tips for practicing non-prenatal yoga while pregnant

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Pre/Post-natal Yoga | Comments Off on tips for practicing non-prenatal yoga while pregnant

I often have my prenatal students asking me if it’s okay for them to attend their pre-pregnancy yoga classes.  Typically my answer is “of course!”, but there are a few caveats.  If you typically practice Bikram or Moksha or another form of hot yoga, I would recommend that you avoid returning to these classes until you are at least 6 weeks post-partum.  The heat is debatable for a non-pregnant body, and research shows that excessive heat can put both mother and child at risk in pregnancy.  If you typically practice yoga in a non-heated room, let me give you some tips that you can take with you should you choose to venture back into that class before your due date.

1) Take it easy for the first 12 weeks, no matter what your previous practice entailed.  This means no vigorous activity, no twists or inversions, nothing that will get your body too hot or too shaken up.  Let things establish themselves, rest, eat well, drink lots of water, enjoy laying on your back!

2) No more twists.  The Ashtanga practice and many hatha offerings tend to get into some pretty deep belly twists, and these are no longer for you.  If you think about the purpose, to “soak and squeeze” the internal organs, it makes sense.  The only thing you’d be squeezing would be baby, and that’s most definitely not a good thing.  There are a few shallow twists, such as bharadvajasana, that are okay for you, but unless your teacher knows how to modify you, just avoid twists altogether.

3) Don’t try inversions for the first time.  If headstands, shoulderstands, handstands or forearm balance are part of your regular practice before you get pregnant, they are safe (and even beneficial!) to continue.  However, if you’re not solid with your upside down self, don’t wait for pregnancy to learn these postures.  The risk of falling is pretty high, and you never know where you’ll land.  Keep things grounded.  Legs up the wall (viparita karani) is a nice inversion if your hips are gently propped up on a bolster or pillow, and downward dog is an inversion as well!  The difference is you won’t fall and risk hurting yourself.

4) Don’t go for the sweat.  If you are used to plowing through vinyasas or sun salutations, now is the time to bring the tempo back a bit.  It will feel better if you have more time to feel aligned with your breath (rather than having to catch your breath), and the slower you move the more all of those little muscles in your transitional movements have time to feel something too.

5) Avoid most specialized prananyama.  If your class is being led into any breath work that involves pauses or breath retention, this is not for you.  You want to find slow, deep, steady breathing throughout the duration of your class.  No breath of fire in kundalini (long, deep breaths instead work great), no alternate nostril breathing (breath moves a bit too slowly in this restricted fashion).  However, sitali breath is nice.  If you’re feeling hot or stressed, allow the tongue to form a little “u” or straw as you curl the edges in.  Allow the tongue to protrude slightly.  Inhale through the space of the tongue, exhale through the nose.  If you feel light-headed, always return to a normal breath.

6) No more laying on your belly.  Say goodbye to cobra, locust, bow, etc.  For moving through sun salutations, I recommend coming onto your hands and knees when it’s time for cobra, and then bending your elbows (keep them at your sides), and diving the heart through your arms, opening your chest, allowing the knees and maybe even thighs to rest on the floor.  Your pelvis and belly are elevated. Another option is to try updog from your toes (keep them tucked).  Instead of locust, try balancing table with a bit of backbend.  Instead of bow, try camel.

7) No more abdominal work!!!  Now is not the time to tighten your abdominal wall.  You want space and freedom for baby to grow, and any additional tightening of them will only cause you grief.  When baby grows and tries to find more space, your abs offer too much resistance, and they can split down the middle of your belly at their attachment point, leaving you with diastasis recti (read my article about it!).  This means even more healing work postpartum, which is not what you want.  Work instead on deep side stretches, gentle backbends, long and deep cat/cow.  No more plank, no more leg raises.  Let it go.  You’ll have plenty of time after baby to focus on your core!

8- Engage your pelvic floor when moving into deep squats.  If you are holding a squat (great hip-openers for preggies!) in a yoga class, the weight of baby is pressing downward into the vulnerable pelvic floor.  If you are experiencing hemorrhoids, this adds pressure and restricted blood flow that you don’t need.  Grab a block and place it below you as a perch or learn to engage the pelvic floor, drawing it up and holding it strong.

9) Respect your overly-mobile joints. If you are experiencing SI pain or pain that feels like sciatica, you are going to want to avoid deep forward folds that have a deep external rotation of the hips such as baddha konasana, janu sirsasana or upavistha konasana.  You can come into formation, establish the lower body hip opening position, but don’t fold forward.  Instead, feel the pelvic tip forward slightly until you create sensation of stretching in the hips, pause and breathe.  Standing forward folds such as utanasana with a wide stance or prasarita padottansana are an excellent way to stretch out the hamstrings without destabilizing the sacrum.  Another tip is to avoid jumping back and forth in your transitions (as is common in an Ashtanga practice) because your wrists and ankles are more prone to sprains in pregnancy.  Keep things steady, your movements as even as possible.

10) Lay on your back… if you want to!  I personally enjoyed laying on my back right until the end of my pregnancy but some women begin to feel uncomfortable with this very early on.  I generally advise women to listen to their own bodies.  If savasana feels good on your back, relax on your back.  Your body will send you signals of discomfort if you need to move.  If it doesn’t feel relaxing for you, either use a few bolsters and lay back upon them with your legs extended, so your heart is higher than your legs, or simply take savasana laying on your left side with a blanket beneath your head and another between your legs for comfort.

These are only a few suggestions, but they are the most common areas that require attention in a prenatal yoga practice.  If you head out to a hatha or flow class, keep these things in mind and learn how to attend to your own needs.  Not every teacher is familiar with the pregnant body, some may be so uncomfortable that they may tell you the practice isn’t for you.  If you feel comfortable taking the reigns, bringing plenty of mindfulness and body awareness into your own practice, you will be better off.  Learn to back off when you get the signals to do so.  If something doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.  If you feel short of breath, stop.  If it feels great, dig in.

Feel free to email me at the address on my contact page if you have any questions.  Enjoy the kind of yoga practice you need, even in pregnancy!


All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.