Antenatal Tai Chi Chi-Gung Classes for pregnant women
The Swan School of Tai Chi & Chi-Gung
As a tai chi tutor with the Swan School of Tai Chi and Chi-Gung, I have been asked on numerous occasions to suggest ways in which a fit woman who is pregnant can keep exercising up to labour, childbirth and postnatally. This spurred me on to do some research and in keeping with Eileen Ford-Price’s article there is little information on tai chi for pregnancy, let alone a class run specifically for pregnant women. So as a trained National Childbirth Trust antenatal teacher, tai chi tutor and counsellor I have brought my teaching and training together in developing a short course focusing on tai chi chi-gung especially for pregnant women.
My aim, as part of Swan School for Tai Chi and Chi-Gung, is to promote enjoyment of pregnancy and good health both antenatally and postnatally for women and their babies. The course combines a series of movements and relaxation techniques to focus on the physical, emotional and mental needs of childbirth from the perspective of the pregnant and labouring woman.
I work with the principle of softness within strength that allows the body to relax into the labour by learning to coordinate breathing with movement, developing strength and suppleness so the woman is to be able to physically cope with the energy needed to give birth.
I am sure you know that Tai chi chi-gung is a system of Chinese therapeutic movements and has close links with Traditional Chinese Medicine, based on the core values of balance and harmony. It comprises of a combination of fluid movements and meditation, slow breathing and balanced postures; which in turn creates deeper breathing rhythms, improves metabolism and blood circulation thereby reducing stress levels, blood pressure and raising energy, or Chi levels.
The combination of standing chi-gung moves are based on rhythmical spiralling, with fluid and uniform movement’s co-ordinating and mobilising all the joints, ligaments and muscles. The movements gently work the whole body, massaging the baby and internal organs whilst exercising the mind. The slow moves allow the pregnant woman to enjoy the beauty of her pregnancy and feel graceful – not a feeling generally associated with pregnancy!
As it is non-impact, it is suitable for all levels of fitness although I would suggest that it would be most successful for women who are 20+ weeks pregnant, before their pregnancy weight and girth increases rapidly, which happens at anytime from 28 weeks+ and the hormone levels soften the ligaments in preparation for birth.
To stay pregnant successfully requires a constant flow of ever changing hormones, which for some women can cause huge mood-swings. Coupled with changes in lifestyle, work life
balance, family dynamics and relationships can be stressful, so having a safe environment to experience slow and deep relaxation through these gentle and soporific movements will enable the nervous system to regenerate and help normalise hormone levels away from the fight or flight adrenalin rush.
With regular practice chi-gung creates enhanced physical, mental and emotional well-being and practitioners can often feel immediate health benefits. On a physical level the body becomes suppler and stronger helping to deal with the weight distribution of pregnancy along with swollen hands and feet. It increases the range of movements, co-ordination and calms the digestive and nervous systems which in turn helps with heartburn, nausea and appetite changes.
Chi-Gung promotes good posture to help alleviate backache, address issues of balance and reduces the risk of falls as through chi-gung the women learn to reassess their mental image of themselves. Mentally one can improve concentration by clearing and focusing the mind and emotionally one becomes calmer, relaxed and with a more positive outlook on childbirth.
Pregnancy, labour, childbirth and then the reality of parenthood generally happen within nine months, it is a period of incredible turmoil and upheaval emotionally, physically and mentally, and with it comes feelings of euphoria, wonder and at some level making sense of the continuous circle of life; yin and yang. Pregnancy is normal, women are designed to have children and if the Swan School of Tai Chi and Chi-Gung can support women through this experience with respect, shared experiences and enjoyment, what better start can a mother and baby have?What Tai Chi Chi-Gung can offer a pregnant woman:-
- Lets you feel graceful doing the movements
- Assists with labour through deeper breathing rhythm, instilling softness within strength
- Builds up arm and leg strength, which will assist in labour and postnatally carrying the baby
- Reduces leg cramps
- Relieves tension and pain in the lower back muscles and in the neck and shoulders
- Reduces heartburn,
- Improves circulation and fluid retention e.g. reduces swelling of hands and ankles
- Addresses changed weight distribution during pregnancy and helps find your centre of gravity, thereby reducing falls and bumping into objects
- Reduces heartburn, nausea and appetite changes
- Improves sleep quality enabling women to get to sleep quicker and to stay asleep longer at night
- Improves hip and pelvic flexibility in preparation for birth
- Encourages the baby to move into a healthy position for birth e.g. low into the pelvic cavity, head down
- Reduces anticipatory birth stress
- Once your baby is born you can carry them in a sling and continue with Tai Chi Chi-Gung movements for you both to enjoy!
- Reduces the risk of falls
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
- Improves metabolic rate, blood circulation and lowers blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Improves balance and coordination
- Reduces stress levels
- Is easy to learn
- Doesn’t require any special equipment
- Is suitable for almost anyone as non-impact
- Uses gentle, circular and spiralling motions which tone muscles without straining
- Promotes correct body posture
- Increases chi, or life energy
- Assists mental well-being through meditative and soporific movements
- Is enjoyable!