A Brief Overview of Physical Changes During Pregnancy:
A womans life is multidimensional.
Pregnancy is natures supreme miracle and is a new dimension that gives new experience, and brings more responsibilities to a woman.
Economical status, environment and lifestyle affect not only the womans health but also that of the fetus.
Therefore, leading a good healthy life, both physically and mentally is essential.
During pregnancy, due to hormonal changes, a woman has to face many physical changes such as pigmentation of the skin, increased breast pain and tenderness and increased erectility of the nipples. The skin becomes fat and greasy, the layers are overstretched, and rupture creates stretch marks especially from the navel to the pubic region. She is prone to backaches due to the release of estrogen, progesterone and relaxin. All of the joints including the spine and pelvis become elastic and flexible and may not be able to bear the extra weight. There will also be major metabolic changes that can lead to weight gain. Emotional upsurges can influence social and family relationships.
In the circulatory system, the volume of fluid increases, and the heart is slightly pressed and displaced to the left due to the enlargement of fetus. As a result, blood pressure may rise and become a threat for both the woman and the fetus. Due to the excess pressure on the venous return varicose veins, optic nerve damage and renal failure may occur.
Pregnancy may be a difficult experience for those who are suffering with respiratory problems like asthma, and prescribed drugs can sometimes affect fetus. In most pregnant women, edema and progressive weight gain can be seen due to an increased fluid level and salt retention; in the first three months, a vomiting sensation and nausea are common. After the third month, heartburn, perversions of the appetite, constipation and frequent urination are common complaints. It is also important to keep emotions under control, the mind is the source of all emotions.
Eighty percent of women experience backache at some point during their pregnancy. The severity of this pain ranges from mild discomfort after standing for long periods of time, to debilitating pain that interferes with daily life. Although backache can be a sign of a more serious condition, it is usually the result of changes occurring within the body. The spine is vulnerable due to the hormone production during pregnancy; making joints less stable (to allow the pelvis to spread as the baby grows). Most women gain 25-35 pounds of extra weight during pregnancy; this is distributed mostly around the abdomen. There is also an increase in postural strain as the body compensates for changes to the pregnant womans center of gravity.
Pregnancy and labor are a natural phenomenon for those who are living life naturally. All beings that follow nature, including our ancestors, do not rely on any extra medical aid; this is because of their physical activity, mental relaxation and emotional balance. The modern lifestyle somehow succeeded in separating us from nature. The result is an eternal search for alternative solutions for better living with better health.
The Role of Yoga in Pregnancy:
Yoga is a non-impact activity, which can nourish the tissues of the mother and baby in a gentle way. The stretching exercises make the muscles limber and warm, especially helpful when a woman is pregnant. Yoga can be used therapeutically to relieve the associated health problems of the mother. According to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, healthy, well-conditioned women who exercised before pregnancy may continue to do so throughout pregnancy without compromising the babys health or development. Yoga is a soothing activity, even for a woman who has exercised before.
In the present day, yoga is a holistic health approach that can give physiological, psychological and bio-chemical benefits, especially in pregnancy. Modern exercises may strengthen the body to some level; however, there is a time factor involved in dealing with weights and dynamic movements. A nutritionist may suggest a healthy diet, but due to hormonal changes, the pregnant woman may not be in a position to digest, absorb or assimilate the food. Regarding emotional stability, the latest research findings show that yoga helps in calming the mind more than any other system without any side-effects. Consult a yoga consultant before starting yogic practice. A yoga specialist can give personal guidelines, based on a womans medical history and current condition.
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Yoga Practice and the Trimesters:
The yogic routine changes during the different stages of pregnancy. During the first trimester, it is especially important that the woman avoids over-eating. After this period, she will also need to avoid exercises that are performed while lying flat on her back or while standing in one place for long periods, as both can reduce blood flow to the baby. This is not the time for her to try new and advanced poses. As she moves into the second trimester and the baby grows, her centre of gravity shifts and her abilities and movements become restricted. Therefore, pregnant woman should focus on improving their technique to achieve mind-body balance.
A Classification of the Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy:
A simple cin mudra (hand gesture) can easily bring a smile to a womans face, as it opens the physical knot at the eyebrows and gives intense relaxation. Regular practice of inverted poses like viparita karani, Sarvangasana and salamba sirsasana (with support) flush the pituitary gland with healthy blood, preventing disturbances during pregnancy. The thyroid and adrenal glands are massaged with yogic methods.
