I have had a lot of requests to share my prenatal yoga practice, so I decided to use some info from emails that I sent to a couple of you already and made it into this post! Enjoy 😀
Yes, there is a lot of conflict from so many sources regarding what to do or not to do while pregnant and practicing yoga asana. One thing that I found out about practicing while pregnant is that it’s so much about YOU. YOU will have more insight than anyone. It’s your body, and just as no pregnancy, labor and birth is the same, neither is your experience with the practice of prenatal yoga. Now, given that, I’ll give you hints as to how I approached my practice and of course there are general guidelines of what to do and what not to do. Again, honor your body and listen to your body, as it’s no longer just you, but a source of life for another human being that relies on your willingness to take responsibility for your own health.
My personal choices:
Totally took it easy. I did not feel like doing asana practice and if I did anything I kept it really mellow. I meditated. I did very gentle restorative, I barely moved. I also felt that was due to coming out of winter as I got pregnant in late January in Pittsburgh 🙂 I was also very tired, and I wanted to make sure that my baby clamped on to me really well! When I got pregnant I was 36 and according to the medical community, that is “high risk”. I knew in my heart that all would be ok, BUT was also very afraid that things would not work out, so I chose to take it easy as much as possible. Ok….let me be honest….I WAS PARANOID!!! I refused to connect with my baby. I felt I could not take the heart ache if this little soul’s body was not ready to be born. Randy (my beloved), was so sweet and supportive and simply provided himself, whenever I got all emotional. She seemed to me my sacred little secret 🙂 I was not teaching during my 1st trimester. I started teaching during my 2nd, not by choice really but because I got a teaching opportunity then!
This is not always true. Some women practice the same sort of practice in the first trimester that they have been practicing and they feel absolutely ok with it. In fact it may help them with fatigue and nausea. I did not have any morning sickness (fantastic blessing)
Regarding physical postures. I found that I was able to do all postures. No restrictions, except very deep twists (makes absolute sense) Start to be very careful with stretchy poses, especially hip openers. During your pregnancy you will become more stretchy due to the hormone ‘relaxin’, which does exactly that, relaxes your connective tissue so that your body can adapt to your growing baby. Choose to engage your muscles as much as possible (Muscular Energy) especially in wide legged poses, such as Upavista Konasana, Baddha Konasana, and even poses like Prasarita Padotanasana, and Vira II. The latter standing poses will serve to strengthen your inner thigh muscles (if you isometrically pull to the midline) which is KEY as you get bigger. One thing that I stayed away from the beginning was back bends on my belly that involved no support such as Dhanurasana, and Locust variations. Those poses did NOT feel good when I did them. That’s what I mean about YOU knowing. You have to be ever more sensitive to your choices.
Totally stepped into asana. I did everything, arm balances, sun salutes, forward bends, standing poses, hip openers, backbends, inversions (handstand and forearm balance), and even some twists. I felt good. I watched my blood pressure. You have to sloooooooow things down so much. so so so much. Tried to keep myself warm but not over heated. I took as many breaks as needed. Somedays I had more energy than other days. I followed my instincts. I listened. Doing hip openers were very important to me, they relieved a lot of tension. I found for myself that backbends felt very good for my body.
This is not at all true for all pregnancies. My teacher, when she had her first baby did very deep backbends all through her pregnancy, during her second, they did not feel good AT ALL, so she cut them out completely. Follow your body and your baby. Make sure you pause. The pause is where the baby lives, always listen. Any abdominal crunches and strengtheners I stayed away from, although I found great value from holding plank and learning to use my whole spine for support, not just your belly. This is key! I also used my knees a lot when doing chattarunga. I found that less stressful on my belly and was able to really focus on using a lot of arm strength, which you do need to build so you can carry your baby for hours!!!!!
Now having my baby for 6 months I recognize that standing poses, especially those that work the quadriceps are key to keeping alignment. I’m not sure how Mom’s with weak leg muscles do it. Crouching down to pick things up holding a baby is pretty challenging, especially doing it in alignment so you don’t tweak yourself! I would do a lot more utkatasana variations at the wall and holding a block in between my shins.
I found myself still pretty strong. Didn’t find too many things that I avoided, other than the fact that I did everything at half the time. My backbends took me a long time to do because I rested in between for about 2 min to bring my blood pressure back to normal. One way to see if you over did it somehow is to see if you got a headache afterwards, or your eyes are tired and bit unfocused. That means that your heart worked way to hard. Choose to slow things down and like I mentioned before, use your muscles as much as you can to get circulation all over your body. I have experienced, the dreaded Charley Horse on my calves during about the 25th week. The belly starts to grow so much more that it begins to slow the circulation to your legs. It is necessary to stretch out the legs, the calves, the hamstrings, and the outer hips a lot, as well as keeping your inner thigh muscles strong. I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to watch my foot video. Some of those exercises I do all the time at night, to open up my feet, and calves and hamstrings. It has really helped with the Charley Horses. Man those things hurt. I’ve never had one before!
I did not restrict too many things. I’ve been practicing for a while and know my body, so have you. I believe in empowering women to make their own choices. Educate yourself by observing how your body reacts. The biggest communicator, your breath. Be very mindful. Listen to your heartbeat, as it’s beat is also the one that beats with your baby. Your blood flow is increasing exponentially, so honor the process of observing it and keeping yourself cool
The main focus of my yoga practice at this time was very gentle hip openers, very easy and light upper body twists, shoulder openers and relaxation. I didn’t feel I could retain the strength that I need to do a full practice with long holds, especially with standing poses. Lunges, no way, (no poses that are in any way assymetrical) they just pulled me apart too much and I end up pulling my SI out of wack. There are way too many hormones getting you ready to expand in a way that you’ve never expanded before. Those last few weeks were all about the ‘let go’. Relaxation and Rest, that’s it.
Let Go And Soften
If I were to give you advice that I will heed myself if I am blessed with another baby it’s this: start the Let Go as soon as you know you are pregnant. Don’t think you HAVE to do anything. Enjoy softness, enjoy softening all over, your muscles, your heart, your spirit, your emotions, your breath. Be vulnerable, cry, feel, allow, don’t hold on to emotions but certainly let them wash all over you. We as women are so strong because we are like water, we feel and let go. Such a fantastic clearing. If you have scary thoughts, insecurities, fears, don’t try to hide them or push them away. See them, meet them with your vulnerable self, your baby will be better for it, having a Mami with the strength to step into herself. It also gives you the deep knowledge that you will need to guide and teach your child 🙂 You will speak from experience.
Keep your belly soft, as soft as possible. Let me say that again…Keep your belly soft, as soft as possible, no yogini abs. I didn’t understand why in my prenatal teacher trainings we were taught to tell our ladies not to do core work. I was able to do it while pregnant. I could still hold plank pretty well, and keep my core engaged in every pose, but sometimes too much so, which is why I believed my little girl was breech. (Turned out that the muscle strength had some influence but the underlying reason is that I had an undiagnosed placenta previa) She has no room to move in my tight belly. My muscles were crazy strong and provided a very protected and secure little home, but she didn’t get too much of a chance to roam around in the womb 😉 Think softness. I also don’t mean for you not to work your core AT ALL!!! just be mindful. Find that beautiful balance that we as yogis are always searching for….sukha/sthira…..more sukha!!!
For all you yogini Mamas out there it would be awesome if you shared your experiences of practicing yoga while pregnant. I (we) would love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts, feelings and advice in the comments!