An article this year in Canadian Family Physician concludes that "…pregnant women should avoid practicing hot yoga during pregnancy." Have you ever had a pregnant patient ask you if she should use hot tubs, warm pools, use hot packs, exercise in the heat, or participate in hot yoga? As always, the answer to some of the questions may be "it depends," as many factors must be considered including the woman's age, fitness status, pre-pregnancy exercise routines, general health, level of risk, what part of the body she wants to expose to heat, and ability to modify the requested activity. And, most importantly, the biggest driving factors behind our response to our patients is this: is there any known risk for the mother and her baby, and what does her physician say? If there is any known risk to the mother and to the viability of her pregnancy, then we always want to err on the side of caution.
What about yoga? Can participating in a hot yoga class increase core temperature and put the growing fetus at risk? The linked clinical reference article above cites some of the following factors as potential reasons why a person should not participate in hot yoga during pregnancy.
•Elevated core temperatures can occur with fever, extreme exercise, saunas, and hot tubs
•First trimester hyperthermia may lead to neural tube defects, gastroschisis, esophageal atresia, omphalocele, and encephaly in the developing fetus
•Heat decreases time to exhaustion, potentially leading to over stretching, muscle and joint injuries
•High temperatures may increase the risk of dizziness or fainting due to effects on blood pressure
I can imagine the arguments from all sides of the story, and we know that, especially in a highly litigious society, a medical provider will always suggest the most conservative approach. When the stakes are inclusive of both a healthcare license and the maternal/fetal health of our clients, rehabilitation professionals must also be medically conservative and mindful of the most safe, and effective health practices. Several prior posts have discussed the benefits of yoga during pregnancy, and the article by Chan and colleagues acknowledges that for pregnant women participating in yoga the benefits can include increased quality of life, decreased stress and anxiety, decreased pain, and improved sleep. Is it reasonable, then, to suggest that a woman avoid hot yoga during pregnancy?
If you are wondering, "What would Ginger say?", you have another opportunity to learn yoga principles and techniques applied during pregnancy from our yoga expert, Ginger Garner. Ginger teaches from the perspective of a mother, a physical therapist, an athletic trainer, a community educator, a national-level speaker, and a professional yoga therapist. She will be teaching the continuing education course Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy in November in New York.