Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga: Benefits and Guidelines for Safe Practices
An in-depth look into the benefits of yoga when pregnant and after delivery, and the times when it is safe to engage in exercise.
In the realm of prenatal yoga, Singapore offers a few options for pregnant mothers to follow along if you are already a practitioner yourself or even take up as a beginner, this restorative and often calming practise that is touted to be laden with benefits for both the mother and the baby.
theAsianParent talks to a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher at COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, Sarah Manning, who gives us an in-depth look into the benefits of yoga when pregnant and after delivery, and the times when it is safe to engage in exercise.
Prenatal yoga, Singapore classes
Benefits of prenatal yoga for the pregnant mother
According to Sarah, prenatal yoga poses many benefits for the pregnant mother. They are listed below in order of importance.
- Allocation of time and attention to self: Women have the habit of putting everyone else’s needs first and then their own. Prioritising herself, her health and her fitness is key to the well-being of her child.
- Allocation of time and attention to the baby while in-utero: Prenatal yoga helps you get a headstart on the bonding process – stroking the belly; talking to the baby; recognising that your hormonal environment affects baby; being aware that everything you consume in foods, drugs, drink, including air quality, affects the baby.
- A space to be honest and truthful with oneself: Being present at the moment and being in tune with your emotions – allowing and accepting all questions/ thoughts/ feelings to flood one’s mind.
- Empowerment of women to reach inwards to feel, to think, to observe: This helps you deal with situations and take stock of things to take appropriate action. These skills are key for her, and her baby’s safety – whether in the delivery room or as a parent.
- Practices that enable her to recognise that she is a holistic being: Prenatal yoga helps you to combine and interlink body, emotions, breath and mind. For example, if you can feel the tension in your shoulders or feel your breath becoming more shallow before you explode in anger, the practice teaches you to respond with a cleansing breath to switch off the anger, creating imagery of space, focussing on being centred and opting to immerse yourself in love instead – all useful practices to maintain in your home and especially in front of your child.
- Women need to be strong: While her pregnant body is getting ready for birth and “softening” – a process that allows the uterus to move into space where other organs have been, and facilitate the “relocation of other organs – a pregnant mother needs to be in tune with her body, listen to it and be aware of the sensations present. Prenatal yoga helps you to slow down, be curious and gentle with your bodies, and move into challenges in safety.
- Practice pelvic floor awareness: This is important, postnatally, to rebuild your body after the birth of your baby from day one of delivery.
- Prepare parenting skills: Prenatal Yoga helps you practise breathing for calming and centring purposes, improving on parenting skills and helps calm you down to better deal with issues that may rile you up in the future.
- Mindfulness: Prenatal yoga helps you practise mindfulness to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system for support of the digestive, immune and reproductive system.
- Release tension: Tension in shoulders, neck and back is released.
- Strengthen your body: It further helps you strengthen muscles – legs, arms, and core. It further helps you strengthen quads specifically for lifting and carrying – to avoid back injury.
- Calms you down: The practise helps in reducing heart rate and elevated blood pressure levels.
Prenatal Yoga, Singapore classes: Good for mum; good for baby
Prenatal yoga has further positive impacts on a growing baby.
When engaging in prenatal yoga, the mother is benefitted from numerous aspects that act as a cycle in improving conditions and the overall experience for the baby in the womb.
The pregnant mother will develop good posture which in turn “affects her breathing and her energy (qi)”, helps to keep her moving and helps her avoid back pain. Staying active during pregnancy improves circulation and helps keep energy levels up. The yoga poses and specific movements also “change breathing and qi circulation”, all aiding in improving conditions in the womb for the baby.
A relaxed and happy mother is a relaxed and happy baby.
The chanting and singing involved affecting the mother’s hormones and emotions and aids in letting down a rush of endorphins, which the baby can immediately experience.
Further, according to Sarah, the concepts of practised breathing and mindfulness, switches off cortisol and adrenaline. A baby that experienced in the womb “constant cortisol dominance, would mark this as “normal” – and in their life seek it to the detriment of their long-term health of organs and mind.”
