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Before prenatal yoga was a huge trend, there was Lamaze class. And while they are quite different in many ways, both put a huge focus on controlled breathing techniques. "These can be beneficial not only for labor and delivery, but for maintaining your sanity all throughout your pregnancy," says Oppenheimer.

Setting aside time to take a prenatal yoga class once or twice a week will give you the opportunity to slow down, focus on your breath, and stretch out sore muscles that are working overtime. But you should also take away some strategies for deep breathing that you can turn to anytime, anywhere you're in pain, discomfort, or emotional distress.

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Prenatal yoga is a common form of exercise that can help relieve the aches and fatigue that often accompany pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga is a common form of exercise that can help relieve the aches and fatigue that often accompany pregnancy.
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Sure you can do prenatal yoga at home with a book or a DVD, but Oppenheimer argues that getting into a classroom with other pregnant women is one of the most beneficial parts of the practice. "I always try to bring a sense of safety to the room," she says. "Classes begin with each woman sharing her name, how far along she is, how she's feeling, and what she'd like to work on during class."

While each student's goals may be different, women tend to bond over common situations they're all experiencing -- pain and discomfort, potential baby names, and birthing options, to name a few. "I truly believe this sense of community keeps the women coming back week after week," Oppenheimer adds. "Talking to other pregnant women, even if just for a few minutes, helps them to not feel as alone or isolated."

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Prenatal yoga classes sometimes include Kegel exercises, which are used to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and aid in labor and delivery. Your instructor may guide you through them on the mat, by instructing you to squeeze or pulse the muscles you'd use to stop yourself from urinating (in the front) and from passing gas (in the back).

Practicing Kegels during yoga class is a good start, and a helpful reminder to do them regularly. But you can also do them at home, at work, or any time you have a few minutes to spare.

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As your body changes, you may realize that you can no longer twist or stretch in certain directions as well as you normally can. For these types of poses, you may find that props -- such as bolsters, yoga blocks, and blankets -- help you reach proper alignment and comfort.

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When bending forward, lead with your chest and stretch your spine from your head to your tailbone. This will help you take pressure off your back, maintain a neutral spine, and breathe easier.

After your first trimester, you should generally avoid deep backbends and any poses that require you to lie directly on your stomach. If keeping your balance during standing poses becomes challenging, you can use a wall or chair for additional support. Overall, make sure your instructor knows about your pregnancy and anything unique to your situation. Don't be afraid to ask for help, or to sit out anything you're unsure about.

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Sources:

  • Oppenheimer, Jen. Yoga instructor. Personal interview. April 29, 2013.
  • Prenatal Yoga Center. "Get to Know Your Muscles 'Way Down There': The Importance of Kegels." October 6, 2008. (April 29, 2013) http://prenatalyogacenter.com/blog/get-to-know-your-muscles-way-down-there-the-importance-of-kegels/
  • Mayo Clinic. Prenatal Yoga: What You Need to Know. (April 29, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prenatal-yoga/MY01542

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