Since I’ve had this little growing baby in my belly, I’ve only practiced yoga a handful of times. I used to practice every.single.day.
Why did yoga fall to the wayside?
I had NO idea how to modify poses, what to do if the class was doing something I couldn’t (like poses on the back or stomach), and didn’t want to call extra attention to myself during class. I felt uncomfortable asking for help modifying certain poses during class (which is silly, I know), and instead of feeling weird and unsure, I just stopped practicing.
I tried a prenatal podcast, which was a giant snoozefest (especially when you’re used to intense vinyasa) and started to get seriously bummed out. I love yoga so much and know the benefits are incredible for not only myself, but for the baby as well, and decided to consult with one of my expert friends: Averie.
Here she is with a very helpful and informative post about prenatal yoga:
When Gina asked me to help her with a guest post on Prenatal Yoga, I was a bit nervous to write the piece.
I’m not a doctor, I’m not a healthcare provider, I cannot dispense medical information; I am simply a yoga teacher and a mother.
I believe if there is ever a time in one’s life to really accept and embrace our individual differences and experiences, it’s during pregnancy. It is my goal to share some pointers and tips based on my own experiences. Please consult your healthcare provider before beginning or participating in any form of exercise, including yoga, while pregnant. And of course, use common sense!
With that said, I believe there is huge benefit to a yoga practice. Not just during pregnancy, but in general.
I became a certified yoga teacher in 2001 after walking into my first yoga class in 2000. Very quickly, yoga changed my life, both on and off the mat, and I had to pursue it and immerse myself in it and I became a yoga teacher at the Yoga Alliance RYT-200 hour level.
Then in 2010, I became certified at the RYT-500 hour level which was a huge milestone for me.
Although I am not currently teaching right now, I have a consistent daily practice.
Most days that’s 20 minutes at home
As an aside, yoga in general does not have to be this expensive, long, drawn out, must find a class at the fanciest studio kind of thing. Unroll your mat, do some stretches and whatever your body is calling for that day, and then you’re done.
There are no rules on what you do or how long you do it. This is especially true during pregnancy.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did some form of asana daily. Even if that was just stretching for 5 minutes, and sitting quietly and breathing for 5 minutes. If that’s all I had in me or wanted to do, that’s what I did.
I encourage everyone to listen to your intuition, what your body, mind, spirit, and baby are asking for and go with that flow.
Now, my daughter is 4.5 years old and she comes by my mat when I am practicing and does her own little practice.
I don’t ever tell her what to do. She watches me and sometimes does what I am doing..
…Other times, she just giggles and flops around.
But I believe that all that in-utero yoga I was doing somehow rubbed off on her.
She also knows that yoga is calming, centering and if she’s frustrated with something, she tells me, "Mommy, I just need to close my eyes and breathe for a minute." <– Wish more adults would do that.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga & Yoga in General:
Yoga will help you to stay relaxed in general. As a parent, and in life, so many things stress us out.
Yoga offsets stress. I would be a walking ball of nerves in my life in general and as a parent without yoga!
Yoga has mental/emotional/spiritual benefits in addition to physical benefits
Prenatal yoga focuses on opening the hips and stretching the lower back helping to ensure a smooth pregnancy and childbirth
Eases nausea, cramping, high blood pressure
Helps maintain good posture, reducing back pain.
Balance and circulation will improved
Low impact on joints
Yoga breathing and meditation techniques facilitate mental relaxation which is especially important in labor and childbirth
Yoga helps you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces more adrenalin and less oxytocin, which is opposite of what is needed for birth
A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain
Yoga helps mother to remain flexible, and her muscles will stay toned. Important during childbirth and after the birth
Aids in recovery of the body after the childbirth
Check with your doctor or healthcare provider before doing any type of exercise during pregnancy
Make sure the teacher is familiar with prenatal yoga and pregnancy-related issues and modifications needed
Tell your teacher that you are pregnant if you’re attending a class that’s not specifically a prenatal yoga class
Take any modifications you want
Listen to your body, your baby, your instincts
Pay attention to your newly developing motherly instincts & honor them
Be smart, use common sense; do what feels good and right and skip the rest!
If doing at-home yoga DVDs, make sure you use common sense stopping, modifying, skipping things as needed
Use a chair or the wall to help keep your balance. Your center of gravity may be a bit skewed so take caution you don’t fall
Bend from your hips, not your back
Sink into yoga positions slowly and carefully to avoid injury
Drink lots of water before, during, and after exercising to keep your body hydrated
Use of props such as blocks and straps can help you move through different poses with greater stability
Get up from the floor slowly
Take time for a cooldown period
Take your time and don’t overdo it
If any poses make you feel uncomfortable, don’t do it!
If it hurts, stop!
You don’t have to do everything in the class, prenatal yoga class or otherwise.
