Mind-Body-Spirit Exercises Fit for Pregnancy

By Jen Mueller, for BabyFit

Are you prepared to stay fit during your pregnancy? You'll want to keep strength, flexibility, and endurance during these months. Doing so means you'll be able to handle the extra weight and you'll be in better shape for the physical stress of labor.

Many fitness offerings for pregnant women are geared toward those who want to continue a modified form of their pre-pregnancy activities, including sports and vigorous cardio routines. But for those of you who are looking for a gentler way to improve strength and fitness while developing a calm, relaxed state of mind, you too have many options. Consider these exercise forms that are geared toward a mind and body focus routine: yoga, pilates, water exercise, and tai chi. Here's a quick guide to the benefits of these uplifting exercise genres.

Yoga - It helps you breathe and relax. Yoga focuses on poses and stretches for both physical and emotional rewards. It can relieve fluid retention and cramping that are common in later months. Strengthening and massaging the abdomen with yoga helps stimulate bowel action and appetite. It raises energy level while helping to slow metabolism and restore calm and focus. Yoga can relieve tension around the cervix and birth canal.

Pilates -- Combines yoga and strength training with an emphasis on the body's core. Pilates strengthens and lengthens muscles that hold the body in correct alignment. With targeted movements, it can help overcome back pain commonly experienced during pregnancy. Pilates instruction should educate you on the muscles that will be needed most during labor, how to access them, strengthen them, and increase stamina so you can pace yourself during labor.

Water Exercise - When you are in the water, like your baby inside the womb, you have an enhanced awareness of the connection to your child. Swimming or taking water exercise classes during pregnancy gives you a welcome rest from the extra weight you are carrying as well as an invigorating feeling from buoyant movement. One water exercise, called "watsu," is a partner experience with a focus on floating relaxation and trust in your partner as he slowly moves you across the surface of the pool. Swimming and water exercise offer flexibility, strength, endurance, and muscle toning through the gentle resistance that movement in water provides. It also is an ideal aerobic exercise because you are exercising your heart and lungs without risk to your joints.

Tai Chi - Also know as "meditation in motion," Tai Chi is a slow motion mime technique of martial arts movements. It emphasizes slowness, lightness, clarity, balance, and calmness. It helps build strength, particularly in the thighs, arms and upper body. This makes lifting objects easier before pregnancy and holding baby easier after pregnancy. Tai Chi practices deeper breathing and relaxation. Foot exercise and massage in Tai Chi helps complaints of poor circulation, leg soreness, and varicose veins. Tai Chi does not involve jerking or strenuous movements, making it ideal for pregnant women.

Not sure how to decide what kind of exercise is right for you during pregnancy? Start with one or two types that interest you most, hop online, and search away for books or videos. Look for sites that offer editorial reviews (such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble) from actual users like yourself so you have more information before you buy. If you're not a do-it-yourself exerciser, check your local exercise facilities or community programs for classes. You may find added benefits in meeting new friends who are also expecting.

Exercise doesn't have to be 100 percent body-focused. Your exercise program can help you feel more balanced physically and mentally. Staying fit through mind, body, and spirit may help discomforts of backache, fatigue, sleeplessness and swelling. It will also make it easier to get back into your pre-baby condition after baby arrives. And as a bonus, you'll improve your mood and self image.

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