3. EXPLORE A NEW WAY OF PRACTICING YOGA
WHY IS THE YOGA PRACTICE NOT SUITABLE IN THE FIRST 12 WEEKS OF PREGNANCY?
The debate is still open, but some physicians agree to the “safer” choice of reducing PA (physical activity) in the first 3 months, when most of the episodes of miscarriages take place.
That said, your personal Physician will advise you on which type of activity suits you better, considering what you have been doing so far, your active daily routine (house work, heavy – duty jobs, walking distance etc.). Several studies show the benefits of PA from the beginning of pregnancy, but the Yoga practice should always been approved by your Gyn and include all the variations that help the activity be comfy and accessible.
Your quest should involve not only the Yoga practice or the usual training you had been into before pregnancy, but also all your Leisure Time Physical Activity (LTPA): the miles you walk, the weights you carry during your daily routine. There are several studies on this topic. Here you can find a recent example from the “International Journey of Environmental Research and Public Health”, conducted in Serbia in 2020.
WHAT FOR A PRENATAL PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?
Walking in nature at a safe pace or light movement in water have been recognized as recommended activities, as stated in Nascimento’s study proposed here, bottom. Do not start any PA, course or independent training without the consent of your Gyn.
Since I’m writing this essay in a particular pandemic age, with swimming pools being closed and fieldtrips made difficult, the Yoga practice, if accurately fixed, can represent a good alternative also for mums who haven’t been into Yoga before their pregnancy but have been advised and certified by their Gyns.
Notes from the study
Spinal curvature and characteristics of postural change in pregnant women
NATSUKO OKANISHI1, NOBUHIRO KITO1, MITOSHI AKIYAMA1 & MASAKO YAMAMOTO2 1Hiroshima International University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima and 2Saijo Tokiwa Clinic, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima, Japan
“Pregnant women may experience many physiological and anatomical changes, particularly postural changes, in their body and often report symptoms of low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, leg problems and urinary incontinence. More than two-thirds of pregnant women experience back pain and almost one-fifth experience pelvic pain, and approximately one-third have urinary incontinence. Complaints during pregnancy can continue postpartum. Postural changes in pregnant women are a recognized cause of low back pain and pelvic girdle pain; however, little research has been conducted on these changes. The influence of specific hormones during pregnancy and postural change due to the increased and altered mass distribution in the trunk are thought to be factors underlying these complaints in pregnancy. (…) Especially in the second and third trimester, many pregnant women seem to demonstrate a sway-back posture, in which the upper trunk is displaced posterior the lower body from the pelvis, as also observed in patients with low back and pelvic girdle pain. This study demonstrated that pregnant women showed a tendency for lumbar kyphosis.”
“(Back pain) complaints may result from increased levels of relaxin loosening pelvic ligaments during pregnancy. Biomechanical factors have also been suggested to play a larger role than hormonal influences on pregnancy complaints. Pregnant women with anterior translation of their center of mass have been shown to lack positional adjustment of lumbar lordosis, and the force of gravity, when more distant from the hip, generates a larger hip moment and an unstable upper body. Many pregnant women demonstrate a sway-back posture, whereby the upper trunk is displaced posterior to the lower body. Swayback posture increases the tone of back muscles to maintain thoracic kyphosis, causing the center of gravity to shift further backward, and increases the tone of head and neck muscles, causing the head to shift forward to compensate for the change in center of gravity and prevent falling. Pregnancy-related changes in trunk motion during a walking task may indicate altered musculoskeletal loads with potential for injury or pain, and pregnancy was shown to induce significant changes in postural control when women stood with a reduced support base. Progression of symptoms is seen especially in the third trimester as the center of gravity changes due to weight gain. Pregnancy may result in strain symptoms in the lumbosacral region and pelvis, with variable pain intensifying in various static positions.”
Notes from the study
Physical Activity Patterns and Factors Related to Exercise during Pregnancy: A Cross Sectional Study.
Nascimento SL, Surita FG, Godoy AC, Kasawara KT, Morais SS (2015)
“It is well established in the literature that an active lifestyle produces health benefits, especially for the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases. For most pregnant women, exercise is not only safe for fetal health but is also associated with numerous maternal health benefits, including the prevention and control of gestational diabetes, control of excessive weight gain, reduction of lower back pain complaints, and positive effects on maternal mental health and quality of life. Therefore, regular exercise is recommended for all healthy pregnant women. Those who were active before pregnancy and those who were sedentary but want to begin some activity during pregnancy can practice physical activity, provided that they engage in activities of moderate intensity and avoid those that present a risk of falling or abdominal trauma.”
AVOIDING DISCOMFORT WITH A NEW, TAILORED PRACTICE
A commonly reported reason for the reduction of PA during pregnancy is discomfort during exercise. This discomfort usually comes during the second trimester, when there are changes in posture, the shift of point of gravity, and progressive lordosis. This is why the practice will be modified excluding any exercise which emphazises lordosis.
Even if Ashtanga has been your great love, it’s definitely time to say Goodbye to your dear, old, Bandhas:
- Mula Banda (defined by P.Jois as “The Master Key”): it’s time to play with your pelvic floor in a different way, gaining confidence of contractions and release, without maintaining a steady contractions (which has been after all quested also in non-pregnant, young ashtangi, who have been in great number suffering from continence problems, due to the stifness of the muscles forced to stay contracted for hours);
- Uddiyana Bandha (and also the classical Pilates cue, to draw your belly in towards your spine): during pregnancy, you should avoid such efforts in the abdominal areas, as far as your baby is conquering some space and your Relaxine hormone helping you with this task;
- Jalandhara Bandha: the cue of making the space in between your vocal chords/closing the glottis in order to be able to hear the Ujjayi breath is risky both for pregnant and non-pregnant Yogin. This cues makes the natural flow of air out of your body more difficult. Here you can watch a video of my dear friend and colleague Celest Pereira who has been questing on Ujjayi interviewing also a professional singer yogini.
THE PELVIC FLOOR
The modified Yoga practice will improve your experience of connecting muscles movement to breathing.
The pelvic floor reacts to the movement of the diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation.
Here you can watch a video of this activity, which takes place automatically in your body.
In this video you can watch the activation of the pelvic floor.
Feet exercises may help you release tension in your pelvic floor. Its nerves start at the lower end of your spine (S1-S4), at the same levels of the nerves which run into your feet. Due to this proximity, this nerves may be “chatty” and cross refer pain. Studies have shown how the ability of engaging the pelvic floor may be affected by the position of the ankles. Both pelvic floor and feet act as a shock absorber for the body.
If you wish to explore the engagement starting from your feet in a safe way, stand with shoulders attached to a wall, place a yoga block or a big book at your feet and try to put tiptoes on the block while pushing heels down the floor.
In asanas like GODDESS, you can experiment inhalation during relax and exhalation during engaging of the pelvic floor:
open your feet a bit larger than your hips, with toes spread so that you can feel an overall stability.
While INHALING, lift arms up and gently squat a bit without arching your spine and without putting too much effort in the abs fascia.
While EXHALING, lift back up to standing while folding your elbows at shoulder level and engaging your pelvic floor.