Should I do Pilates or yoga during pregnancy?
I’ve been teaching ante natal Pilates and exercise for nearly 15 years and have had two pregnancies, births and babies of my own. As a pregnancy Pilates instructor, whilst I think Pilates is fantastic, it might not be for everyone.
I chose to attend a birth preparation and yoga class during my second pregnancy because it gave me the head space I needed to focus on my baby and because I loved the teacher’s energy. I did these classes in addition to my own Pilates and strength and conditioning practice.
I recently had the pleasure of having local pregnancy yoga instructor Rhyanne Hall join my ante natal Pilates class. Rhyanne is currently pregnant and felt she wanted to add some of the core, strengthening exercises Pilates offers to her own pregnancy journey.
We discussed the differences between our classes and it inspired me to think more about the differences between Pilates and yoga during pregnancy and what benefits each might bring.
I would stress that I am not a yoga teacher! So any thoughts on yoga classes are from my own experiences and understanding rather than as a practitioner. Every yoga or Pilates instructor is different and brings their own blend of the exercises to each class. I should also stress all my comments are with reference to Pilates or yoga class designed specifically for pregnancy.
If you’re looking to focus on strength and conditioning during pregnancy, Pilates is a good class to try. Whilst I don’t teach the original Pilates repertoire in my pregnancy classes (I adapt them to pregnant bodies) we focus on the trunk and maintaining a strong connection between ribs and hips – learning how to engage the muscles of the trunk without stressing them. I also ensure there are squats, lunges and back work in every class. Typically women who have enjoyed fitness and strength and conditioning classes pre pregnancy love this aspect of Pilates.
Whilst breathing is a key component of Pilates, if you’re looking to learn breathing techniques for pregnancy and birth or relaxation, you will probably focus more on this in yoga classes than in Pilates. We do incorporate some breath work into Pilates but we wouldn’t go full into birthing preparation. I’d leave this to the yoga instructors and birth preparation teachers.
Everyone’s interpretation of mindfulness is unique. For me, it’s cycling or running through the forest or near the sea, being in touch with nature. During pregnancy it was meditating on my growing baby in my tummy during yoga classes with a specialist birth preparation teacher. If there had been another local Pilates instructor then I may well have felt the same sense of mindfulness during that class! Some people love to go deep into meditation and breath work, others find it makes them stressed (because they can’t do it). Some may find a local hypno-birthing class could offer what they are looking for. Mindfulness is all about what works for you.
If you were to summarise Pilates and yoga for mainstream, you’d probably say Pilates was core strength whilst yoga was flexibility and meditation. However, I know there are some yoga moves (thinking of handstands here) which require incredible amounts of strength and technique and there are some Pilates exercises which focus on mobility. I’d argue that during pregnancy, whilst you want to mobilise joints which are sticky or affected by pregnancy changes, due to changes in hormones which can affect your joints, it’s not a time to work on flexibility.
During my classes we do work specifically on pelvis mobility (with a view to birthing) and maintaining free movement through the spine and hips in order to future proof the body and ease back/hip pain. With the exception of these aspects of mobility my main focus is on stability. Due to hormones creating joint laxity, it’s really important not to stress pelvis stability but instead to assist and build stability. This is one of the reasons that I never teach exercises where a participant is standing on one leg, this is especially true of anyone experiencing or at risk of pelvic girdle pain or symphysis pubis dysfunction.
I’ve been teaching pre and post natal Pilates and exercise for nearly 15 years. I’ve researched and written a book (it’s on the way) and have researched and written books for other experts in the field. I keep my classes open to questions and conversation because I want my participants to walk away with an understanding of the ways their bodies are adapting and changing; empowered to understand how to look after their bodies. This is HIGH on my agenda when I teach Pilates but this might not be the case for every Pilates instructor whilst it might be a priority for yoga teachers. This comes down to style not exercise modality.
Whilst we do some specific pelvic floor work in Pilates (as any yoga instructor could), we incorporate pelvic floor work into the general class exercises. Improving pelvic stability, core and trunk strength tends to go hand in hand with pelvic floor work. For example, squeezing a cushion between your thighs whilst on your hands and knees creates a brilliant connection through core and pelvic floor without having to think about lifting imaginary balls up your vagina!
PREPARATION FOR BIRTH
If this isn’t baby number one, then you’re probably aware of what you, your body and your baby need to prepare for birth. If this is all new to you, then a specific birth preparation class will really help. During my ante natal Pilates classes we spend time on exercises which can help to relieve back or pelvis pain during labour as well as shoulder relaxation and breathing but it isn’t the focus of the class. As with mindfulness, how you choose to approach labour and birth is very personal. If you’re a yogi who loves meditation, then go with that flow but if you like more of a practical approach, Pilates may well suit you better.
When teaching and programming any pre or post natal class I am very conscious of how your body adapts and how to future proof your body. I teach women from their 20s to their 90s and I see where little niggles turn into osteo-arthritis, bunions or pelvic floor dysfunction. Our bodies don’t naturally improve with age, they need work. There is very little advice available on the effects of exercise during pregnancy on older bodies. Running during pregnancy may free your mind but your hips are unlikely to thank you in your 60s. Regardless of the exercise modality you choose, it’s important to consider the effects of your lifestyle during pregnancy on your joints, long term. This is where experts can help.
When it comes to meeting other pregnant mums in your area, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose yoga or Pilates, just that you are in an environment which encourages getting to know each other and that you have something in common. One of the biggest rewards in my work is seeing mums bring their babies to post natal Pilates who have met in ante natal class. Or perhaps mums coming back for babies number two, three (or four). But getting to any ante natal class is the best way of finding women going through a wonderful life stage with you.