Motherhood as we know is an extraordinary experience. We’ve witnessed some pretty amazing feats too with expecting moms running marathons or taking part in weighlifting competitions. And while those scenarios are a little extreme, fitness experts and doctors do advise women to exercise during pregnancy, as it is not only good for the birthing experience, but keeps mothers healthy and energetic. Here’s a look at some of common yoga misconceptions about fitness and pregnancy.
Myth #1: Do not attempt prenatal yoga if you have never done yoga before
Completely untrue. Before any yoga class, be it prenatal yoga or otherwise, experienced instructors will take the time to speak to students about their health, stage of pregnancy and fitness levels. A prenatal yoga class is designed to ensure your safety and comfort in performing stretches, balancing postures and routines that involve squats and wide legged lunges. Instructors are trained to be aware of any health risks or changes in their students’ experience and will make modifications, using support blocks, straps, bolsters, chairs and even walls. What we do emphasise is for expecting mothers to speak to their doctors first to see if it’s advisable to join a yoga class.
Myth #2: Doing any form of exercise, including prenatal yoga, robs your baby of nutrients
Not true. This goes with the eating for two myth, that mothers should always eat for two. Instead of overeating, doctors have always advised moms to eat a balanced meal and stay hydrated, particularly during the first trimester if morning sickness is common. During exercise, the baby will take what it needs regardless of whether you’re burning calories or not.
Myth #3: Avoid abdominal exercises while pregnant
In a prenatal yoga class, we encourage mothers to practice core strengthening exercises to support the weight of the growing baby, for example, routines that strengthen the shoulders and upper back muscles. No close twists or compressions at the abdominal area, so we work on open twists instead. You can still work on strengthening your core with downward facing dog poses or a plank pose held for shorter time or as long as the mother is comfortable. What’s also important is paying attention to the pelvic floor muscles and working on kegel routines. Mothers should avoid exercising on their backs after 16 weeks to prevent circulation problems.
Myth #4: You must be super flexible to do prenatal yoga, or any form of yoga
Flexibility can be developed over time with practice and under guidance of an experienced and certified trainer. In a prenatal yoga class, mothers who are not naturally flexible tend to become nimbler due to the relaxins which help them stretch their ligaments. What is important in a stretch is not how far you can go, but to feel the sensation of the stretch, which releases endorphins leaving you feeling good. Lateral stretches and side bends are encouraged so that mothers can absorb more oxygen for her and the baby. Blocks, blankets, bolsters and pillows, or even rolled up mats are available in prenatal yoga classes to assist in the various poses.
Myth #5: Prenatal yoga in your third trimester will make you go to labour sooner
There isn’t any research that backs this claim. Prenatal yoga assists in the birthing process with hip openers to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, and breathing techniques such as the Ujjayi breath to help with active labour. This breathing technique helps calms mind and body, and helps mothers focus in labour.
A simple way to visualise the Ujjayi breath is to take a deep breath through your nose, and exhale with a loud, “haa” sound. For the actual Ujjayi breath, do the same but close your mouth during exhalation, seeing if you can mimic the “haa” sound. Some people call it the ocean’s breath – inhale as the water gathers up for a wave, and exhalation resembles sounds of wave crashing into the shore. Also in the final trimester, some mothers admit the extra weight affects their balance in poses such as the tree pose or dancing warrior. An experienced instructor will offer support in the form of a wall, chair or even encourage mothers to exercise with their partners. Doing so helps with bonding while strengthening their leg muscles, core system and sharpens focus.
By Susan Tam
Susan Tam is a certified yoga instructor with over a decade of yoga experience, certified under the 450 training hours programme organised by the Malaysian Association of Yoga Instructors (MAYI). Her prenatal yoga instructor certification is qualified by Surya Yoga’s 20-hour intensive training programme. She and partner Joanna Audrey are offering prenatal yoga classes at Fitology Bangsar, every Saturday at 230pm. Find their practice here.