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.
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:
Avoid deep twists
For twisting on the back try this instead:
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:
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:
Avoid poses on the back where both hips and shoulders are touching the floor
This becomes important around 18-20 weeks of pregnancy as baby starts to get bigger. When we lie flat on our back there is the potential for 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, put baby at risk (curious about this, read the blog on lying on your back in pregnancy!).
That being said, it is prolonged pressurewe 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:
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:
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 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:
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 their pregnant in preparation. While we do want a strong core in terms of our obliques supporting our back in holding baby’s weight doing most abdominal strengthening exercises can make diastasis recti worse (more on that here). So here’s some things you can do to strengthen your support muscles instead of core work:
Wisdom and insight with a dash of humor to help guide you on your journey through motherhood.