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Yoga, Pilates & Pregnancy

on Monday, 11 May 2015. Posted in Health & Nutrition

Healthy body, healthy mind! Discover the infinite potential yoga and Pilates have in keeping you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and rosy-cheeked through the rough 'n' tough strains of pregnancy...

Yoga, Pilates & Pregnancy

For the last decade or so, Yoga and Pilates have hogged the fitness spotlight, earning global popularity, legions of followers and even becoming a ‘lifestyle’. According to Yoga Journal, 2012 saw 20.4 million yogis in America; a 29% increase since 2008. US research studies crowned Pilates the nation's “fastest-growing fitness activity”, with 8.6 million participants in 2009 - a 456% up from 2000. [source: CNBC] Why? The list of health benefits that come attached with both never ends, from spinal alignment and flexibility, to tension relief and regulated digestion.


So, if both yoga and Pilates are the antidotes for a well-tuned bod and infinite health, can you imagine what they’re capable of during pregnancy, a period of tremendous bodily change causing discomfort, swelling, strained muscles and more? Read on to find out... 



Yoga vs. Pilates - how do they differ?

Although it's important for mamas-to-be to stay lean 'n' mean, pregnancy is not the right time to kickstart any intensive fitness regime, especially if you’re not used to it. It's a sensitive period that wears you down, and the risk of putting you and your baby in harm’s way is heightened. That’s exactly why activities low in impact and intensity are the best options. Yoga and Pilates are often thrown under the same umbrella - though they share some similarities and complement one another well, they are two different and distinguishable practices in reality.


The ancient Indian practice of yoga has been around for 5,000 years, and is often described as a "moving meditation," creating harmony and balance. It involves working and strengthening multiple muscle groups by freezing poses (or “asanas”) for different durations before flowing into the next.


With Pilates, the focus is on spinal articulation and core strengthening through repetition-based exercises. These essentially train your body to glide through your day-to-day life with ease, by confronting and creating awareness of your posture and how you sit at your desk at the offce or stand in the queue at the supermarket. 



Yoga With A Bump

It’s no secret that yoga tops the list as the most wholesome approach to keeping , particularly for members of the pudding club. Naturally, this means there's no shortage of maternity or prenatal yoga classes on offer in Hong Kong. They are specially-tailored with your transforming body in mind, aimed at factors like fluctuating and imbalanced hormones, gradual muscular strais and swelling of legs and feet.


Which popular studios in Hong Kong offer Prenatal Yoga classes?

- PURE Yoga
- The Sanctuary
- The Yoga Room
- Inspire Yoga
 Flex Studio

So, why is yoga the way to go when you’ve got a bun in the oven? To answer this burning question, get tips, and find out what is potentially harmful to both Mama-to-be and Baby, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Yayoi Ito, certified prenatal and postpartum Hatha instructor at Yoga Shanti.


Note: the following contents are general guidelines - keep in mind everybody is different, so your fitness routine should match your own personal strength, stamina and ability. 



Benefits of Prenatal Yoga?

Yayoi Ito - certified maternity yoga & Hatha instructor

  • Develops stamina and strength - your body requires more power and energy to carry your growing belly as Baby continues developing.
  • Improves balance - holding poses while focusing on your breathing fine-tunes physical and emotional balance, which are challenged by weight gain and raging hormones.
  • Zaps tension in the back, chest, hips, neck and shoulders - your growing belly strains these muscle groups and increases the curvature of your lower back.
  • Boosts circulation - good circulation decreases swelling and enhances immunity.
  • Develops breathwork in preparation for labour - when you breathe consciously, your blood pressure and heart rate are regulated which calms your nervous system; this improves digestion, enhances sleep quality and boosts your immune system.



The Dos...

  • Consult your doctor for advice and approval - find out if yoga is suitable for you based on factors like your condition, health, stage in pregnancy and so on.
  • Open your hips wide to keep circulation flowing - poses like pigeon, triangle and butterfly also help create flexibility, a major role in achieving an easy delivery.
  • Elongate and stretch your sides - poses like gate pose and side plank ease tension and feels great when your abdomen starts to feel overcrowded.
  • Widen your stance in standing poses - poses like Urdhva Hastasana create extra room for your bump.
  • Stretch and hold on all fours (cat-cow) - this helps the baby get into the optimal delivery position.
  • Strengthen perineum and pelvic floor muscles - practice Kegal exercises (or mula bandha) to help you through the birth and lower the chances of tearing your muscles.
  • Listen to your body - don’t ever push your limits, always stay hydrated and immediately discontinue anything that gives you any anxiety, pain or discomfort. There's no need to practice every day - gentle stretches for a maximum of 1 hour, 2 to 3 times a week is sufficient.



