Many people come to yoga for the first time during their pregnancy. Yoga is often recommended by a care provider or a friend as a way to address some of the common discomforts that go along with inhabiting a pregnant body. Yoga can also provide much needed mind-body practices that can help address stress and anxiety and potentially prepare one for childbirth.
There are many folks though who have had a regular yoga practice up until the point of their pregnancy and want to continue doing their regular yoga classes. My advice? Definitely check out a prenatal yoga class or online prenatal yoga videos from a trusted source will give you an idea of what you can and can’t do. And will also give you inspiration for modifications when you’re in a class that is doing something not recommended for the pregnancy body.
First and foremost, make sure that you have clearance from your care provider to be doing exercise and that you don’t have any specific circumstances where yoga isn’t recommended. From there, there are some general guidelines you can keep in mind in your practice, in most cases it’s a matter of what things to avoid.
We’ll go through each of the things to avoid and some ways to adjust when you’re in a regular yoga class:
Prenatal Yoga Advice #1: Avoid deep twists
For twisting on the back try this instead:
- Start in side-lying and open the top arm back behind you so the twist comes from the upper body rather than the lower body.
- Start on the back with knees together feet wide and drop both knees to one side and then to the other.
For twisting in standing try this instead:
- Take open twists: twist away from the front leg so the belly remains open.
- You can choose to rest the forearm on the front leg rather than bringing the hand all the way to the floor.
- An example of this would be to do side angle pose instead of revolved side angle pose, in that adjustment you are twisting away from the bent knee in front.
Prenatal Yoga Advice #2: Avoid poses on the stomach
Pretty intuitive right? Many folks will find that up till around 14-18 weeks they will feel fine being on their bellies and if it feels okay in the first trimester then there’s no reason not to continue to do so. Other folks will find that immediately they will feel protective of their belly and want to avoid anything on the stomach. Ways to modify are:
- Upward facing dog with a bolster underneath the thighs.
- Doing cat/cow flows while the class is on their stomach.
- Sphinx pose with a bolster underneath the thighs.
The hardest place to make this adjustment is in a flow class that moves quickly through sun salutations. Here are two ways you can modify your sun salutations to support your pregnant body in a regular yoga class:
Prenatal Yoga Advice #3: Avoid poses on the back where both hips and shoulders are touching the floor
This becomes important around 18-20 weeks of pregnancy as the baby starts to get bigger. When we lie flat on our back there is the potential for the baby to put pressure on the vena cava, a vein that carries deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Prolonged pressure on the vena cava can, for some people, can put the baby at risk.
That being said, it is prolonged pressure we are worried about. If you come briefly on to your back you won’t be doing any harm, it’s more a matter of if you were to set yourself up in savanasana flat on your back and stay in the pose for a long time. With a few props you can modify to make yourself more comfortable:
- For legs up the wall take a bolster underneath the hips.
- For extended time on the back doing leg work, take a bolster underneath the hips and lift the hips up off the floor.
- Use a bolster underneath the length of the spine for savasana or prop the bolster up with blocks to give yourself more lift.
Prenatal Yoga Advice #4: Avoid deep backbends
Another note for later in pregnancy because it will a) most likely not feel great and b) has the potential to aggravate diastisis which is a separation of the abdominals that naturally happens during pregnancy but can be made worse by core work, twisting and big opening in the front of the body (all contraindicated in pregnancy). You can still do backbends, but I recommend doing them with support:
- Try a block under hands for camel or bolster under thighs for upward dog.
Prenatal Yoga Advice #5: Avoid certain Pranayama & Kriyas
There are certain pranayama that we want to avoid during pregnancy either because of the pressure it puts on the belly or because of its possibility of depriving our body of oxygen both of which can put the baby at potential risk.The pranayamas to avoid are Kapalabhati, Bhastrika and long breath retentions The Kriyas to avoid are Uddiyana Bhanda, Nauli and Agni Sara.
The wonderful thing? The right pranayama practices can be excellent during pregnancy to help relieve stress and also help us practice connecting to our breath as a tool to use in labor. Instead of the practices above consider these two options:
- Equal inhale/equal exhale breath.
- Lengthening the exhale in relation to the inhale
Prenatal Yoga Advice #6: Avoid Core Work
And last, avoid core work. This can be so hard in our society given we put so much pressure on new mamas to “bounce” back postpartum, some folks can feel added pressure to start strengthening their core when the are pregnant in preparation. While we do want a strong core in terms of our obliques supporting our back in holding the baby’s weight, doing most abdominal strengthening exercises can make the diastasis recti worse. So here are some things you can do to strengthen your support muscles instead of core work:
- In any pose where you might have hugged your belly in prior to your pregnancy now cue yourself to “hug the baby in”. This sense of hugging the baby can help engage your obliques.
- Work with poses like opposite limb extension from hands and knees and use the cue of hugging the baby in.
Still feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay! It’s a lot to remember, that’s why classes with a certified prenatal yoga teacher can help, they’ll remember it all for you! Whatever you do, I encourage you to create a space to continue to enjoy your yoga practice as your pregnancy progresses and especially after the baby is born.
Note from editor: We invite you to check out Megan Sloan’s online video classes focused on prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga on Pivotshare. To find a yoga studio offering prenatal or postnatal yoga near you in the Seattle area, please visit our yoga studio finder section.
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