As a pregnant person, you may be wondering…
Can I still attend my regular classes or do I need to practice ‘pregnancy-specific’ yoga?
As a dedicated yoga practitioner of more than 15 years and a mother of one who practiced throughout a high-risk pregnancy, my advice might surprise you!
Keep reading as we explore:
- What Is Pregnancy Yoga?
- How Your Regular Yoga Class Differs
- The Golden Rule
- What If I’ve Been Practicing For Years?
- Yoga Styles and Practices to Avoid
- Pregnancy Yoga – First Trimester
- Pregnancy Yoga – Second Trimester
- Pregnancy Yoga – Third Trimester
- A Personal Story
- How To Find The Right Class and Instructor
What Is Pregnancy Yoga?
The practice of yoga is thousands of years old, but the specific practice of prenatal or pregnancy yoga is much more of a recent development.
One of the earliest pioneers of prenatal yoga was Dr. Fernand Lamaze, who introduced yoga and other relaxation techniques in the 1950s to help women cope with pain and anxiety during childbirth.
In the 1970s, American midwife and yoga teacher, Judith Lasater, started offering specialized prenatal yoga classes in San Francisco.
As more and more women come to the practice as a way to support their bodies during pregnancy, yoga has gained in popularity as a safe and effective way for expectant mothers to prepare their bodies for labor and delivery, reduce stress and promote overall wellness.
Your typical pre-natal yoga class will often include:
- A gentle warm-up to prepare the body for movement
- A slower pace of class including hip openers, wide-legged forward folds, gentle back stretches and some work to strengthen the pelvic floor
- Breathing techniques to help calm the mind and reduce stress
- Some classes may include meditation and visualization exercises to help pregnant people connect with their bodies and growing babies
How Your Regular Yoga Class Differs
A regular yoga class is not designed to be specifically suitable for pregnant people and may therefore include practices that are unsuitable for some stages of pregnancy. Some of these may include:
- Intense core work
- Deep backbends
- Postures where you are required to lie prone on your belly, for example in Dhanuarasa (bow pose)
- Prolonged savasana
Additionally, many of your regular classes may be heated (a big no-no at all stages of pregnancy due to the risk of hyperthermia)
The Golden Rule
Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, your first point of call should be your obstetrician.
While it is now widely accepted that “if you exercised before pregnancy, you can probably continue to work out at the same level while you’re pregnant” – Mayo Clinic, 2021, it is important to recognise that every pregnancy is different.
What If I’ve Been Practicing For Years?
There is one key question to ask yourself when considering whether to keep going to your regular yoga classes …
Do I know how to modify?
In a group class setting, always assume that your instructor will not give you pregnancy-safe modifications for every single pose.
If, as a regular practitioner, you know that when the teacher instructs a deeply twisted high lunge (which is not suitable for pregnancy), you can substitute this for a regular lunge and lower your back knee then… that’s perfect!
Similarly, in a regular class, when the teacher instructs lowering down to the belly for cobra pose, you understand the practice well enough to substitute for a safer backbend, like cat pose on your hands and knees.
As a general rule, if you are not experienced enough to self-modify, you may be better to seek out a dedicated prenatal class.
Styles and Practices To Avoid
No matter which stage of pregnancy you are at or how practiced you are, it is important to avoid:
Let’s look a little deeper into considerations for each trimester …
One of the biggest challenges for yoga practitioners who choose to attend their regular classes is that while often we are physically able to ‘do’ the same asanas that we could before pregnancy, the first trimester is a critical time for the development of the baby.
Always tell your yoga instructor that you are expecting.
This is especially important in the early days as you may not be showing and your instructor will need to avoid some physical assists. It will also allow them to offer modifications to you when needed.
If possible, ensure that your regular teacher has a working knowledge of prenatal yoga.
