Cool Off Breath by Breath with Sitali Pranayama
Ugh, this heat. Sure, it’s the (smallish) price we may have to pay for lovely weather most of the year, but wen the temperature lingers around 100 degrees it’s hard not to feel at least a little cranky and uncomfortable.
If that’s you right now, stop what you are doing and try this!
Sitali Pranayama is a cooling breath practice that cools and calms your body. It does require the genetic ability to roll your tongue up like it’s a taco. If you were not blessed with that very useful ability, no worries, you can get the same benefits by pursing your lips like you are drinking out a straw and lightly pressing the tip of your tongue against your teeth.
Here’s how you do it:
- Sit up comfortably as you would at the start or end of a yoga class in a comfortable seated position such as cross legged.
- Take a few deep breaths in your nose and out your mouth to ground and prepare.
- Roll your tongue up and stick the end of it out your pursed lips (or do thing with your mouth pretending you are drinking out of a straw, making the lips into an “o” shape, tip of tongue to teeth).
- Inhale this way through the tongue with the mouth open. The air entering the mouth will feel cool.
- Exhale out the nose with the mouth closed.
- Repeat several times, savoring the cooling affect.
- Go about the rest of your day feeling a bit cooler, calmer, and collected.
If you still feel cranky after that, try practicing in front of a mirror, the face you are making will probably make you laugh.
8 Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
1. Keep your stress level in check
Decompressing and reducing stress is something that brings a lot of people to yoga, and of course this becomes even more important to do during pregnancy; your baby feels everything that you feel! Yoga is calming for the mind, and the postures help to release tension that seems to accumulate extra during pregnancy. The work we do with breath awareness also helps greatly with de-stressing. Slowing down the breath, especially the exhale, slows down the heart rate so that you and baby can feel calmer and more relaxed.
2. Connect with your baby
The practice of prenatal yoga is all about creating space for baby; physically, as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Your yoga practice is time you set aside to take care of yourself, and in turn you are connecting to your baby. They practice with you. Every breath you take is a breath you share. And there is plenty of quiet time to communicate with your baby in any way that makes sense to you.
3. Increase circulation
Through the combination of breath and movement used in yoga, circulation is enhanced within the body as synovial fluid is activated and dispersed and the muscles are elongated. Increased circulation helps to reduce swelling, a common and sort of inevitable side effect of pregnancy.
4. Prepare for the intensity of labor
Yoga teaches us to breathe consciously and mindfully, even during times of intensity. Practicing breathing calmly through the different poses is wonderful practice for being able to breathe through the intensity that you will experience during labor. It is the practice of being comfortable with discomfort. There are also many yoga poses that we practice during class that can be helpful to use during labor such as child’s pose to rest or malasana (squat) to push efficiently with gravity.
5. Gain a community
It can be very comforting to be with a group of women going through the same process you are. Prenatal classes are safe spaces to communicate with one another, rant, complain, share stories, support, and congratulate one another. A sisterhood is created.
6. Relieve tension, ease aches and discomfort in the body
As baby grows, more stress is put upon the low back, hips, upper back, chest and shoulders. Many yoga poses help to relieve some of the discomfort caused by the changes in the body. In my prenatal classes I always start by asking each student what is going on in her body so I know where to focus some of the poses in order to address specific needs of each body that day.
7. Stay active and in shape
Being pregnant does not mean that you are broken or with an illness! You can absolutely stay active, in fact, most women enjoy more ease during pregnancy when they stay active, as you can imagine the body is not meant to be stagnant. Movement helps to stay balanced and to release tension and toxins. Also, labor is one of the most physically demanding feats you will accomplish in your life. So it makes sense to prepare the body and strengthen the muscles! It’s also a good idea to start working on upper body strength as you look forward to the days of carrying around a baby everywhere you go, plus all their stuff.
8. Tune into your body’s needs
During pregnancy, your body is changing every day. It is so valuable to set aside time in your day to quiet your thoughts, and really pay attention to what is going on. Your body will tell you what you need, whether it is to rest, or to work, or to play. The practice of yoga is nurturing. It is so crucial to take of yourself during this time, you are growing a baby! You deserve to be nurtured and cared for. Also, the time that you are pregnant flies by. Savor this short and sweet time while you can by slowing down and being present!
Kim Neer is the newest addition to the One Down Dog team, teaching prenatal yoga classes on Mondays at 10:45a and Saturdays at 9am.
Check out our interview with Kim to learn a little more about her and check out her Prenatal 101 post for answers to frequently asked questions.
Prenatal Yoga 101: Frequently Asked Questions
Kim here. I teach the new prenatal yoga class at One Down Dog. When I tell people I am a prenatal yoga teacher, they usually have a lot of questions for me, pregnant or not. Here are my answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding prenatal yoga. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and all of my answers are garnered from my education, experience, and research I have done. For a little more about me, see last week’s interview post. Check out our class schedule here if you’re interested in trying a prenatal class. See you on the mat!
How is prenatal yoga different from “regular” yoga?
The biggest difference is that everyone in the room is a pregnant woman! This results in a class tailored more specifically to address the aches and discomforts of pregnancy. Also, the aspect of community is a major part of prenatal yoga classes. It’s a wonderful place to meet other women who are going through a similar experience as you, making it a great place to vent, share stories, get tips, or whatever else you may want to hear/say. The other difference is that the teacher is usually trained in prenatal yoga or at least has some experience with birth that qualifies them to teach this speciality, therefore they have a fairly good understanding of the process of pregnancy and birth and are comfortable offering options and answering questions.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Many women come to prenatal yoga never having practiced yoga before, because their doctor recommended it. Why exactly are they recommending it?
