By Noa Glow
(Please note: To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence to support or disprove the effects of Bikram Yoga on the pregnant body. This information is not intended to replace medical advice.)
Is it safe to do Bikram Yoga for the full term of my pregnancy?
According to Laura Werner, a registered physiotherapist and Bikram Yoga instructor, the answer is “yes” – as long as you meet the following criteria:
- You’ve been a regular practitioner of Bikram Yoga for some time: “at least six months to one year of three to five classes per week … prior to becoming pregnant. In other words, you know the series, you know how your pre-pregnant body responds to the yoga, the hot room, etcetera.”
- Your pregnancy is low-risk.
- You feel comfortable and have discussed it with your doctor or health-care provider.
If you’re new to Bikram Yoga (haven’t yet established a regular practice), it’s best to avoid starting any new form of exercise until after your pregnancy. For those worried about practising in their first trimester (when the rate of miscarriage is highest), Laura recommends “practising at home without the heat until the first trimester has passed.”
Can I do the Bikram series as is, or are there certain postures I should leave out?
Bikram Choudhury’s wife, Rajashree, has designed a Bikram Yoga series specifically for expectant mothers. This special pregnancy series omits postures that compress the stomach and growing baby and modifies others so that they are safe for you to do. You can buy the DVD at any Bikram Yoga Vancouver studio, or online; it will show you the entire series of postures practised by students at different stages of pregnancy and teach you to perform each pose correctly.
Remember: Rajashree’s (and our own) suggestions are just that, suggestions. Always trust your own body to tell you what works and what doesn’t. “Some of Rajashree’s modifications didn’t feel great for my body, so I didn’t do them,” says Laura of her own pregnancies. “I’d lie out instead. Some women add in their own modified pregnancy poses. That’s fine, too.”
Which postures are considered “unsafe” during pregnancy?
The following postures should not be practised by pregnant women:
- Standing Head to Knee
- Separate Leg Forehead to Knee
- Full Locust
Rajashree recommends lying on your side for all of the Savasanas in the floor series. Additional safety tips include:
- In backbends, don’t push your hips forward beyond your knees. Stretch up and back with the upper spine. When coming up, bend your knees to relieve the pressure on your back.
- In forward bends, keep your knees open.
- Separate your feet slightly in standing poses.
When should I start the pregnancy series?
Rajashree recommends commencing the pregnancy series at 12 weeks gestation, or earlier.
What effect will the heat have on me during my pregnancy, and how often can I practise in the heated room?
This differs from woman to woman; always listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Some women are able to maintain their normal practice in the heated room – five to six days a week – throughout their entire pregnancy, while others opt to lower the frequency when pregnant.
Rea, one of our own Bikram Yoga teachers, is expecting her second daughter on October 24, 2011. She says, “I’d been doing two advanced and five beginner’s classes a week before I found out I was pregnant last February. I stopped doing advanced classes immediately and continued my usual amount of beginner’s classes. I never do less than three classes per week. I just go with how I feel.”
Among things you can do to maximize your comfort during class, proper hydration is key. “It is always important for any person practising Bikram Yoga to increase their water intake and to replace electrolytes,” says Laura. “This becomes even more important when pregnant.”
“I drink more coconut water these days to stay more hydrated than usual,” Rea agrees. “I eat more fruit. At times I do leave [the room] to use the washroom. Overall I just take it easy and focus more on form than depth, now more than ever.”
Some women choose to monitor their temperature before, after and even during class. “Yes, I used a thermometer,” says one Bikram’s Yoga College of India student. “When acclimated to the heat and practising regularly, my body temperature most often stayed steady, sometimes went down and rarely went up. If I felt myself overheating, I would leave class and run cold water on the insides of my wrists and elbows to cool me down fast. I was always able to return to class quickly and finish class.”
Another trick: choose your spot wisely. Though most practitioners are encouraged to lose their attachment to a particular spot in the yoga room, pregnant yogis can ask the teacher or front-desk staff to recommend an area that’s slightly cooler.
Finally, don’t be afraid to sit out any of the postures.
My pregnancy is considered high-risk, but I’m a regular practitioner. Can I still practise?
Strenuous yoga is not considered ideal for some pregnancies, including many that are high-risk. Your own health and the health of your unborn child should always come first. As one teacher puts it, “To be perfectly honest, it isn’t worth the risk.”
When can I start practising Bikram Yoga again?
This largely depends on your delivery, any complications you experienced and how you are recovering and coping with your new arrival. When you feel you’re ready, Laura recommends “doing the series at home first. … When you return to the studio, let the instructor know that you are returning from the birth of your child.”
Does Bikram Yoga offer any specific benefits during pregnancy?
“You will learn to become more patient and gentle with yourself and gain confidence in the beautiful mother that you are becoming,” Rajashree says. “Marvel at the miracle of your baby and what your incredible body and spirit are capable of creating.”
Relaxation and training for labour are two key benefits, says Laura. “Regular practise of Rajashree’s pregnancy yoga will get you in shape for labour. Your muscles will be strengthened and will have increased endurance. Your mind will also be strengthened, which undoubtedly be an asset during labour and delivery.”
According to Rea, who is now in her third trimester: “My doctor loves that I do Bikram Yoga. My body and mind feel good after I do the 90-minute class. My eating is normal. I have only gained 15 pounds so far. The days I don’t do yoga I feel so pregnant, but when I do it I feel light – physically and mentally. This pregnancy is a piece of cake because I do Bikram Yoga.”