Pregnancy is a transformative journey that brings with it a host of physical and emotional changes. As an expectant mother, taking care of your body and mind becomes paramount. If you have been practising yoga, and aren't sure how best to adapt to support your awesome pregnant body, and little one, this is for you!
I am always delighted when students share that they are expecting, and I realised I didn't have anywhere to signpost them to the myriad considerations for exploring yoga while pregnant. In this blog post, we'll delve into how you can adapt your existing yoga practise during your pregnancy. There is another post on the magic that is Pregnancy Yoga here.
Firstly, congratulations!! I hope that your pregnancy is treating you well so far. Every pregnancy is different (even with the same mama). I really recommend speaking with others/finding a supportive source of information where you can find out about what other's have experienced. It is good to where possible, find a balance between doomgobblers (the ones who share all the gory details forgetting the awesome sisterhood that we can be part of!), and the overachieving ones. There is a middle ground, and it is out there, and when you find yours, it is awesome.
There is a saying that you become a mother when you are pregnant, while the male often becomes a father once the baby arrives. This is because, being pregnant, you may already be wading through the crazy amounts of information and advice out there (solicited and unsolicited!), and waving goodbye to brie/sushi/insert here for the time being!
Yoga and Pregnancy
You may have heard that yoga is recommended in pregnancy as a safe exercise; in fact, many health care providers recommend yoga as a safe pregnancy exercise. It is good, though, to bear in mind that:
Not all yoga is created equal and there are many forms of yoga that would not be appropriate during pregnancy, and certainly not without modifications.
Any exercise (not just yoga) that you have regularly been doing pre-pregnancy is safe to continue during pregnancy, adapting and modifying to ensure it remains safe for both you and your little one.
With this in mind,
always tell your instructor if you are expecting (no matter how early on you are).
wait until after your 12 week check before you join yoga classes. Yoga is not recommended during your first trimester, and yoga teachers will not be insured before this time, even if they are pregnancy qualified.
Even though I had regularly been practising yoga for over 10 years , I hugely reduced my regular yoga practise during my pregnancies, focusing instead on a very modified yoga practise and pregnancy yoga classes only. However, I maintained my strength focus (in my case on Kettlebells) right up until 38 weeks (when my instructor advised I hold fire until after little one had arrived).
Our body during pregnancy will benefit more from strength and stability than it will by focusing on bendiness. One of the reasons for this is that when you are pregnant (and for a time postnatally as well), your body will be extra bendy due to the hormone elastin in your system. Because of this, it is common to overstretch during pregnancy, and you won't necessarily realise that you have overstretched until months later when the elastin is no longer in your system. Remember that less is more, and while it can feel frustrating at the time, your future self will thank you for it!
Safe adaptations during your pregnancy
If you are looking to continue with your regular yoga, here are some things to adapt:
Prone postures: Your body is creating a brand new tiny human. To best support your body and give it space to support your little one, instead of lying prone on your belly (so goodbye for now to locust, cobra, upward dog, bow pose), try a rolling child's pose through to all fours circular movement to release tension in your spine.
Breath retention: If your class includes breathwork/pranayama including breath retention/holds, instead continue with a steady breath in, and out, knowing that you can return to breath retention once you are just breathing for yourself again and not for little one too!
Twists: Closed twists are to be avoided, but gentle open twists can be a lovely way to exploring this movement while pregnant, while still creating space for baby.
For example, a seated twist towards your knee is a closed twist, while twisting away from your knee (right knee bent, left shoulder opening out) would give an open twist variation better suited for pregnancy. So if twists are included in a non-pregnancy yoga class, make sure you choose an open one so you can continue to join in.
Core work: Pregnancy is not the time to focus on core work. Due to this, many asanas that actively engage the core are not recommended (e.g. most inversions, plank, boat pose, chaturanga, arm balances). These will be great to return to once you have completed postnatal yoga and are ready to explore postures that use your abdominal muscles more actively.
Downward dog: towards the end of the third trimester, downward dog is not recommended as it can encourage baby in the wrong direction away from the pelvis.
Less is more: again due to elastin in your system, less is more. Your body will not necessarily give you the feedback that it has overstretched until many months later. Take a shorter stance, and go e.g. 75% into the pose rather than as far as you can.
Supine positions after 16 weeks: as baby grows, along with the supporting ecosystem your body has created, the weight of lying on your back can press onto the vena cava - a large vein to the right of the spine, affecting blood pressure for you, and oxygen for little one. Recline supported by a bolster so your heart and head are lifted, or lie to the left side for savasana.
Adapting your yoga practice during pregnancy is a beautiful way to nurture yourself and your growing baby. By staying attuned to your body's cues, making mindful modifications, and embracing a nurturing mindset, you can enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of yoga throughout your pregnancy journey. Remember, this practice is about embracing change and nurturing yourself from the inside out.
I know that I initially struggled with the amount of adaptations I needed to make during my pregnancies - I felt fine, and was capable of doing so much more, but this is such a short time in your life, and while it makes it a different practise, it can still be incredibly challenging in its own way, and is so worth it in the long run. Arm balances will still be there for you on the other side, and you can marvel at just how incredible you and your body are in adapting to yet new experiences. Yet another lesson in aparigraha right there!!
To find out more about Pregnancy Yoga, hop on over to https://www.estherabreyyoga.com/pregnancy-and-postnatal-yoga.