“Whatever happens … yoga will enable you to approach the experience (of pregnancy) from a position of inner power”Janet Balaskas (founder of The Active Birth Movement)
Pregnancy is an exciting time filled with physical, mental, and emotional changes as your body grows a whole new life!
As a yoga teacher and mamma to an 18-month-old, I get so many messages from pregnant women who want to learn how yoga can support them and their growing babies.
The proven benefits of yoga during pregnancy are well-studied (BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022):
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Reduced duration of labor
- Increased pain tolerance
- Increased chance of normal vaginal birth
With such convincing research, it’s no wonder that so many women are drawn to the practice for the first time during pregnancy!
No matter what your level of experience, I can share firsthand that your yoga practice will be an ever-changing journey during this special time with no two practices looking or feeling the same.
Practicing While Pregnant
As a pregnant person, you may be wondering how best to approach your practice.
With so many different styles of yoga on offer from dynamic Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga, and Vinyasa Flow to slower styles such as Yin and Iyengar Yoga, it is important to consider safety and accessibility now that you are pregnant.
While it is certainly true that some forms of yoga can be unsuitable and even unsafe for pregnant people, it is important to not just consider the ‘style’ of yoga, but also the environment in which you practice.
With the growing popularity of heated yoga classes, a common question I am often asked as a yoga teacher is ‘Can you do hot yoga while pregnant?’.
This article will dive into the reasons why hot yoga is generally not recommended during pregnancy.Keep reading for …
#1: What Is Hot Yoga
The original and most well-known form of hot yoga is Bikram Yoga, created by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s.
A practice of 26 static poses, Bikram is traditionally taught in an unventilated room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity.
Gone are the days when heated studios were reserved for Bikram devotees though …
There are now entire yoga franchises dedicated to sweaty, heated practices so you may wish to put your CorePower membership on hold for a while!
Nowadays, a hot yoga class can be anywhere between 90 and 108 degrees F, often with high humidity with sequencing that is often way more athletic than a traditional Bikram class.
Take a quick look at the schedule of a typical American yoga studio and you may find offerings such as ‘heated vinyasa’, ‘hot yin’, and ‘hot core flow’.
#2: risk of raising core body temperature
It is important to understand that many of the reported benefits of hot yoga are directly contraindicated in pregnancy.
One much-touted benefit of hot yoga is ‘detoxification’, linked to a rise in core body temperature.
Engaging in practices that elevate your core body temperature while pregnant, especially in the first trimester, can pose potential risks for your developing baby.
Research shows that exposure to high temperatures may be associated with an increased risk of birth defects in the baby including “preterm birth, stillbirth, low birth weight (LBW), as well as congenital heart defects” – Konkel, L, 2019
This is the reason you are advised to avoid hot tubs, saunas, hot baths, and of course, hot yoga, especially during the first trimester of your pregnancy.
#3: Risk Of Dehydration
A rise in core body temperature can also lead to dehydration, especially in heated classes where you are not encouraged to drink water.
While mild dehydration usually isn’t dangerous, hot yoga causes loss of water and important minerals through excessive sweating.
A recent article in ‘Medical News Today’ reports that “dehydration can lead to lower levels of amniotic fluid, which can influence the baby’s development, lead to preterm labor, and can affect the production of breast milk” – Villines; 2023
Dehydration can also cause deficiencies in nutrients that are vital for the health of the pregnant woman and the developing baby.
It is especially important that pregnant women struggling with morning sickness, especially those with Hyperemesis Gravidarum avoid any activity that could cause dehydration.
#4: The risks of slipping
I can attest to the fact that your balance may feel way off during pregnancy. For me, Warrior 3 was a distant memory from the second trimester onwards!
Changes in your center of gravity (hello, growing belly) combined with the hormone relaxin can leave you more prone to slips and falls.
Combine this with a slippery yoga mat and sweaty studio floors and it’s easy to understand how hot yoga may be problematic.
No matter what form of yoga you choose during pregnancy, make sure to use a good-quality grippy mat.
Skip your yoga towel as they are designed for sweaty classes. If yoga towels are not damp they are actually quite slippery and have a tendency to bunch up under your feet.
For yoga mat recommendations read: Best Thick Yoga Mats
#5: Risk of overstretching ligaments and tendons
One of the reported benefits of hot yoga is increased flexibility.
A recent randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning followed a group of students over eight weeks of regular Bikram classes and reported significant increases in lower back and hamstring flexibility as well as improved shoulder flexibility.
While increased flexibility may be beneficial to the general population, pregnant women are more prone to overstretching due to the hormone relaxin.
The increased laxity in joints and ligaments during pregnancy, especially around the pelvis, is designed to prepare the body for childbirth.
While we should never force any stretch, this is even more important during pregnancy when ligament and joint injuries are more common.
Both the added heat and humidity in hot yoga classes enhance muscular laxity. When combined with joints and ligaments that are already less stable, it is easy to see why this may not be the best fit for your pregnant body.
TOP TIP: Whether you are pregnant or not, as a general rule, focusing on active stretching that works with muscular contraction is far safer and more effective than holding deep passive stretches.
#6: Safer alternatives to hot yoga
With so many styles of yoga on offer, there are lots of safe alternatives to your regular hot yoga classes.
For those new to the practice and/or those with high-risk pregnancies, you may want to explore prenatal yoga.
Often more gentle and slower-paced than an average class, prenatal yoga focuses on breathwork, mobility, and strengthening exercises specifically for pregnancy.
For more on prenatal yoga read: Prenatal Yoga: Benefits, Considerations & 6 Prenatal Yoga Poses
Regular practitioners with a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy should be fine to continue with their current yoga practice with modifications.
During my own pregnancy, I continued to practice and teach vinyasa flow in a non-heated room right up until the night before I gave birth to my daughter.
If you are continuing with your regular yoga classes, it is important to notify your yoga teacher of your pregnancy and follow these modifications:
- Avoid deep twists
- Avoid deep backbends
- Avoid lying on your belly after the first trimester
- Switch regular savasana for lying on your side after the first trimester
For more advice on modifying your existing yoga practice read: Pregnancy Yoga: Can I Still Attend My Regular Yoga Classes? & Top Tips For Every Trimester
Conclusion – Can You Do Hot Yoga While Pregnant?
Pregnancy presents a wonderful opportunity to connect with your practice in a heart-centered way and ask the question “Why do I practice yoga?”
The more we dive into the practice, the more we understand that yoga goes way beyond the physical.
And, while we continue to enjoy the benefits of increased flexibility and strength, we make space for a more nurturing, holistic experience on the mat.
This was certainly my experience when navigating my own pregnancy where each day felt like stepping onto my mat for the first time. It was an incredibly humbling experience to work with my ever-changing body and dive into practices that felt safe and nurturing.
During those nine months, I learned to let go of the need to do ‘all of the things’ and instead I stepped into the wisdom of my body.
My practice was still challenging, but in a way that was supportive of my body and my baby.
I will leave you with this …
Hot yoga isn’t going anywhere. It will still be available to you postpartum, as will deep twists, backbends, and challenging inversions.
Instead of pushing your body, consider giving yourself grace and enjoy this period of naturally slowing down.
You may find that when you eventually return to your full practice it feels more embodied and intuitive than ever.
For more tips on practicing yoga during pregnancy read: 6 Key Yoga Modifications For Pregnancy + 6 Top Tips