We asked Birth Educator and Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Nadia Raafat to explain the benefits of Yoga during pregnancy. It’s worth noting that if you are attending a regular yoga class (one not specifically geared to pregnant women), be sure to tell the instructor you’re pregnant, and which trimester you’re in, and do consult your doctor if you’re taking up a new regime. 

Practising Yoga during pregnancy has been shown to increase flexibility, improve muscle tone, improve circulation, reduce water retention, reduce muscle tension and stiffness, and relieve common pregnancy ailments such as morning sickness, sciatica and back pain. A recent trial demonstrated that Yoga and Meditation also reduces stress and anxiety during pregnancy. Whether you are practising Yoga in a general or pregnancy-specific class setting, with a DVD or on your own, these seven tips will help you practice safely and with ease.

1. Your Pregnant Belly is Your Centre of Gravity

Your womb is your centre of gravity. As it expands to house your growing baby, it will determine how and what postures you practice. Develop your awareness of all the activity unfolding in your belly; your baby, your digestive system, your breath and your abdominal support. Integrate the abdominals into whatever posture you are doing to support the back and maintain tone. Avoid poses which compress, squeeze or put excess pressure on the abdomen. Practice open twists instead of closed twists and avoid all poses which require you to lie on your belly.

2.Your Body is Your Best Teacher

In a pregnancy class all yoga poses are suitable for pregnancy (this is not the case in other classes). Whilst many pregnancy complications like oedema, heartburn and back ache are remedied by Yoga still every body is unique, as is every pregnancy, so let your body tell you what feels nourishing and enhancing and what feels compromising. If a posture or exercise doesn’t feel right, simply adapt or change your pose. In this way you will develop and trust in the reliability of your body’s feedback that will serve you well during Labour and Childbirth too.

3. Transition In and Out of Poses Slowly and Carefully

During pregnancy the body is lubricated by the hormone relaxin which softens ligaments which loosens joints. Sudden movements can leave the body vulnerable to injury. Protect your body by transitioning between poses with awareness and patience. – especially as your belly expands. Additionally blood pressure changes during pregnancy can mean transitioning through planes (lying, sitting, standing) can sometimes cause dizziness. Giving yourself plenty of time to transition will ensure you remain steady and balanced and avoid discomfit and injury.

4. Swap Deep Inversions for Gentle Ones

Unless you are a really experienced yogini, during later pregnancy it is better to avoid more challenging inversions like headstand and handstands and instead adapt or practice gentler inversions like supported shoulder stand and Legs Up the Wall Pose – an ideal pregnancy restorative pose instead.

5. Balance Your Practice

A good yoga practice is an even practice that brings balance to the body and mind. Make sure your sessions includes strengthening and toning work as well as mobilising work. Aim for a balance between forward bends, backward bends, lateral bends, twists, inversions and balances. This will leave the body refreshed and energised. The good news is that most classes and DVDs will do this for you.

6. Work Mindfully

Yoga practiced without presence is exercise.The mindful bit is key to an authentic yoga practice. It will help you to develop inner as well as outer strength and flexibility. So choose to stay in the body, flowing with the rhythm of the breath and listening to your body’s moment to moment feedback as you move through your practice. Punctuate your practice with plenty of restful periods of stillness and presence in either Mountain Pose or Adapted Childs Pose.

7. Save Plenty of Time for the Relaxation at the End of Your Practice

An authentic yoga practice is not complete without the relaxation session at the end. This time, when the body is awake and alert, is the optimum time for establishing a connection with your baby, listening to a yoga nidra (yogic sleep visualisation) or mindfulness relaxation and establishing a powerful connection with the birthing body. It is also during this time of rest that the powerful healing work of yoga unfolds. So grab a blanket, make sure you are comfortable and enjoy the deep rest that yoga brings.

By Nadia Raafat, mother of 4, Birth Educator and Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Nadia Raafat. Nadia is the co-founder of Battersea Yoga Centre in SW London, a popular independent yoga and meditation centre and director of Becoming Mother; a Mindful Birth Education Program. She has helped hundreds of women to manage pregnancy stress and birth with confidence through her Becoming Mother Mindful Birthing Programme. Nadia Raafat’s Becoming Mother Yoga & Mindfulness DVD is available here or on Amazon