3 Golden Rules For A Safe Pregnancy Yoga Practice
Here’s a question for you: What do the nuclear industry and pregnancy yoga have in common?
It’s no secret that I’ve had a career in the nuclear waste industry for many years. I ran my yoga biz alongside my career and have found an uncanny similarity.
So, what do you think it is?
No, it’s not the glow!
Here’s a clue.
During my first job interview in the nuclear industry, I was questioned about the key factors when making business decisions. As a keen graduate wanting to impress, I answered something about the most important thing being efficiency or profit.
The correct answer was SAFETY.
Suffice to say I didn’t get that job.
And guess what? Safety is also pretty high up, I’d say the highest, on my list when it comes to pregnancy yoga.
After working in the nuclear industry for many years, certain topics such as safety, become part of you. It’s part of the culture of the industry, it’s not just a quality or a box that you tick, it’s part of the attitude to bring to your job.
And even though I don’t currently work in the nuclear industry, I still maintain the same approach when teaching yoga. Safety first.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you all about the safety guidelines in the nuclear industry. This week’s post is about safety in pregnancy yoga.
It’s not about the details, the do’s and don’ts.
If you’re looking for specifics about the postures and practices, you can find that in my free prenatal yoga guide and Prenatal Yoga Workshop.
This is about the big picture.
Like with the nuclear industry, I started to treat my pregnancy and the practice, with the respect it deserves.
And by doing so, I could also remove the elements of fear (which by the way is another common trait between pregnancy and the nuclear industry, but that’s for another time).
Feeling Safe Is Important
If you feel safe, you can really reap the benefits of yoga practice.
You can relax and confidently do the practices, whether they’re restorative or strengthening, whilst you’re able to remain calm. And this is the key for the birth!
If we are safe, and feel safe, we can then relax, and allow our body to take over and do its thing….and that’s when the magic happens.
So our job, as prenatal yoga teachers, is to make you feel safe in our hands.
Not by giving you a false sense of security, but to make sure you know you are truly in capable and professional hands.
3 Rules For A Safe Prenatal Yoga Practice
Rule #1 Don’t get out of breath
Unfortunately, whilst you’re growing your baby inside of you, one of the consequences is that we tend to run out of breath.
Why exactly does this happen during pregnancy?
There are many reasons, and one reason is that as the uterus expands, it pushes up into the abdomen. This results in increased pressure on the lungs, reducing the space they have for oxygen exchange.
Another reason is the increased amount of progesterone, a hormone that is increased during pregnancy.
As explained in the Harvard Health Magazine,
‘’High progesterone levels cause pregnant women to breathe faster. The rise in progesterone begins early in pregnancy, and the shortness of breath it causes can come as a surprise. While shortness of breath can be worrisome, most of the time it is harmless and due to the normal changes of pregnancy.’’
Progesterone signals the brain to lower carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. In order to lower the CO2 levels, the respiratory rate increases. Our lung function also changes partly because progesterone increases and partly because the growing uterus interferes with lung expansion.
Hence, giving us that ‘’It’s harder to breathe now’’ feeling.
Finally, let’s not forget that during pregnancy oxygen consumption increases by about 20% to meet the increased metabolic needs of the foetus, placenta, and several maternal organs.
In our pre-pregnancy stage you might have followed a fitness or exercise regime where the goal was to raise your heartbeat, and it was ok to get out of breath for a few minutes.
However, if during pregnancy, our breathing is already strained, why would we want to strain it more?
Put It To The Test
If you’re not sure how to tell if you’re out of breath, there’s a simple way you can test that.
Simply start talking when you’re in a pose, or doing your exercise, or even if you’re climbing up the stairs.
If you feel that you can’t talk steadily, there’s the sign to drop the intensity down a level, slow down or just stop.
Rule #2 80 is the new 100
Aside from the changes in our respiratory system mentioned above, there are also many changes to our cardiovascular system during pregnancy. Some of which are:
Increased Cardiac Output
A cardiac output (CO) is the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute. It is the mechanism whereby blood flows around the body, providing blood to the brain and other vital organs.
Increased Heart Rate
Related to above, the heart rate increases during pregnancy, with the highest increases during the 3rd trimester and then during labour.
Increased Core Body Temperature
During pregnancy, the core body temperature is warmer than what it was in our pre-pregnancy (because we’ve got more blood going through our body). This means that we might feel hotter or warmer more often than we did before, especially when we’re doing exercise.
If during pregnancy, in our resting state, we’re already increasing the volume of blood delivered around the body, our heart rate is higher than our pre-pregnancy body and our blood pressure is lower – imagine what happens when we go into a non-resting, physically challenging state?
I’m not telling you not to move or to be scared.
The body puts these mechanisms in place to keep you and your baby safe. The point is, they’re significant changes taking place in your body. That’s why I always recommend shifting your edge, your maximum, your 100%, down to 80%.
There’s nothing to prove to anyone, so even if you want to bring it down to 50% that’s ok!
Rule #3 Ask yourself, is this serving me right now?
Keep asking yourself this question, over and over again. Here’s why:
We’ve already learnt that our lungs and our heart have to work harder during pregnancy. Our ligaments and our joints however, also change to prepare us for the birth process.
During pregnancy we produce a hormone, Relaxin, which helps our ligaments and our joints loosen and become more flexible. This is great for the pelvis and the hips as it makes space for the baby and eases the birth process.
But what about other parts of our body?
Joints like the knees, the ankles, the wrist are at greater risk of getting injured as ligaments can easily be overstretched.
When you’re in a pose, or doing a stretch, it might actually feel easier than pre-pregnancy. It’s because your joints and ligaments are literally more elastic and more flexible than before.
Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to that full level of flexibility. Another reason to follow the 80% rule here!
Ask yourself, is maximising this stretch, serving me right now?
Constantly Changing Centre Of Gravity
The belly is growing, week by week. It sounds obvious but so many students forget this!
Your belly, your baby, your whole body is physically becoming larger.
As your belly expands, your centre of gravity shifts, which can also affect your sense of balance.
So the pose, or balance, you practised last week might have felt great, yet this week it just feels off. Maybe last week you only needed one bolster and today you need 3!
It can be frustrating to not be able to do the things we could last week, but remind yourself your body is changing, at a relatively fast speed!
So, approach the poses with care and go back to that question. Is this set up serving me right now? Maybe the answer is simply, I now need to stand next to a wall so I make sure I don’t fall, or I need a couple extra cushions.
Non-physical Side Of Things
What about the non-physical effects of pregnancy? There may be many feelings arising during your pregnancy, some of which may be totally new to you.
These emotions and feelings are all valid and important to consider when practising yoga. So it’s always good to ask yourself, or your teacher, will this pose, this pranayama, this movement, help me feel better?
The question is always there for you, how does this serve me right now?
It might have served you yesterday and it might serve you tomorrow, but if right now it’s not serving you, better not to do it.
Are you ready for a safe yoga practice?
In pregnancy and pregnancy yoga, similarly to the nuclear industry, we can either live in fear of what may or may not go wrong, or, we embrace it and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Don’t stop moving during pregnancy (unless your doctors have told you to!).
Go for it, but do it all with care and safety.
This is important for obvious reasons. During the physical practice, we don’t want to put your health or your baby’s health at risk.
I want YOU to feel safe, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
You and your baby are always my priority when you’re in my class, or my workshops or my membership. More specifically, your safety is my priority.