What to Expect from Prenatal Yoga

Whether you’re a practicing yogi or you’ve never set foot inside a yoga studio, prenatal yoga is a fantastic way to stay active and relaxed while you’re pregnant. Many yoga studios offer special prenatal classes with specially trained instructors, and finding a good studio for the duration of your pregnancy is well worth it. Practicing yoga while expecting has numerous benefits both for you and your baby, though it can be intimidating if you’ve never been to a class, or if you’re feeling less-than-poised with your expanding belly. But put those reservations aside and find the nearest prenatal yoga class, after reading about what to expect.

Prenatal yoga is a low-impact way to stay active. Maintaining your physical health during pregnancy is important, but it can be difficult to stay motivated when exhaustion, aches, and pains take over. Yoga is a less rigorous activity, but it still provides a gentle workout. It’s often a challenge to maintain a safe, healthy weight during pregnancy, and yoga can help you manage that. In addition, prenatal yoga increases your strength and flexibility, which is important for everyday health, and also for childbirth. Practicing yoga also improves your balance and circulation; can help decrease the pains that come with tight, overworked muscles; can help you beat headaches and shortness of breath; and can even ease the symptoms of morning sickness.

Practicing yoga soothes away the stresses of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be an emotionally difficult time, and we’re always being told to manage stress and “just relax!” Prenatal yoga is a fantastic way to keep calm and cultivate some much-needed inner peace when everything, including your own body, feels out of balance. By centering yourself in the present moment, a yoga class can help you be more mindful, and with the focus on your body, you can create a strong connection to your own self that sticks long after class is over.

Yoga lowers your blood pressure, the calming effects of which stay with you even after the practice is done. Another perk of joining a prenatal class is that you’ll meet other pregnant women and possibly expand your community to women who are in the same boat as you are.

Prenatal yoga isn’t the same as your average yoga class. As your body changes and grows during pregnancy, so do your limitations. Many common yoga positions become too stressful for joints and the pelvic area when you’re pregnant, which is why a good prenatal class will go through modified positions. Instructors also usually supply props, like cushions and blocks, to make the poses easier. Stretches are milder and more moderate, and the poses are focused on supporting your body, not pushing it. During prenatal classes, you often find more of an emphasis on breathing exercises and strengthening poses that will help you prepare for labor. The breathing techniques you learn can be used during labor, too, to help you manage your breath and get through contractions.

No matter your yoga level, you need a renewed focus on safety during prenatal practice. As with many activities, whether new or not, you’ll want to discuss practicing yoga with your doctor. Prenatal yoga is considered safe for most pregnancies, but wait until you get the official green light to do so. During your class, be sure you’re drinking enough water and staying hydrated. Also, this is not the time to try out hot yoga (Bikrim) or other intensive yoga classes; save those for after you’ve healed from childbirth.

Additionally, if you’re taking a yoga class that’s not specifically labeled “prenatal,” tell the instructor that you’re expecting before class begins. That way, he or she can suggest modifications to poses, or tell you if there are poses you ought to avoid altogether. No matter the class, once you’re out of the first trimester, you’ll want to avoid poses that have you lying on your back. The weight of your growing baby will put too much pressure on your body, and can make you feel sick.

An important rule of thumb is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it and don’t push yourself. No one will care if you’re not following the flow down to the exact letter.

Don’t twist yourself into knots choosing a class. First and foremost, look for classes that are labeled “prenatal.” If you can’t find any, then choose a beginner class and call ahead to mention that you’re pregnant, and make sure you find out how the instructor will accommodate you. If there are several prenatal classes in your area, get to know the yoga studio to figure out if it’s a good fit. Yoga studios can have vastly different vibes, from the fitness-focused to the spiritual havens. Check to see if you can observe a class ahead of time, so you can make a better judgement. Every yoga instructor has her or his own style, and every studio is a little bit different. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable wherever you go.