Here are some general guidelines for practising yoga during the first trimester of pregnancy:
1. Consult with a healthcare provider
Ask if there are any movements you should avoid
Avoid poses that require deep twists and deep backbends
Now is not the time to begin your handstand journey! If you are an experienced practitioner with a solid inversion practice and you choose to continue, be mindful
4. Listen to your body
It’s important to listen to your body and honor any sensations or discomfort that arise during your practice. If a pose feels uncomfortable or causes pain, modify or rest
5. Avoid lying on your belly
After the first few weeks of pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid lying on your belly. Instead, try practicing poses that are done on your hands and knees, such as cat-cow pose. In savasana, lie on your side
6. Stay hydrated
It’s important to stay hydrated during your yoga practice, especially during the first trimester when your body is undergoing many changes. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your practice
7. Nausea and fatigue
Give yourself permission to rest. Many women experience nausea and fatigue during their first weeks of pregnancy. It’s ok to skip class to sit on the couch and eat ginger biscuits instead!
Practicing yoga during the second trimester of pregnancy can help you stay active, relieve common pregnancy discomforts, and prepare your body for childbirth.
As your baby (and belly!) continue to grow there will be some new considerations:
As your body changes, you may need to modify yoga poses to accommodate your growing belly. Widen your stance in standing poses, widen your knees in child’s pose, and definitely no lying on your bump
While hip openers are useful (for obvious reasons!) focus on strength in postures like goddess pose and warriors. Your body is producing a hormone called ‘relaxin’ which helps you become more flexible but also increases the risk of sprains.
3. Avoid deep backbends
As your belly grows, it’s best to avoid deep backbends that put pressure on the abdomen. Instead, focus on gentle backbends and heart-opening poses, such as cow pose or supported bridge pose
4. Props for comfort
During the second trimester, you may find that certain poses are uncomfortable. Using props such as bolsters, blocks, and blankets can help to provide support and comfort during your practice
5. Side-lying savasana
Avoid lying on your back for a prolonged period of time. Lying on your left side is safest and most comfortable in savasana. Support yourself with props.
Practicing yoga during the third trimester of pregnancy can be so empowering! It was my favorite time to practice and I continued right up until the night before I delivered my baby girl.
You may feel like slowing your practice right down or you may have a sudden burst of energy.
However you feel, in addition to the tips above, there are some important considerations as you approach your due date:
1. Getting out of breath
As progesterone levels increase, shortness of breath is common. Don’t be afraid to slow down your practice, even if you’re not moving in time with everyone else. Take an extra few breaths to settle into each pose
2. Focus on gentle and restorative poses
Substitute those downward dogs for a wide-legged child’s pose whenever you wish. Lower your back knee when in high crescent lunge and feel free to skip faster transitions entirely
3. Use props for support
As your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts, you may need to use props such as bolsters, blankets, and blocks to support your body in certain poses.
For example, using a bolster or blanket under your hips in seated poses can help to provide support and alleviate discomfort.
4. Avoid inversions
As you approach the end of your pregnancy, even inversion junkies may want to skip the headstands and handstands to avoid affecting blood flow to the uterus. Balance can also be compromised as your center of gravity shifts which makes falling more of a possibility.
5. Practice pelvic floor exercises
During the third trimester, practicing pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen the pelvic muscles, which can be beneficial during childbirth and postpartum recovery.
A Personal Story
While I was pregnant with my daughter in 2021, I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa and put on pelvic rest meaning no high-impact exercise, no running, and no jumping for the entirety of my pregnancy.
As my condition carried a risk of haemorrhaging (especially as my pregnancy become more advanced), strengthening my deep core muscles to support and ‘lift’ my growing belly became important.
Ironically, the deep, passive hip openers often apparent in pregnancy yoga classes were not safe, but I was able to enjoy attending my regular classes right up until birth with modifications focusing on strength and stability.
It’s important to know that not all pregnancies are the same and for those of us who have high-risk pregnancies, it is especially important to work with your healthcare provider.
How To Find The Right Class and Instructor
Though most forms of yoga are safe for pregnant people, if you are new to the practice, search for a specific prenatal yoga class so that you can be properly supported.
Ask to speak to the teacher in advance and enquire about their training and experience. Yoga Alliance is a great place to start or ask around your local community.
Experienced practitioners … tell your instructor as soon as you know you are pregnant and ask if they are comfortable supporting you.
If you need help with modifications for certain postures, ask, and always listen to your body.
However you choose to practice, enjoy this magical journey and allow the yoga practice to support you in growing a brand new human!
You are amazing!