Practising tai chi in pregnancy
An ancient form of Chinese exercise, tai chi is thought to have many health benefits, most of which can be applied to pregnant women.
Tai chi is centuries old and was originally designed as a martial art. As a fighting form, it was practised to promote strength, balance, and speed as a way of self-defence. Fast forward several hundred years, and tai chi is performed worldwide by people of all shapes, sizes and ages. It is viewed as an effective form of exercise for both mental and physical health, and it’s accessible to almost everyone.
Similar to yoga, tai chi is slow-paced, allowing you to relax and strengthen your body. It is very low-impact and is often recommended as a good form of exercise for people who are inactive and need a way of gradually picking up their level of fitness.
Although tai chi is extremely gentle, it isn’t completely without risk. So, ask your doctor or midwife about it if you’re considering taking up a class. As a complete beginner, it might be recommended that you try a more common form of pregnancy exercise, such as aquanatal. You might also have a previous injury that makes tai chi not completely suitable. But, if you’ve already attended tai chi classes prior to pregnancy, then there is usually no reason why you can’t continue.
However, it is not recommended that you attempt tai chi on your own when pregnant. Carrying out the movements under the guidance of a trained instructor will ensure that you get your technique right. Tai chi may be low impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly easy. It will take some practice under the right expert guidance to be able to do it well and experience the full benefits. Trying to learn from a book or following along to a DVD are not good alternatives, especially since it’s likely the guidance given won’t be specifically adapted for pregnant women.
Good for your joints
Tai Chi shares a lot of benefits with yoga. Among these is the lowering of stress. By concentrating on performing the movements with the correct posture and speed, you can help clear your mind. You may find that the class is therefore a great way to take your mind off any anxieties you have.
Tai chi is extremely gentle on the joints, so gentle that there have been studies suggesting that it can help relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (although researchers have still not found any conclusive evidence proving this). This is good news for pregnant mothers, who are at an increased risk of damaging their joints and ligaments if they undertake strenuous exercise. Tai chi will keep the pressure placed on your joints at a minimum.
Helping your balance throughout pregnancy
Another widely recognised plus point of tai chi is the improvement of stability, which is great for any woman in their second or third trimester. Your expanding belly means your centre of gravity is continuously changing, making you more likely to fall over. The slow, deliberate movements practiced in tai chi will help improve your leg strength and flexibility while also bringing awareness to how you distribute weight across your body. By continuously shifting your weight, you will be gradually training yourself to maintain balance in a variety of positions. Continuing tai chi should help keep you in tune with your body as you and your baby continue to grow.
However, despite potentially helping to improve your balance, you can still fall while doing tai chi. Some of the exercises will put your balance to the test, so, a more advanced tai chi class may not be suitable for you in your second trimester. As an expectant mother, you should not attempt any movement that causes you to lift one foot completely off the ground. That’s why it would be best for you to find a class that’s specifically tailored to pregnant women. Such a class will make sure that precarious moves are not even attempted. If you’re unable to find a class for expectant mothers in your area but still want to give tai chi a go, then be sure to inform the teacher that you’re pregnant and ask them to help you modify the movements for your complete safety.
The importance of breathing
Another benefit of tai chi in pregnancy is the focus on slow breathing. Concentrated breathing will help increase the flow of oxygen to your fetus. It will also help relieve anxiety and release tension, possibly easing any symptoms of depression you may be feeling. Knowing the right way to take deep breaths will come in handy later in your pregnancy journey during labour, helping you relax between contractions.
According to The Royal College of Midwives good breathing during childbirth is “associated with benefits in terms of pain and women’s emotional experiences of labour”. So, any exercise that gets you into the habit of practicing your breathing early is a good idea.
Joining a tai chi class when pregnant
As with most of the exercise you will be doing in pregnancy, you will need to wear loose and comfortable clothing that enables free movement and does not restrict you in any way. Your footwear should also be something that you can easily move in. It is possible to do tai chi barefoot, but this may depend on the class.
As you’re in your second trimester, you may require some extra support for your growing tummy. It may be a good idea to wear a belly band so that you remain comfortable and reduce your chances of developing back pain.
Never forget to bring the number one essential item for a safe pregnancy exercise: a bottle of water. Even though tai chi doesn’t seem as taxing as other aerobic exercise classes, you will still need to ensure you stay sufficiently hydrated at all times. Keep it nearby in a safe and accessible place so that you’re able to take frequent sips.
Remember that the whole point of tai chi is to promote relaxation, so if you’re finding the exercise too difficult, don’t be afraid to sit it out and take a breather. Any form of exercise, no matter how low-impact, can be beneficial for pregnancy, so don’t feel you need to push yourself too hard in a class or worry that it might not be giving you a good enough workout.