Don’t assume that because you’re an accomplished yogi, that everything will be business as usual. Recognize and accept that your regular routine will require modifications as the pregnancy goes on
Don’t increase the intensity of your practice
Don’t start doing things you’ve never done before like arm balances, inversions, or other things that are particularly challenging. Stick with what you know you can handle and save the tough stuff for another time
There are some concerns that laying on your back while pregnant may restrict the blood flow to the uterus causing dizziness and shortness of breath
Skip positions that stretch the abdominal muscles too much, such as deep forward and back bends and deep twists. Don’t twist over the midline/center line of your body. i.e. reverse prayer type twists
Don’t over stretch your muscles. Your joints are beginning to loosen from the hormone relaxin and other pregnancy hormones so be mindful to not overstretch your muscles and joints
Don’t hold poses for a long time, keep moving
Don’t get overheated. Increased blood flow and a higher metabolic rate mean you’ll feel warmer than usual when you’re pregnant
Avoid Bikram or hot yoga classes in which the room is heated to 90 degrees or higher, since this could cause dangerous overheating
Avoid lying directly on your stomach
Inverted poses and back bends should be avoided
If you’ve never done a headstand or shoulder stand before, don’t start now
Recommended Yoga Poses for Pregnancy (source)
Cobbler’s or Tailor’s pose (baddha konasana): This sitting pose helps open the pelvis. If you are very loose-jointed in your hips, make sure your "sit bones" are well grounded on the mat or blanket (gently pulling the flesh on each side of your bottom out a bit will help you find the right position). Place pillows or rolled-up towels under your knees to avoid hyperextension of your hips.
- Sit up straight against a wall with the soles of your feet touching each other.
- Gently press your knees down and away from each other, but don’t force them apart.
- Stay in this position for as long as you’re comfortable.
Pelvic tilt or Cat-Cow: This position helps relieve back pain, a common problem during pregnancy.
- Get on your hands and knees, arms shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart, keeping your arms straight, but not locking the elbows.
- Tuck your buttocks under and round your back as you breathe in.
- Relax your back into a neutral position as you breathe out.
- Repeat at your own pace.
Squatting: Denise recommends that her prenatal yoga students squat every day to relax and open the pelvis and strengthen the upper legs. As you start to feel heavier in pregnancy, use props such as yoga blocks or a few stacked books on which to rest your bottom. Focus on relaxing and letting your breath drop deeply into your belly.
- Stand facing the back of a chair with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed outward. Hold the back of the chair for support.
- Contract your abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Then lower your tailbone toward the floor as though you were going to sit down on a chair. Find your balance — most of your weight should be toward your heels.
- Take a deep breath and, exhaling, push into your legs to rise to a standing position.
Side-lying position: This is a good resting pose for the end of a practice.
- Lie on your left or right side with your head resting on your arm or a blanket.
- Put a body pillow or blanket roll between your thighs to give your hips some support.
- If you’re in a yoga class, your instructor may guide you through some breathing exercises.
Other good poses during pregnancy:
Try the standing postures Warrior I (virabhadrasana I), Warrior II (virabhadrasana II), and Tree (vrksasana). These poses help strengthen your joints and improve your balance. Warrior poses can also ease backache and sciatica.
Downward-Facing Dog (adho mukha vrksanasana) can energize your whole body, but it’s best not to do this position in your third trimester.
Your yoga instructor may recommend variations on any of these classic poses.
Additionally, here are some other suggestions & recommendations (source)
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
The Mountain Yoga Pose promotes the experience of stillness, strength, relaxed power, and immovable stability associated with mountains. This yoga posture, and coming back to this stillness after other poses, is one of the ways of becoming acquainted with stillness.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
In Hindu art, the triangle is a potent symbol for the divine principle, and it is frequently found in the yantras and mandalas used for meditation. The Trikonasana or Triangle Pose concludes the Yoga Postures in our basic session.
The Warrior Pose stretches and strengthens the arms and legs, increases stamina, improves balance and concentration, and can also relieve backaches. If you are suffering from diarrhea, high blood pressure or neck problems, you should take extra caution practicing this pose.
Standing Side Stretch Pose
The Standing Side Stretch is another Yoga Pose with two lines of energy radiating outward from your center. This is a simple Yoga Posture with a wonderful stretch in which one line of energy reaches upward from your belly and outward through the arm, and one line travels downward through the legs.
Standing Spread Leg Forward Bend
Practicing the Standing Spread Leg Forward Fold can strengthen and stretch your inner and back legs and your spine. People with lower back problems should avoid doing the full forward bend. For beginners, you may use props like a folding chair to support your forearms.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimothanasana)
Relax your body and mind, stretch your hamstrings, shoulders, and spine, relieve stress, and improve your posture and concentration by practicing the Seated Forward Bend. Learn how to do this properly and achieve maximum results.
