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Yoga and Pregnancy

Conversations about yoga with Anastasia

Anastasia, 9 months pregnant, practising yoga

I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful pictures posted on social media by Anastasia Shevchenko practicing yoga with a huge pregnant belly and looking so peaceful. Anastasia is a yoga teacher based in Berlin and the founder of the 1st Berlin Yoga Conference scheduled to take place on 24-26 of May 2019. The conference promises to deliver an “authentic yoga experience” and already created enough buzz to become Europe’s most anticipated yoga event.

It turns out that many pregnant ladies discover yoga during their pregnancy. Perhaps it is because of a new awareness to their physical being, realizing responsibility for caring to another being, hormonal changes, aspiration for a spiritual growth or simply having extra time to explore while taking off work.

No doubt that the practice of yoga during pregnancy comes with many benefits for both the mother and the developing unborn baby, but with it also come many questions and concerns about the optimal ways of staying healthy and safe during this special time. I asked Anastasia Shevchenko (nine month pregnant!) to share her professional knowledge and personal experience.
Pregnant ladies, get ready to practice some yoga!

Yoga and pregnancy: Is it safe?

Generally speaking – yes! However, when considering to practice yoga in pregnancy, one needs to understand three things: 1. Each woman, and even each pregnancy, is unique, so the fitness levels, possibilities, therefor limits can vary greatly. 2. Awareness is key, which gives you an ability to listen carefully and respond adequately to the circumstances, feelings, and body sensations. 3. Intuition is the best teacher: one should tap into the inner wisdom of the body rather than follow a potentially faulty or dangerous line of reasoning from the mind.

What if I never practiced yoga before?

Good question! The best advice for any physical activity during pregnancy is to do less than before, not more! So if you never did any physical exercise and while pregnant got inspired to pick up a whole work-out regime, it could become strenuous for the body, and even potentially dangerous. With that being said, most of the “pregnancy yoga” classes are very gentle, and designed for women who do not necessary have any background in yoga, sports, or fitness exercise.

Tell me about your pregnancy and practicing yoga

Well, I would not call myself an anomaly, but I’m still not the ordinary case. I have been practicing yoga for the past 15 years and my practice has developed over time into a very advanced, athletic, and almost acrobatic one. I’m flexible and strong by nature, with a fountain of energy and a need to let it out. The method of yoga that I practice is called Ashtanga Yoga, which is probably the most physically demanding yoga style out there. So in my first trimester I filmed this video which was my daily practice, but in my second trimester I stopped the Advanced Series and my practice became much gentler, without involving the core muscles anymore in any shape or form. In my last trimester my practice mostly included all the standing postures that felt comfortable for my body and some sitting postures for gentle hip- and heart-openers.

How far into the pregnancy can you practice yoga?

Considering that each woman and pregnancy is unique, there is no one answer to this question. Overall, I believe that you can practice yoga during the whole pregnancy right into the delivery room; it’s just that your practice would have some adjustments. In the first trimester, there is a risk of miscarriage and so your practice should be very gentle, although some women, especially the ones with athletic backgrounds, consider the first trimester as their favorite and strongest time. The second trimester is where the tummy starts to grow and so the practice should be adjusted according to the changing size of the fetus. The last trimester is more challenging, and naturally your practice should become very simple, sometimes just some standing postures, a mini-meditation, or a practice of breathing with awareness will do.

What are the benefits?

So many! A cool fact about yoga during pregnancy is the “two for the price of one” meaning the practice is for both the mother and the unborn baby. The physical and psychological benefits are enormous: yoga makes you feel and look great while providing the developing baby with everything she needs to stay healthy and happy.

Benefits of yoga practice during pregnancy:

  • Develop body strength and prevent muscle tensions due to changes in the center of gravity and body balance
  • Better circulation, preventing excess water in the body such as swelling and edema, and improving blood supply to the placenta
  • More oxygen supply to the fetus by encouraging the mother to breath with more awareness during and after the yoga classes
  • Better emotional balance despite the hormonal changes and challenges of the pregnancy
  • Bring calmness and prevent anxiety, sometimes relieving fears and insecurities around the risks during the pregnancy and around birth
  • Improving digestion and alleviates common late pregnancy symptoms such as constipation, indigestion and acid reflux
  • Better energy flow through the energetic channels by means of gentle stretches and stimulation of the joints
  • Reduce common pregnancy complains such as lower back or neck pain, nausea, insomnia, headaches, shortness of breath, and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Prepare the body for labor by helping it to open more efficiently, gently over time
  • Create a time/space context to connect with the developing baby and increases body perception and sensitivity to tune in better with the fetus
  • Increase the chances of a quicker natural delivery with less complications

Some doctors are against physical activities while pregnant, what’s your take on that?

It depends on the circumstances. Since we already established that every pregnancy is unique, each case needs to be examined carefully. However, overall I believe that there is a general consensus that moderate and gentle physical activity is healthy for the pregnant woman. My personal experience of two pregnancies and watching friends and colleagues pregnancies showed me that women who stay physically active throughout the pregnancy are more likely to have a great time during pregnancy, easier and natural deliveries, and a faster recovery during the postpartum period.

Your experience of teaching yoga to pregnant ladies?

I’ve had many pregnant women come through, at different stages in their pregnancy, as well as during the postnatal healing and getting back in shape. As a matter of fact, I have been teaching yoga classes during my first pregnancy and now during my second pregnancy all the way till the end of 8th month!

Can you recommend a few yoga poses for pregnant ladies?

Posture sequencing should be individual, but what work for most pregnant women is hip-openers. These postures help to loosen up the pelvis and prepare the body for a natural birth by allowing it to open in a better way. Check out more postures on my social media.

That reminds me of my own violin video, sitting on the floor in a hip-opener yoga pose!

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