Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The origin of yoga have been speculated to years back to pre-vedic Indian traditions. Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart disease. The results of these studies have been mixed and inconclusive, with cancer studies suggesting none to unclear effectiveness, and others suggesting yoga may reduce risk factors and aid in a patient’s psychological healing process.
But despite the benefits, yoga can be risky if you push yourself too hard or practice difficult poses unsupervised.
Yoga is widely regarded as a safe pregnancy exercise. It’s gentle, yet builds strength, helps you learn how to control your breathing and certain postures can help to further prepare your body for labour. In some cases, practising yoga while pregnant can actually be quite dangerous, due to a rare condition known as Valsalva haemorrhagic Retinopathy (VR).
According to a new BMJ Case Report a 35-year-old woman, who was 27 weeks pregnant, “presented with sudden onset painless loss of vision and a large floater in her left eye while doing yoga”. The woman was reportedly straining in a downward dog position when she noticed the vision loss. While she suffered the loss of vision for several weeks, following treatment she had no long lasting retinal damage. Thankfully she went on to have a problem-free birth, and after 5 months, her blindness was diagnosed the condition had cleared and her vision had returned.
Is it safe to practice yoga when pregnant?
The general answer is yes, but it is always best to consult with your doctor beforehand. Recent studies confirm it is safe for pregnant women to do moderate physical exercise and strength training from the time of the first prenatal visit until just before delivery. VR is a rare condition, but this case is an important reminder to listen to your body and not put any undue strain or pressure on your body. It is also recommended you practice yoga with an experienced professional who can lead you into safe and healing positions.
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Recommendations for exercise in pregnancy.
The benefits of regular exercise for pregnant women without any pregnancy complications are well established, according to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These include benefits for maternal fitness, the prevention of excessive weight gain, and psychological well-being. They recommend that women without any complications should participate in regular aerobic exercise and strength training. Women who have health issues prior to pregnancy (such as cardiovascular disease or poorly-controlled asthma), and those with pregnancy complications (such as persistent bleeding or placenta praevia) should seek medical advice before starting an exercise program while pregnant.
According to Yoga Australia’s website, “Prenatal yoga nourishes the body, mind and heart during the changes of pregnancy and unfolds women’s innate birthing wisdom in preparation for birth. By combining yoga wisdom with natural birthing principles, teachers will be able to inspire women to give birth as naturally, calmly and joyfully as possible.” If you are attending a regular (not a prenatal) yoga class, make sure to tell the teacher you’re pregnant. Certain poses can reduce blood flow to the fetus, and cause excessive strain on the abdominal muscles, so look for a teacher who is appropriately qualified to deal with the unique needs of mum-to-be and bub.
While yoga is considered generally a safe exercise for pregnant women to undertake, however there are certain positions that are not ideal for a pregnant body as they can cut off blood flow to the baby or result in abdominal strain. Be sure to let your yoga teacher know if you are pregnant, and ask how to approach each pose safely.
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