This article is part of a series of Seattle Yoga News articles focused on interviewing local yoga experts in the Seattle area on a variety of yoga topics that are relevant to our readers. This week’s article is focused on Prenatal Yoga and features Anne Phyfe Palmer.

Seattle Yoga News: How long have you been teaching prenatal yoga?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: For almost eighteen years! After training to become a doula (childbirth support person) I decided to continue my studies and took Colette Crawford’s first prenatal teacher training the summer of 1998. I started teaching prenatal as soon as I received my certificate and added postnatal a year later.

SYN: What made you decide to follow this path?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: I was a Women’s Studies minor in college. My senior year I took a class called Sociology of Women’s Health. It was an eye-opening experience; I learned about childbirth and how it is handled both medically and within the midwifery model. This is what led me to the doula training, and through that to my realization that teaching yoga is very similar to being a doula. We help people navigate discomfort and challenge!

Even though I had no children of my own when I started, I was able to really understand what it might feel like to be pregnant through my studies and intuition. My classes were known for giving pregnant women opportunities to challenge their bodies safely. I believe pregnant women benefit from strong practice to build strength and confidence balanced with opportunities to relax deeply and allow the body to rest and restore.

SYN: How are prenatal yoga classes different from regular yoga classes?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: Prenatal yoga classes teach only postures and practices that are safe for people who are pregnant. Depending on the teacher, they might also offer a community-building component and/or focus on labor and childbirth education.

Some prenatal classes start with a check-in circle so that the teacher can learn about the students’ bodies and pregnancies and teach the class to the needs of those attending. This circle can also be a place for pregnant people to share resources and learn from one another and their teacher.

In a prenatal yoga class, you can expect to work on strengthening to support the growing demands on your body, flexibility to keep the body able to move with ease and breathe awareness as a key to labor and childbirth.

SYN: What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: During pregnancy the body is changing dramatically. Sometimes it is glorious and exciting, sometimes it is painful and scary. Yoga postures help to ease many of the common discomforts of pregnancy such as low back pain, outer hip tightness, and shoulder tension. Poses like Warrior I and II help to both stretch and strengthen the legs and hips which can help to relieve back pain.

It can also be comforting and helpful to be around others going through a similar process. The women share tips and feedback on how to best work with pain or difficulty and are a great support to one another.

But one of the most important benefits, to me, is the empowerment that can occur when a pregnant woman allows herself to trust her body, especially during this life-changing time. Childbirth is often painted as painful, dangerous and scary. In yoga we are practicing awareness of sensation so that we can work with rather than fear the intensity of labor and childbirth. Labor is hard work, but it is a threshold a woman goes through on her path to motherhood.

SYN: When is the best time during pregnancy to do yoga? How often should pregnant women do prenatal yoga?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: I recommend that a pregnant person start taking prenatal yoga as soon as they are drawn to it, which might be as early as the first trimester, as long as they don’t have any contraindications or have been told not to exercise by their care provider. My experience has been that women show up when their bodies are ready. Most experience the most ease in practice in their second trimester, when the fatigue and nausea of the first trimester have passed, but I believe a modified prenatal yoga practice is good for women throughout their pregnancy.

SYN: Are there any risks associated with prenatal yoga?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: My belief is that the use of modifications in a prenatal yoga class provide a similar safety for the participant as a non-pregnant person would have in a regular yoga class. I would never say that there is zero risk, but in prenatal yoga we are greatly reducing the risk to baby and practitioner by choosing postures that provide plenty of space for baby and for the increased blood flow (up to 50%!). In addition, my experience has been that when women listen to their bodies, they keep themselves safe. Just like we want women to feel empowered in their experience with a childbirth care provider, we want them to feel empowered in the yoga room. “Listen to your body” is something I say over and over again, to keep women safe and to help them prepare for labor and childbirth.

SYN: Is it advisable to do regular yoga classes or should pregnant women only focus on specialized prenatal yoga classes?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: It really depends on the practitioner and the type of yoga/teaching!

If a student is new to yoga, I recommend they only take prenatal yoga, if it is available. Having a pregnant body feels very different, and that’s a lot of new information to couple with being new to yoga.

For intermediate to advanced practitioners I do advise taking at least a few prenatal classes to help them understand which poses are considered safe during pregnancy so that they can modify with that in mind. I have found that pregnant women with extensive yoga experience are more able to modify their practice in a regular class even if the teacher does not offer modifications.

Many yoga teachers have been trained in how to support people during pregnancy in their classes but some have not. In a large class, I wouldn’t expect a teacher to be able to offer modifications for all postures—it’s a lot to manage as a teacher.

SYN: When should pregnant women not do yoga?

Anne Phyfe Palmer: If they have been put on bed rest or advised against yoga or similar exercise by their care provider due to contraindications or possible preterm labor.

SYN: Is it advisable for pregnant women to do hot yoga?

My understanding is that pregnant women need to keep their body temperature from going above 102 degrees. So one could obstensibly take a hot yoga class with a thermometer handy and check their temperature throughout class to make sure that temperature isn’t reached. One of the recommendations for pregnant women regarding exercise is to not start a new strenuous activity while pregnant. If you had been practicing hot yoga prior to the pregnancy, it’s more of an option.

But also consider this—when we are hot we sweat to regulate our temperature. When pregnant, we have a harder time replacing the electrolytes lost through sweat and fluid losses increase your heart rate and decrease blood volume. This, and the difficulty the baby has in regulating heat (they can’t sweat to cool down) make it risky for baby to practice yoga in high temperatures.

It’s worth asking your provider what they think.

SYN: Can you recommend a few yoga poses that pregnant women can easily do at home?

Anne Phyfe Palmer:

CAT COW

Come to a tabletop position on your hands and knees. I recommend the use of a blanket under the knees. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and your fingers spread wide and active. To prepare, inhale in place. As you exhale round your back and belly towards the ceiling. Inhale, bring your chest forward and look in front of your fingertips. Exhale round, inhale arch. Repeat 5-10 times with your breath. Rest in wide-kneed child’s pose, if possible with a bolster under the chest and head.

WARRIOR II

From standing in tadasana walk your feet wide apart. Turn your front foot towards the front of your mat and the back toes slightly in. With your hands on your hips, keep your pelvis level and bend your front leg until your knee is over your heel. Lengthen your spine and raise your arms to shoulder level. Gaze out over your front fingertips. Take five smooth even breaths, then lift out of the pose with strong legs as you inhale.

CHAIR POSE

Stand in tadasana. Inhale, lift your arms along your ears and bend your knees as if about to sit in a chair. Exhale stand in tadasana, arms at your sides. Repeat, with the option of adding breaths in chair pose. This excellent strengthener is also a safe backbend during pregnant.


Anne Phyfe Palmer, 500 E-RYT, RPYT, is the Founder of 8 Limbs Yoga Centers. She is the primary teacher in the 8 Limbs Pre/Posnatal Yoga Teacher Training along with Jodi Boone and Susan Grote, PT. Anne Phyfe (that’s her first name) has two daughters, Lily, age 15, and Coco, age 9.


 

[Photo by il-young ko – CC BY]


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