Between the hectic pace of work and caring for my year-old daughter, I didn’t really have time to feel pregnant with my second child (morning sickness aside). Then I started taking prenatal yoga classes at the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan, where I worked. (I squeezed them in during my lunch hour.) The stretches relaxed some of my aching joints, and the various poses made me feel energized. But most important, the program’s last 10 minutes were devoted to relaxing and visualizing the small life growing inside me. It was a time for bonding that my usual fitness regimen hadn’t provided.
For many women, the meditative aspect of yoga adds an emotional dimension to feeling strong. Prenatal yoga works in two realms of health: physical and spiritual, says Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a Los Angeles-based yoga instructor and the author of The Eight Human Talents (HarperCollins, 2000). “You need both of these ingredients to get through labor,” Khalsa says. “By learning how to shift your focus from the mental aspects that you get from reading books to the spiritual or feeling sensation of your body, you can relax, concentrate and draw on your inner strength.”
As for the physical benefits of this type of exercise: “Yoga provides a safe and nurturing system of overall health for the pregnant woman and child,” says Eric Small, a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and director of the Beverly Hills Iyengar Studio in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning “to yoke,” or come together, dates back thousands of years in India. There are many different types. Hatha focuses on balance, awareness and harmony with body, mind and emotions. Iyengar, nicknamed “furniture yoga” because it uses props such as chairs, benches and wood blocks, requires precise body alignment in poses. Kundalini combines chanting with stretching and strengthening exercises.
“Any of these can, with some modifications, accommodate the various stages of pregnancy, but it’s important to learn the exercises properly,” says Small, who has taught yoga for more than 30 years. “Since the Iyengar method uses props for support and balance, it can be the most compassionate, safe way of integrating exercise into a pregnant woman’s lifestyle. The postures reposition the body in relation to the growing fetus, releasing stress in the lower back, groin and digestive system.”
Small developed our program using Iyengar exercises, with poses or modifications for each trimester. “This routine is designed to encompass the general population,” he says. “But I always recommend that pregnant women talk about their goals and concerns with a qualified, certified yoga instructor who has special training in prenatal yoga.” Be sure to check with your doctor or health care provider before starting any exercise regimen.