Every woman experiences pregnancy differently. Some women have severe morning sickness, others feel fine. Energy levels, cravings and aches and pains vary from woman to woman, and so does the appropriate amount of exercise, including prenatal yoga.
Practicing prenatal yoga helps soothe symptoms, such low back and groin pain. It also teaches you to breathe, which will only help during contractions and birth. The calming essence of yoga is valuable in relieving pregnancy-related anxiety and the natural fears that come with bringing a new human into the world.
Yoga teachers and even doctors can't concur on an absolutely "right" time to start prenatal yoga. Sooner in your pregnancy is usually better, but exceptions exist for risky pregnancies, extreme morning sickness and experienced practitioners.
Advice for Yoga Veterans
If you're an established yogi, you can probably continue your existing practice, at least in the first few months, with few or no modifications. A study from 2015 published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that many common postures are safe well into pregnancy, with little or no modification. Researchers reviewed 26 postures and found them to be well-tolerated by the pregnant woman and the fetus.
The poses included common prenatal poses, such as Seated Forward Fold and Cat-Cow, as well as more dynamic poses such as Warrior I and III, Eagle and Camel. Even poses previously thought to be unsafe were deemed OK during pregnancy, including Happy Baby and Corpse pose.
Of course, check with your doctor first, and she'll likely advise you to avoid a hot practice, such as Bikram, which can put too much stress on your body and put you at risk of dehydration. In fact, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada officially discourages pregnant women from attending hot yoga, as announced in a statement from 2014. The effects of hot yoga on pregnancy hasn't been well-studied and puts the fetus at risk of malformations and neural tube defects.
As long as your health care practitioner is on board, a regular yogini can keep up her practice — modifying twists, forward-lying and reclined postures as she goes. It's really up to you if you feel good enough to keep going. Remember, though, to listen carefully to your body's cues; now is not the time to push through discomfort.
Read more: First Trimester Pregnancy Exercises
When Prenatal Yoga Makes Sense
Prenatal yoga is a great option for pregnant women who've never practiced yoga before. For women who have practiced yoga, but just don't feel comfortable modifying on their own, prenatal yoga is also a good option. In addition to promoting a sense of community, prenatal yoga helps keep your mind and body healthy. You also don't have to question the appropriateness of poses offered as they are tailored to your condition.
Prenatal yoga takes into account the hormonal changes occurring in your body, which is beneficial to any level of practitioner. For example, you must watch for feeling overstretchy from the release of relaxin -- a hormone that helps make your connective tissue more moveable in advance of childbirth. Poses may be more accessible than they were prior to pregnancy -- a prenatal class reminds you of your limits.
Start prenatal yoga as early as your first trimester. You may fear that your morning sickness will interfere with your practice, but it may actually help alleviate it. Give yourself permission to miss class if you're not feeling up to it, though.
A prenatal class can also help you deal with water retention, back pain and mood swings. The sooner in your pregnancy that you start yoga, the sooner you'll reap these benefits.
It's Never Too Late
You'll benefit from prenatal yoga even if you don't start until your second, or your third, trimester. Breathing techniques, gentle poses and meditation can benefit you at any point in your pregnancy.
A regular yogini who joins in the second trimester will gain valuable knowledge as to how to modify twists and backbends, so they're more comfortable for her. You'll also be practicing with guidance from a teacher who won't encourage you to do arm balances and inversions, breath retention or jerky jump throughs. These poses may increase your risk of falling, raise your blood pressure or detach the placenta.
Of course, if you have an at-risk pregnancy or a history of miscarriages, you may skip yoga — even prenatal yoga — in an abundance of caution. Discuss your options with a healthcare provider, especially if you're concerned about the viability of your pregnancy.