Pregnancy and yoga. It’s this funny thing that sounds like it makes sense together but can be confusing when it comes down to it. Doctors have always nodded approvingly when I have told them that I kept up my yoga practice during my pregnancies. But, what the medical field does not seem to acknowledge is that yoga can be a mysterious place of right and wrongs for a pregnant woman. Here I will to share my personal experience of pregnancy and yoga. The offerings I extend are yours for the taking or leaving. Either way I hope this post will shed some light for you on this complex union of pregnancy and yoga.
Before I get started, I have to say that I have had no prenatal teacher training. I have practiced yoga through two pregnancies and taught yoga through one.
Here is my yoga pregnancy story:
During my first pregnancy I kept up with a regular vinyasa flow practice. I took out my closed twists, and modified some of my vinyasa sequences to allow room for my belly, but I showed up and felt like a superstar. I found the prenatal class I was taking to be too beginner oriented for my liking and most enjoyed going to my regular classes where my favourite teachers helped me modify poses to accommodate my changing body. I was in my last flow class the night before I went into labour and I was back two weeks later feeling a little weaker then I had in the past but empowered by my own ability to get back on the mat. Yes, I hung out in child’s pose a lot, but I was smiling ear to ear the whole way through.
During my second pregnancy I discovered I had significant diastasis (a common separating of the most superficial abdominal muscles) AND an umbilical hernia (less common and even less fun). Those two things changed my practice completely. During my second trimester I decided to kick out all my concentrated core work, all backbends (even most forms of bridge) and completely halt my vinyasa flow practice. My yoga practice got a lot slower, a lot more focused on my mind, and I got even more serious about dedicating my efforts to teaching my students in a way that was safe and yet challenging for everyone in the room. It was a great time to grow as a teacher. It was a great time to leave my ego at the door.
For both pregnancies I have felt the strength of yoga empower me. I recommend it to everyone. Body allowing, I believe a strong standing practice in pregnancy is great, not only from the perspective of empowerment but, to also utilize our muscular structures in ways that get blood flowing to nourish you and your babe.
One controversial point I have come up against over and over is that in both pregnancies I have felt awesome lying on my back and my right hand side. Due to the potential of the uterus compressing the vena cava vein, these two positions can be harmful for some women who can get dizzy as blood flow is restricted. Some teachers like to insist on students lying exclusively on their left hand side.
Whether it be lying in a certain way or whether or not you feel comfortable in a specific pose, I strongly advocate listening to your own body and being empowered in your own body’s self knowledge. Let the knowledge of your teachers educate you, but listen to your inner teacher to know what is right for you. And of course, talk to your Doctor or Midwife if you do have concerns! I know, during those hot summer days, legs up the wall, lying on my back was a huge relief on my swollen feet and pesky spider veins. I feel lucky that lying on my back was an option!!
For my fellow pregnant yogis and teachers of pregnant yogis, here are the highlights of what I have learned from my own experience about yoga and pregnancy:
1) Every pregnancy and every body is different. What might be good for your yogini friend in her pregnancy, may not be good for you and vice versa. Take the time to be quiet with yourself and listen to your own unique body and mind. Consult with teachers you trust.
2) Pregnant women are powerful. Your pincha mayurasana may not be what it once was, but, take the time to feel your body. You are a power house creating a life. You are physically strong and yoga can help express that. Use the wall when you need to. Take the precautions that work for you. But, let yoga show you some of your amazing inner strength. This can be rocking an awesome half moon pose at the end of your third trimester, a headstand in your second (if that’s in your practice), or maybe even more powerfully, learning to sit mindfully with your breath with a new sense of quiet and understanding.
3) Hold back on progressing your hardcore physical asana practice during your pregnancy. If you do not do headstand in your pre-pregnant yoga practice, this is really not the time to start. Be mindful that your body is changing. Be realistic in your practice and know that nailing that headstand can wait until after baby is born. Pregnancy is a great time to take a look at something more yogi’s should be examining – our egos! Let it go and enjoy your body and your practice for what it is today. Your yoga practice is likely different every day, pregnant or not. This is a fabulous time to work on that understanding.
4) Don’t squish the baby. This applies mostly to really tight closed twists like twisted chair. While its great to wring out your insides like a wet cloth when you aren’t pregnant, once there is a baby in there it’s a good idea to give them the space to grow. You can still take great spinal twists that leave room for your belly to remain its growing plump healthy self!
5) Teachers are there to offer up their knowledge. Drink from their offerings and absorb what you can. They have likely worked with an array of pregnant yogis over the course of their teaching careers. Saying that, know that they are NOT in your body. Only you can feel what is right for you. You are your greatest teacher.
So, there it is, a little offering from me to you that I carry forth from these two pregnancies. Feel free to ask me any questions about my experienced that may be relevant to you. I would be excited to share!