Practices like inverted dandasana, urdhva dhanurasana and bharadwajasana make the muscles of the heart pump well. Healthy blood circulation and oxygenation to the placenta are thus ensured. Asanas such as urdhva dhanurasana and viparita karani can help the heart function at its peak. The improvement in cardiac parameters in these types of asanas is comparable to what can be achieved by aerobic exercises. The practice of inverted poses trains the lungs to bear the pressure of the abdominal organs.
Simple pranayama like ujjayi and anuloma viloma without retention are useful in treating both low and high blood pressure. The practice of pranayama techniques can prevent malfunctioning in the lungs. By maintaining the health of the mothers lungs, the placenta (the fetal lung) is well protected.
During pregnancy, modified asanas can help with the proper elimination of waste material from the body. Back bending asanas can prevent dilatation of the ureters (tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) and can prevent pressure from the uterus on the kidneys, ureters and bladder.
Twisting asanas like salamba vakrasana and bharadwajasana are especially good for increasing the renal flow during pregnancy and rinsing the uterus and ovaries with blood.
Due to the intense stretching of all of the elastic fibers under the skin, the distension of the abdominal wall due to the enlarging uterus does not produce any strain. Pregnancy stimulates the body to prepare for the changes that will take place in every fiber.
Yoga is the art of using the will to master the mind and the body. Asanas and pranayama help to strengthen the spinal nerves. Asanas aid the peripheral nervous system, and proper neurogenic control of the pelvic organs is achieved.
All asanas promote flexibility in the joints. For instance, standing poses like trikonasana, parshvakonasana and virabhadrasana tone the knees, ankles and hip joints. The pelvic joints are strengthened by seated poses like baddha and upavista konasana, ardha padmasana and supta padanusthasana.
Supta baddha konasana gives relief to the muscles of the lower anterior abdominal wall (and happens to be a very good pose for delivery). Asanas help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus and bowels. By strengthening these muscles during pregnancy, one can develop the ability to relax and control the muscles in preparation for labor and birth.
Although it may seem tempting to rest when experiencing pain, yoga can provide benefits. A yogic routine, gentle stretching and movement will often decrease muscle spasms and improve spinal function, decreasing pain. Yoga also boosts energy levels and contributes to an easier labor, delivery and post-partum recovery. A balanced yogic practice includes cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.
Stretching is important for cardiovascular and strength training, for backache prevention and treatment during pregnancy. Simple lateral bending asanas like trikonasana, parshvakonasana, ardhachandrasana and standing marichasana can be performed in a slow and controlled manner, which strengthen the abdominal muscles, back muscles, pelvic floor, buttock, and thigh muscles and can effectively help prevent and decrease backache.
Although there are many stretches that can be safely performed during pregnancy, a simple marjala vinyasa (dynamic cat stretch), downward dog stretch and shoulder stretch with support, followed by proper breathing are recommended for the muscles that most often contribute to backache such as the back, hamstring, chest and neck muscles.
Calming the Mind:
There are many yogic techniques that help to calm the mind. One of the best techniques is cin mudra meditation. Sit in any comfortable asana with cin mudra and observe the pulse sensation. This practice can affect the mind and the speed of thoughts can be gradually reduced. Eventually, a pregnant woman can extend her awareness to the movements of the fetus in her womb. This practice greatly helps in developing the sattva guna in the fetus, which may prevent mental disorders in the baby.
Concentration on the breathing with abdominal synchronization whilst imagining blossoming flowers, the smiles of infants and other positive images, will develop sattva guna in both the woman and her fetus. For techniques that are more personal and suit you, please consult your yoga consultant.
Since yoga promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance, it can help a woman carry the extra weight during pregnancy, prepare her for the physical stress of labor, and make it easier for her to get back in shape after the baby is born. Most of the breathing techniques used in yoga are a good preparation for childbirth, helping one to remain calm and breathe steadily through contractions. Yoga also improves posture, which helps in backache and can increase flexibility, making delivery positions such as squatting easier.
Being active during pregnancy can also reduce physical discomforts like backache, constipation and fatigue, improve mood and self-image, and even help bring sound sleep. If a woman is unaware of her diet and nutrition; both mother and child are prone to nutritional problems. A yogic diet can successfully combat malnutrition. Yoga for pregnant women can positively influence the whole process of bringing a new life into the world.