There have been medical studies done regarding the benefits of prenatal yoga. Here are some according to Mayo Clinic.
Studies have suggested that practicing yoga during pregnancy can:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase strength, flexibility and endurance in muscles needed during childbirth
- Decrease some common “side effects” such as carpal tunnel, low back pain, nausea,
shortness of breath, headaches
- Decrease risk of pre-term labor
Also prenatal yoga can help you meet and bond with other pregnant women as you prepare for the stresses of new parenthood. Another awesome benefit of prenatal yoga is the focus on the breath. Many of the breathing practices that we practice during class can be extremely helpful to use during labor. Some women even find that they use certain yoga poses during labor.
How early in pregnancy can I start taking prenatal yoga?
Generally, during the first trimester, energy levels can be very low, women can feel nauseous, and hormone levels can be rather unpredictable. For this reason, most women prefer to do a lot of resting during this time, and it’s not very common that I see students before the 12 or 13 week mark. Additionally, there is a high risk for miscarriage during this time, so the body may be sending messages in general to take it slow.
However, it’s never too early to start prenatal yoga, as long as you are listening to your body during your practice and staying within the comfort of your physical limits. Sometimes women who are trying to get pregnant like to take prenatal yoga, and I say they are more than welcome! Even if you are not pregnant it can be a nice practice, I just prefer to keep the classes women only for comfort of my students.
￼How long into pregnancy can I practice yoga?
As long as it feels good! I have had students practice during their 41st and even 42nd week, just days before giving birth. I even know of one student who went into labor later in the day after attending a prenatal class that morning!
I’ve been practicing yoga for a while, can I continue taking my regular classes or should I switch to prenatal because I am pregnant?
I would say this is totally up to you! If you already have an established yoga practice and feel connected to your body, then trusting your intuition should be fairly easy and you may feel comfortable modifying poses yourself without the guidance of a teacher. But if you are fairly new to yoga, or would just really like to experience the camaraderie of sharing your practice with other mom-to-be’s, then you would probably really enjoy a prenatal yoga class!
Are inversions safe during pregnancy?
This is kind of a complicated one to answer! The simple answer is yes, IF 1. inversions are already an established part of the pregnant mama’s practice 2. she is listening to her body and intuition while inverting 3. she knows her limits and can get up and down safely. Pregnancy is not, however, the right time to start an inversion practice.
That being said, the more complex answer requires defining more specifically what an inversion is. Some consider an inversion to be any pose where your feet are about your head. Under that definition, legs up the wall, a restorative pose which can be helpful in reducing swelling in the feet and legs that is common during pregnancy, would count as an inversion.
Another definition sometimes given for inversions is that they are any pose where the head is below the heart. This definition would include down dog and standing forward folds as inversions, poses that again, are safe and commonly practiced in prenatal yoga classes.
This is not to say that these definitions are incorrect, but when talking specifically about yoga during pregnancy, an important factor to consider in poses is where the pelvis is in relation to the heart. Therefore, the best definition of inversions to use in relation to prenatal yoga is: poses that have the pelvis lifted higher than the heart. This definition would include many of the poses that we may more readily think of as inversions such as handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, forearm balance, scorpion, etc.
Those are the poses that should be an already established part of a woman’s practice if she is going to practice them during pregnancy. She needs to know how to safely get in and out of the pose, as her center of gravity shifts during pregnancy, challenging balance. Also because of relaxin and other hormones produced during pregnancy, her back and pelvis, as well as joints and ligaments are more at risk of injury. She must be very comfortable with the pose and know her limits.
There are many differing opinions on this subject in the yoga and birth world, however, the best answer I can give as a yoga teacher is: I am there to support you and make sure you are safe, but you know your body and practice best, and I will not tell you what you can and can’t do.
Are there any other poses that are considered unsafe to practice during pregnancy?
Again the best answer is to trust your intuition and listen to your body. Generally, it is best to avoid closed twists as they can decrease circulation. Also poses that target the abs aren’t great to do, including poses with a strong focus on strengthening the obliques as overly strong obliques can pull your abdominal muscles apart further than they are already being pulled, which causes a condition known as diastasis recti. Deep backbends such as full wheel can also cause diastasis recti. Better to stick with milder back bends such as camel or upward facing dog with a bolster under the thighs. It is also best to avoid poses that require lying straight on the tummy, mostly as that just won’t feel very good for you and your baby.
Once in the second trimester, lying on the back for long periods of times should be avoided. I recommend using a bolster and blocks during Savasana and other times that require being reclined. The increased weight on the uterus when lying flat on the back interferes with the flow of blood and nutrition to your baby. Plus it’s just not very comfortable and can aggravate low back pain and heartburn as well as possibly elevate blood pressure.
Finally, it’s best to avoid hot yoga during pregnancy. You already tend to be over heated most of the time anyway, and getting dehydrated is not a risk you want to take!
Growing a baby is hard work and truly an incredible feat, so honor your body, take it easy when you need to, believe in your own strength, and embrace what your body can do during this special time rather than mourning what it can’t.