... & The Don'ts

  • All forms of vigorous exercise, especially during the first trimester - mild exercise is permissible for women who were routine followers of hardcore workout regimes before falling pregnant. If you're not active normally, you should wait until after 16 weeks (2nd trimester) to begin yoga progressively. Any earlier, and the risk of harming the fragile process of foetal development or even miscarriage is high.
  • Bikram (hot yoga), Ashtanga / Power yoga & Vinyasa yoga - during pregnancy, your body heats up very rapidly which can lead to dehydration and hyperthermia.
  • Overstretch - during pregnancy, the hormone relaxin gets to work, softening your ligaments to make room, and making them vulnerable and prone to injury.
  • Jumps or sudden movements - risks dislodging fertilised egg, causing cramps or shocking the baby.
  • Poses that strains, twists or puts pressure on the abdomen - though open twists are fine, inverted (upside down) asanas and poses like bridge compresses and crunches your internal organs, including the uterus.
  • Lying on your back and deep forward bends - this compresses blood vessels and nerves that circulate blood to the uterus.



Prenatal Pilates

Unlike yoga, Pilates has only been around for the better part of 20 years. Pilates promotes deep strength of the core muscles and centres on the spine - its flexibility and the strength of the muscles directly attached to it that helps to create spinal stability. So what role does Pilates play in physically conditioning the body to deal with pregnancy? To find out, we reached out to former HK Ballet dancer and certified Pilates and Gyrotonics instructor Elvin Beh. 


Benefits of Prenatal Pilates?

  • “Retraining” your body to cope with acute biological changes - accommodating a uterus-stretching baby brings about a series of painful, uncomfortable and foreign symptoms: crumpled spine, enlarged breast tissue, tension in your joints, increased hyperextension, deteriorating posture and more. Pilates helps to create awareness in how you carry yourself and correct the things that may be contributing factors to these symptoms.
  • Strengthening your TVA (transverse abdominis muscle) - strong abs equip you with the power to cope as your belly grows heavier.
  • Alleviate back pain - building core muscles allows you to shift your weight from your back, reducing pain and pressure, and aligning the spine.
  • Boosts blood circulation - good circulation decreases swelling and enhances immunity.
  • Prevents leg cramps - and varicose veins too!
  • Builds pelvic floor - supports your bladder, bowel and womb, and may (hopefully) help you dodge embarrassing accidents caused by weakened reflexes.
  • Sustains balance - having a plump, round belly adjusts your centre of gravity and makes you wobbly, clumsy, and at risk of toppling over sometimes. See why balance is key?
  • Relaxes and controls your breathing - just like yoga, controlled breathing is a great tool when it comes to facing those dreaded contractions!



... & The Nays

Where in Hong Kong can you find Prenatal Pilates classes?

- H-Kore
- In Motion
- IsoFit
- Option Studio
 Flex Studio
  • If you’re anemic, ditch all exercise (unless your doc “OK”s it) - Anemics suffer from deficiencies of iron which is essential in haemoglobin production (red blood cells which carry oxygen to other cells) especially during pregnancy when your blood volume increases by 35-50%.
  • Lie on your front or back after the first trimester - the reasons for the front are obvious, but lying on your back can compress the large vein responsible for transporting blood to your heart and to the tiny womb inhabitant.
  • Hyperextend joints - remember, the hormone relaxin can really make your bones, joints and connective tissue fragile.
  • Hold your breath - keep breathing no matter what…
  • Overdo it - 2-3 times a week is enough; you don’t want to wear yourself out or suffer from aches, plus overstretching is a big no-no!



After You Pop!

After childbirth, ladies are often desperate to whip their bods into their lean ‘n’ mean pre-baby frames - and understandably so - but don’t deny yourself time to heal before you dive in. Though it varies from person to person, experienced yogi Yayoi recommends an average postpartum recovery period of at least 6 weeks after natural birth deliveries, and more than 8 weeks after C-sections and complex deliveries. Pilates pro Elvin, says he's seen women go back to the studio as early as two weeks following a natural birth, but advises that women who undergo C-sections, which is a major surgery to allow ample time for their bodies to recover. 





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