Hero Pose (Virasana)
One of the fundamental seated postures is the Hero Pose. This serves as the initial position for several Asanas. It strengthens the arches of the feet, stretches the ankles, and improves posture. This Yoga Pose is ideal for people who have flat feet.
Spread Leg Forward Fold (Upavista Konasana)
The Spread Leg Forward Fold is a Yoga Posture which works primarily on the hamstrings and adductors. This energizes the body and promotes inner calmness. In this section, know more about this exercise and learn how to perform it properly.
Fish Yoga Pose
Doing the Fish Pose relieves stiffness of the neck and shoulder muscles and improves flexibility of your spine. It is the counter-pose of the Shoulderstand. Hold the Fish Pose for at least half the amount of time you spent in the Shoulderstand in order to balance the stretch.
Cat Pose (Bidalasana)
The Cat Yoga Pose teaches you to initiate movement from your center and to coordinate your movement and breath. These are two of the most important themes in Yoga practice. Keep in mind that the Cat Pose may not be advisable if you have any chronic or recent back pain or injury.
Tree Yoga Pose
The Tree Pose helps strengthen your thighs, calves, ankles and back. It can also increase the flexibility of your hips and groin. Your balance and concentration can also be improved with constant practice. This Yoga Pose is recommended for people who have sciatica and flat feet.
Plough Pose (Halasana)
The Plough Pose stretches your spine, thus, improving spinal flexibility. It benefits the thyroid gland and abdomen, eases tension in the shoulders and back, and reduces stress. Learn how to practice the Plough Pose in this section.
Many people hold tension in their necks and shoulders, leading to stiffness, bad posture, and tension headaches. Yoga practice can ease tension, increase flexibility, and tone the muscles. This section covers the steps on how to practice Shoulder Lifts.
Many people hold tension in their necks and shoulders, leading to stiffness, bad posture, and tension headaches. Yoga practice can ease tension, increase flexibility, and tone the muscles. Learn some Neck Exercises in this section.
Ujjayi Breathing Technique
According to the ancient yogic text, Ujjayi can help protect you from a host of diseases by getting rid of excess phlegm, wind or bile. Learn how to perform this challenging breathing technique by following the guidelines found in this article.
The Corpse Yoga Pose is considered as a classic relaxation pose and is practiced before or in between Asanas as well as a Final Relaxation. While it looks deceptively simple, it is actually difficult to perform. Learn more on how to do it with the help of this article.
And these poses are contraindicated for pregnancy. But with anything, depending on your previous yoga experience, your body, your pregnancy, and how you’re feeling that day, you may be okay with them. For example, savasna/corpse pose is recommended by some, and not by others because you’re laying flat on your back.
Again, you have to listen to your body, do what’s right for you, for your baby, for your pregnancy, how you’re feeling that day or in that class, and use that motherly intuition that you have and that you’re building.
There will be times in yoga classes that you may wish to take modifications from what others in the class are doing. For instance, if they are on their backs in happy baby pose with their legs in the air you could try laying on your side and putting one leg up.
If they are inverting with headstands, handstands, or shoulder stands, you could do a standing forward bend (wide-legged if needed) to mimic the sensation of your head being lower than your heart or try downward dog if you feel comfortable with it.
If the class is laying on their backs, again, try laying on your side, taking a seated forward bend or boddha konasana, or squatting.
If they’re doing standing poses that you need to modify, you could try Triangle, Warrior, or Tree.
There is nothing wrong with reverting back to the same half dozen poses you feel comfortable with and use those as your modifications if you’re "stumped" on what to do, or until you can ask your teacher for some pointers.
With modifications, do what feels natural, what seems to "fit" with what others are doing, and if you have questions, ask your teacher before, during, or after class what they would recommend for that class or for future classes you may attend.
Also, simply sitting and breathing for 5 breaths in a cross legged position or in any position that feels comfortable is perfectly acceptable.
Yoga in general, and prenatal yoga, should be a good thing. A benefit. Yoga should always be something that helps you, that you look forward to doing, something that is beneficial. And if it’s not, don’t do it!
I practiced yoga up until the day I gave birth and many women do. Many women don’t. It’s all so individual, but I do believe a physical yoga practice and staying active, in conjunction with the breathing techniques I have learned over the years through yoga, as well as the mental/emotional/spiritual benefits I receive from yoga all positively contributed to me having a 100% natural birth and speedy recovery after the birth.
Thank you to Gina for asking me to guest post on her site, a big congratulations to her and The Pilot, and thanks to all of her lovely readers for reading.
P.S. I have a post on my site called Yoga FAQ’s that discusses everything from the yoga mat I use to the yoga clothes I like to yoga DVDs, books, and so forth that I enjoy. It’s a very comprehensive post so check that out for your general yoga questions.