Pre- and postnatal yoga can help moms retain flexibility, fitness and connect with baby

It's generally accepted that exercise during pregnancy is a good thing. Yoga is an ancient Indian form of exercise that emphasises a person's well-being as a whole -- body and mind. It includes breath control, meditation and practicing various body poses.

When Ellen Gipson was pregnant at 24 weeks, she decided to switch from the traditional yoga to prenatal yoga.

"I wanted to stay active throughout my pregnancy," she says. "Yoga is a great option, because it's something you can do to stay flexible."

Her instructor, Chelsea Aldridge, says, generally, during pregnancy isn't the best time to get started with yoga, but some people do.

"Technically you're advised not to start something that you haven't done before, but with your doctor's approval, it's OK," she says.

For Gipson and other more seasoned "yogis," as Aldridge calls them, continuing to practice yoga throughout pregnancy is no problem.

"I teach them all the modifications they need to know," Aldridge says.

In addition to helping a pregnant woman stay fit, yoga can also help prepare the body for childbirth by strengthening core muscles used in labor.

Practicing yoga also can reduce stress and anxiety, decrease lower back pain and improve sleep.

"Yoga is a journey in which you never arrive," Aldridge says. "I'm still on a journey. I'm a teacher, but first and foremost, I'm a student. That's how a yoga practice is, you cultivate it. It is a practice. It's something like if you're a musician, you practice. If I'm in a class and I'm the teacher, I'm still practicing."

Another bonus of participating in prenatal yoga is that it gives pregnant women a chance to bond, something Gipson liked.

"You can tell someone, 'I can't tie my shoes anymore, because I can't see my feet' and they understand," she says.

Gipson continued with prenatal yoga right up to her delivery date. Her last class was in her 38th week, one week before she delivered her baby daughter, Ruth. There are some poses that are not suggested, like inverted positions in the latter part of the third trimester.

"To flip upside down, it's counterproductive to your goal," Aldridge says, who teaches yoga at The Edge: Your Fitness Advantage, located at 2 Tanner Drive in Cape Girardeau.

Even poses targeted at balance may not be the best.

"Your equilibrium is so off because you've got weight in places you're not used to, so I never recommend balancing on your hands," Aldridge says.

She has a basic rule when advising women about practicing yoga during pregnancy.

"My golden rule is: Listen to your body and listen to your baby and not your ego. Your ego is not your amigo," Aldridge says.

Once the baby has arrived, Aldridge recommends waiting until after the six-week checkup following delivery to resume yoga.

Periodically, classes are held that are targeted for the mother and baby together.

"The mom practices with the baby," Aldridge explains.

Mothers hold infants in their arms most of the time, though there are times when the babies may lie on the mat as mothers practice poses above the child.

"If we're on hands and knees, the baby is on the mat," Aldridge says. "The whole time, mom is connecting with baby."

Those classes have two goals, helping the mother "reclaim her body," and giving mom and baby a chance to bond.

"It is about reclaiming, and the moms definitely do work, but it's also about making that connection with your baby," Aldridge says.

Gipson participated in a mother-baby class and says it was lots of fun.

"It's a great starting workout," she says.

Babies love to be lifted in the air, and that is incorporated into the workout. That may mean the mother lifts the baby over her head and then brings the child down with her as she goes into a squatting position.

Aldridge also includes nursery rhymes in the classes. She lets moms know up front that if they need to step out or stop for some reason, it's OK.

"This is a safe space. If you need to nurse, or you need to give a bottle, or you need to change your baby, you honor yourself, and you honor your baby," she tells class participants. "Your baby is your main priority, so don't feel bad if you have to step away. I don't want this to be a stressful experience."

Aldridge insists on keeping things relaxed, because she knows to expect the unexpected.

"When you have a room full of babies, things don't always go as planned," she says.

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