One day last week, I watched a hugely pregnant woman work out at my gym. She had that lumbering, swaying gait that only comes in the last couple weeks of pregnancy. Obviously uncomfortable, she pressed on her back as she walked slowly through the cardio room. She was a short woman, and big, but not obese. Her belly protruded so far out in front that it looked like one good kick from inside could make her lose her balance. She was dressed in baby blue sweats, no-name sneakers, not fancy-brand athletic shoes.
A tense neck, sore back, twinges in your hips, throbbing feet—when you’re pregnant, aches and pains are just part of the deal, right? Not necessarily. “These problems may be the norm in our population today, but that wasn’t always the case,” says Katy Bowman, M.S., a biomechanist in Ventura, Calif., and creator of the Aligned and Well DVD series. “Pregnant women today suffer more than they did 100 years ago.”
Yoga may very well be the perfect exercise for moms-to-be. Its benefits—a stronger body, increased flexibility, improved stamina and heightened breath awareness— are all useful tools to have when you’re preparing to give birth.
The word “YOGA” literally means to yoke, or join together, the body and mind. At her Golden Bridge Yoga Studios in Los Angeles and New York, Kundalini yoga instructor Gurmukh has taught legions of pregnant women, including actresses Reese Witherspoon, Michelle Williams and Milla Jovovich, to yoke their body, breath and mind with the soul growing within them.
When it comes to prenatal exercise, sometimes mother knows best. That’s certainly the case for “Baywatch” lifeguard Gena Lee Nolin. When the actress’s mom, Patricia Nolin, a Duluth, Minn., yoga instructor, heard news of her 25-year-old daughter’s first pregnancy, her immediate response was, “Great, let me fax you some exercises and help you find a good yoga teacher in L.A.” The teacher they found was Hollywood-based Gurmukh, who has taught yoga to celebrity moms Madonna, Annette Bening and Rosanna Arquette.
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.
"Yoga works on many levels--physical, energetic and spiritual--to bring about a profound transformation that is unmistakable and potent," says Patty Slote, a yoga instructor at The Movement Center in Portland, Ore., who specializes in prenatal yoga. The poses focus on pregnancy-related concerns: toning the pelvic-floor muscles, opening the hips and pelvis, increasing breathing capacity, improving postural alignment and encouraging relaxation.
Consider yoga a way to stay physically healthy and emotionally grounded. It addresses challenges inherent to pregnancy and childbirth while nourishing the spirit to set the stage for confident parenting. Pregnant fitness buffs will find that yoga’s asanas (postures) rival any other workout in keeping the body toned and flexible. Women with more difficult pregnancies find physical and emotional comfort in yoga’s gentle, restorative poses and breathing techniques.