Risks in prenatal yoga for pregnant mums
Now that we are aware of the benefits of prenatal yoga, are there any risks involved?
Are all yoga poses safe for mums-to-be and can a pregnant mother turn on a random instructional video, on YouTube perhaps, that is not specifically meant for pregnancy, and follow through with no harm occurring to her or her baby?
“As with all things – it’s not what you do but how you do it. When I was pregnant with my first child, and not a teacher myself at that time, I was practising yoga in classes at River Valley Road with a male ex-Singapore Olympic gymnast – this was 27 years ago. He was a strong, dominating teacher and we just blindly followed his instructions. I felt my rectus abdominus “unstitch” with some double leg raises, and realised it would have been so much better and safer doing the kind of practise we do now at our own Yoga centre,” she says.
“I empower women to be aware, move slowly, and explore for themselves how to practice safely – online material/ books are useful if used with care.
When I record an online class, there are usually three variations of each pose (we call it Grading the pose) – gradually becoming more challenging – and this gives a woman a chance to explore and be mindful as she deepens the challenge,” she adds.
But as with all exercise, there issues that some women will have to watch out for:
- Back pain and Pelvic girdle pain
- Dizziness – due to the same heart rate but 50% more blood in your system by the Third Trimester
- Varicose veins and spider veins
- Low Lying placenta – we avoid all deep squats for women with this condition
- If you experience spotting, pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and/or heart palpitations – stop immediately
At COMO, there are no prerequisites and prior fitness levels for women to join the Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga classes. However, Sarah encourages women to wait until the first trimester has passed to attend classes.
“In those first key weeks, the biggest changes are happening in your body and your baby’s development. You feel fatigued and should listen to your body,” she says.
“You are not sick when you are pregnant. However, you are softer and easier to injure. And, you will have issues that you have never had to work with before. Build your strength of mind and body with prenatal yoga, prepare for your childbirth and parenthood and have fun,” she advises.
General rules at prenatal yoga, Singapore classes
To make the practice safe for pregnant mothers certain guidelines will have to be followed, which typically differentiates prenatal yoga from the regular variation. They are detailed below:
- No inversions
- No heavy abdominal movements or compressions
- No strong backbends
- No sudden jerky movement
- No closed twists
- No strong forward bends
- No straining or overstretching
- No prone poses
- Avoid long periods lying on back after 20 weeks
- Avoid all breath retentions
- Avoid yin yoga – better to do restorative variations
- Avoid over-heating – dress appropriately and practise in a well-ventilated space
Postnatal Yoga, Singapore classes
Similarly, postnatal yoga – after the delivery of your baby – will further aid in restoring the body. Postnatal yoga differs in the approach of the practise and looks into nurturing the body and focussing on the postnatal issues that women may be dealing with.
“Here at COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, Singapore, we focus on the physical body in three ways:
- Relief of shoulder and neck tension and pain
- Rebuild core – pelvic floor/ transverse abdominus and multifidus and then develop the challenge to include quads, inner thigh, and deep gluts – addressing issues of stress incontinence/ back pain/ belly shape/ lifting safely. We also deal with energy work to combat fatigue. Yoga is restorative for the immune and digestive systems and helps mothers who have just delivered to rest and recover.
- Pep up women after delivery – using qigong breathing and movement.
But it is more than that – we gather together a community of women who have transitioned through a life-changing experience. They need emotional support. A shared safe, space to speak her truth,” says Sarah.
On being asked when it is safe for women to practise postnatal yoga, Sarah says: “We usually recommend that she completes her Gynaecologist’s 6 weeks check of uterus and structures in the pelvis. Mothers who come earlier than that, come for emotional support and are never turned away.
We tailor the exercises to make them appropriate for their body as it heals after delivery. There is a whole range of strengths, birth experiences, pelvis instability, back pain, confidence and ability, the key is to make it appropriate so that they are challenged enough to rebuild without overdoing it and injuring themselves. It’s a balance.”