Canadian Lesley Hogya, an Iyengar yoga instructor currently teaching pre-natal classes in Bangkok, certainly makes yoga during pregnancy sound like a treat.
"It’s a special time in your life, especially if it’s your first pregnancy, so you should indulge and take care of yourself. Yoga poses can nurture the pregnant woman in a way that other forms of exercise won’t do. Lying on bolsters and having pillows and blankets all around you is very luxurious! And then being told to just lie there and breathe…"
In Bangkok, the ancient practice of yoga has been taught formally for only around 40 years – which is surprising if you consider that some scholars assert that yoga practice is central to Buddhism. "It’s not a religion per se, but it’s a spiritual practise," says Lesley. "Anyone can practise yoga. You don’t have to belong to a faith or believe in anything in particular."
Practising yoga can improve the average person’s body awareness, their clarity of mind and their immunity to disease. More specifically, it can reduce the effects of allergies, improve menstrual problems and strengthen muscles, among other things.
When pregnant, yoga classes can be particularly beneficial. Firstly, strength and stamina are developed. "When you’re doing the poses you’re strengthening muscles and building up stamina while holding the poses," Lesley says. "This will stand you in good stead when you’re delivering and also when you’re a new mother in need of stamina."
Secondly, practising breathing and relaxation can help. "These are usually the first things people think of, but they’re definitely not the only things. When I’m teaching pre- natal yoga I always make sure there’s plenty of time for breathing and relaxation at the end of class." This involves doing supported poses where the body is allowed to rest totally and be open to more complete breathing.
Flexibility also improves with the practise of yoga, but Lesley points out that the hormones secreted during pregnancy promote flexibility anyway, particularly in the hips. "This means you need to be careful not to over-stretch. It’s important to be balanced and not be too enthusiastic about stretching the hip sockets."
If you’re already practising yoga and you fall pregnant, it’s usually no problem to continue. "But if you’ve never done yoga before, I recommend waiting until the end of the third month to start," Lesley says. "Even though yoga is certainly not going to precipitate a miscarriage, that’s when most miscarriages occur. You usually have more strength, too, after that period."
Although you may wish to consult a doctor before beginning, Lesley notes that there’s not much awareness among Thai doctors of what exactly yoga entails. "It’s probably enough to ask your doctor whether you are in a condition that allows gentle stretching."
In Lesley’s experience, many women want to continue with yoga after the birth of their child. "A lot of women will ask: ‘How many weeks do I have to wait before I can come back to class?’ It’s good to wait six weeks, as with any major surgery."
Lesley, who has studied yoga since 1970, first trained as a hatha instructor, but was introduced to the Iyengar method, pioneered by Indian BKS Iyengar, within weeks of completing her training. "Then I couldn’t teach the old way because it wasn’t precise enough. And I couldn’t teach Mr Iyengar’s way because I didn’t know enough about it. So I didn’t teach for a couple of years and trained."
The Iyengar style is a very precise method of yoga – some might even say strict – but it’s flexible in the sense that it adapts to each individual’s level of ability by its use of props such as belts, blocks, blankets and bolsters. During pregnancy in particular, it can offer more support than other forms of yoga and allow access to more poses.
"For example, you might be reluctant to try standing poses because you think you’ll lose your balance," says Lesley. "But in Iyengar yoga we can use the wall, or a chair, or a block. It opens up the possibility of doing more. Also using bolsters to relax is very beneficial – they open the chest, improve breathing, improve the lung position."
She emphasises that women can always control how much they are doing in class themselves. "I think women are usually more sensitive to what’s right for them and their health when they’re pregnant. And I think yoga brings an awareness that makes you feel healthy."
Bangkok’s first Iyengar yoga studio opened only recently. Justin Herold, an American who has been teaching yoga at various health clubs here in Bangkok for the past seven years, opened his own studio on Soi Thong Lor in October 1999. Lesley will be running classes at 9am on Tuesdays through to the end of September, and Justin will continue to take the classes from October. The studio is located on the 3rd floor of the Fiftyfifth Plaza Bld, 90 Sukhumvit Soi 55. Phone 714 9924 for a schedule.