Prenatal Yoga Guidelines
Pregnancy is both an exciting and scary time. If it’s your first pregnancy, for the very first time in your life, every decision you make effects not only just you, but also your precious cargo growing inside. All of a sudden, every morsel that you put into your body has different meaning, and every move you make has the ability to affect the new life you are growing.
What does this mean for your yoga practice? Not a whole lot if you have a strong, consistent practice, but being pregnant is NOT the time to start and “go big” with new yoga moves that your body has never known.
Back when I taught multiple public yoga classes most days of the week, I found that I would get a fairly regular stream of pregnant women coming to my rigorous vinyasa classes who were already decently far along in their pregnancies. Their reasoning? “My doctor told me no more running or high intensity workouts like I have been doing, and he said yoga was okay. I heard your class was very athletic, so I thought it would be good for me.” As a teacher, my heart always dropped when I heard this. No doctor, when he or she envisions sending their pregnant patient to yoga could possibly fathom how rigorous or heating an intense vinyasa practice can be. YIKES! What I wanted most was for the students in my class to be safe (right along with having them leave feeling super clear, relaxed and elated.) Most of these women had never practiced yoga before, and if they had, it was “once or twice in college”, and they were throwing themselves into inversions in their first classes and taking every advanced option that I offered for the class, or that any practitioner did that they saw. While I always admired the courage of these women, pregnancy is not the time to be introducing new workouts into your life. And, yes, yoga IS a workout – especially when it is a heart pumping, sweaty, rigorous vinyasa flow.
When I said that pregnancy doesn’t mean a whole lot for your yoga practice if you already have one, it is because many things stay the same. In yoga, there are consistent aims: listen to your body, stay true to you in every moment, be present, pay attention, be kind to yourself, and take deep breaths. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
Not everyone has access to Prenatal Yoga classes where they live, and if they do, often for the first two trimesters, said classes can be pretty downright boring to a woman with a solid yoga practice and wants to move her body. If you have a strong yoga practice, and feel confident continuing to go to your regular yoga classes, be sure to let the instructor know that you are pregnant, and follow a few simple guidelines to keep you and your baby (or babies if you are like me carrying more than one!) safe, happy and healthy.
The first trimester is the most fragile time in a pregnancy. The fetus is trying to implant, so if you do too many jarring moves like jump backs (or some schools of thought claim inversions), it cannot, and the pregnancy won’t be sustained. Also keep in mind, overheating is common throughout pregnancy, but especially in the first trimester, so be sure to have access to a window or fan, and stay hydrated.
- Avoid jump backs
- Avoid inversions
- Avoid closed twists (open twists are fine)
4. Avoid heating pranayama or retention
5. Depending on how many babies you are carrying, and how quickly your body changes, you might need to start avoiding deep forward folds at the end of the first trimester. Instead, take a wider stance with your legs to make room for your growing belly.
Generally, in the second trimester, mamas-to-be feel their best – your belly isn’t yet in the way, if you had morning sickness, it most often goes away, and the first trimester fatigue is supposed to lift. Also, your baby is now much more secure in the place it will grow for the next several months.
- If they were in your practice prior to pregnancy, and they feel good, you can bring back jumping and inversions.
- The one inversion that can be difficult is shoulder stand and it compresses your lungs, so leave that out if it causes discomfort (as with anything that causes discomfort.) A nice option while class is in shoulder stand for a pregnant Goddess is reclining goddess pose.
- Avoid any more poses on your belly, like cobra, bow pose or locust.
3. Say goodbye to any extreme back bends. Cow pose is a good alternative to up dog at this point, and your wheel practice will be waiting for you after you are cleared for exercise when baby is here.
4. Start modifying any intense abdominal work. For example: bend your knees if you want to do boat pose, and avoid crow and other arm balances.
- If at any point during your practice you start to feel dizzy, sit down in Vadrasana (kneeling) with a long straight spine and take deep breaths.
Now, if you haven’t been already, you will really start to feel your pregnancy. The fatigue that hopefully left you in the second trimester has returned, your belly is growing every day (a sign of your increasingly healthy baby (or babies)!), there may be swelling, there is almost definitely heart burn and / or indigestion, and you may be having trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in, and there be many aches and pains thanks to your ever-changing body. Your yoga practice now should be entirely about opening, preparing for birth (with lots and lots of hip openers), and nurturing yourself and your growing offspring. If you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to get into a prenatal class in your area or find some prenatal yoga routines online.
- At this point, if you haven’t already noticed, you will need to steer clear of any poses that involve lying on your back. Instead, prop yourself up at an angle so that you are not flat on your back with blocks, bolsters, or pillows if you are at home. If you are in savasana, you can lie on your left side in a fetal position to encourage better circulation for your baby.
- Do any balancing poses that you wish to do at a wall or with a chair. Your ever-changing body will knock even the most centered yogi off balance at times.
- Concentrate on restorative moves that create space (like side bends) and make you feel GREAT.
Other things to keep in mind when practicing yoga while pregnant:
- As your pregnancy progresses and your body prepares to deliver, a hormone called relaxin is released into your body. This is meant to allow your ligaments to lengthen for the birthing process. However, it is not limited to that one event, and can allow for injury if you aren’t careful to stay within the limits of your body. So, be sure to take care, and do not push yourself beyond your limits.
- The “talk test” is recommended by every doctor I know during pregnancy: if you can talk without sounding winded doing your activities of choice, you are fine. If you are huffing and puffing when trying to talk during your practice, your baby is not getting enough oxygen. Give that little miracle what he or she needs!
- Take care of yourself!! Only you know what feels right or wrong for you in any given moment. Follow your intuition, and pay careful attention to all of your needs. You will do great, Mama!
Heidi (and babies!!)