Throughout my teaching career I have often had a pregnant Yogini or two arrive for class. Many times these pregnant students do not know a safe modification or an alternative asana to take during class. Thus, I to pull together some tips for pregnant Yoginis. Some of these “tip” should always be followed, while others can be thought of as guidelines. As a teacher I have experienced both, students who must and should modify nearly every pose and students who have been practicing for years who modify accordingly. Listening to your body is the “best practice” for your practice.
Things to consider before taking a Yoga class or a Prenatal Yoga class:
Consult with your physician; be certain your doctor does not classify your pregnancy as “high-risk.” If you have a history of miscarriages, cervical incompetence/insufficiency* or any other complications during prior pregnancies your doctor may advise you against beginning or continuing your Yoga practice.
We can usefully divide pregnant students into two categories: (1) those with a sedentary lifestyle, poor physical health, or high-risk pregnancy, and (2) those with active lifestyles, good overall health, and minimal pregnancy risks. Women in the first category should be encouraged to attend yoga classes designed specifically for pregnant students, typically referred to as pre/postnatal yoga. Women in the second category should be encourages to explore practicing regular yoga classes with teachers who are prepared to give them informed guidance on when and how to modify their practice. Women in the second category and already regularly practice yoga should be encourages to do a maintenance practice along with the modifications discussed below; pregnancy is not the time to begin a vigorous yoga practice, nor the time to attempt new or more complex asanas."
Previous back injuries. During pregnancy, the added weight of carrying the fetus can compress the lumbar spine and can create an excessive lordotic curve causing or re-inflaming a back injury.
Be out of your first trimester. From a medical standpoint, during the first four weeks of pregnancy the zygote will affix to the uterine wall; avoiding strenuous exertion is recommended.
“The early part of this trimester (before week ten) has the highest risk for miscarriage, so physical activity during this period should encourage an optimal environment in the uterus to insure implantation of the embryo and proper attachment of the placenta.”
If you would like to continue your existing Vinyasa practice during pregnancy and have PGP, Pelvic Girdle Pain, are discouraged from this form of practice due the dynamic lunges and hip openers. Women with PGP should consider working with a physical therapist who can provide the appropriate exercises for PGP and pelvic floor balancing.
Tips for your home/studio practice:
Your practice environment should be a comfortable temperature and well ventilated; there should be sufficient space for you to comfortably move and keep props - blankets, bolsters, etc. on hand for use. Wear comfortable clothing that allows the body to move freely; practice without footwear. Begin practicing with five to ten minutes of focused breathing and relaxation and fifteen to twenty minutes of asana practice; gradually increase duration to one hour of asana practice. As balance alters during pregnancy be open to the incorporation of chair and/or wall work. Observe the natural curvature of the lumbar spine; focus all forward folding from the hips. Maintain length through the spine for ease of breath. Avoid over stretching/over exerting muscles of the abdomen; this includes all twisting asanas. Concentrate twists through the shoulders/upper thoracic spine, or avoid all twists if you feel muscle memory take over from years of practice. Revolving asanas place excessive pressure on the abdominal wall. Muscle memory will often “kick-in” during asana practice; years of training muscles to lengthen and engage in certain ways will often override instructional cues.
Often students will here in class teachers saying things along the lines of, “Your practice changes every day.” Keep this in mind as you continue through your pregnancy; remember to let go of feelings that may arise into the mind - frustration, irritation, negativity - any and all feelings that you have experienced throughout your practice will still be there or may return during your pregnancy. Do not fret if you have an “off-balance” day.
Begin practicing side-lying Savasana to make it a habit at the end of your asana series. After the fourth month of pregnancy discontinue supine-poses. Side-lying Savasana should be practiced on the left side so as to avoid placing pressure on the vena cava vein, the vein that transports blood from the lower half of the body to the uterus then to the heart. Lying of the left side will prevent the cut-off of blood supply to the uterus and thus the fetus.
Another variation for Savasana, Abdominal Corpse Pose, becomes increasingly more comfortable as your pregnancy progresses. While lying prone, alternate drawing one knee towards the shoulder, similarly to a wide-knee Child's Pose. Support your head with one or both hands, alternating which ear is on the floor. The angle of the knee provides support and takes pressure off the abdomen, and thus the baby, distributing the weight throughout the body. If you have flexible hips, to where you can lie flat on the floor with your knee towards the shoulder, abdomen flat to the floor, remember to angle your knee as to keep one hip elevated higher than the hips of the extended leg to keep the abdomen off the floor; your body weight will be distributed between the side body of the extended leg and the knee/shin of the bent knee.
Most importantly: If something does not feel right, do not do it. As your pregnancy progresses asanas that once felt “right” will begin to feel uncomfortable; when this occurs take a different variation.