So you’re having a baby! Welcome to the colossal shift that will transform you into a mother, and the world you know along with it. So what does all this change mean for your yoga practice?
Most expectant mothers, upon announcing their happy news to the world, are immediately flooded with the “don’ts” — scary omens that warn against the evils of unpasteurized cheeses, sushi, caffeine and the like. Or, if you’re a yogi, you’ve heard of ominous dangers of staying away from the dreaded twists, inversions and backbends ... but why?
As a prenatal yoga teacher, I've also maintained my own Ashtanga practice (with modifications) through two healthy pregnancies). I’ve seen everything from women who let go and embrace the natural physical changes that occur during pregnancy, to those who continue an awe-inspiring and demanding yoga practice, and just about everything in between. I can safely say that just about every approach is right when you honor your body. But there can also be nerve-wracking moments of self-doubt along the way.
So for all you soon-to-be moms, here is a quick guide to help navigate and tailor an individual yoga practice to your (beautiful) growing and rapidly changing bodies:
Sounds easy enough right? As the fundamental base of any yoga practice, the importance of breath only becomes amplified during pregnancy. While you may not be able to rock your Ujjayi breath for the full duration of a class, a calm and steady breath will ensure that you are moving mindfully without overexertion.
2. Don’t let fear guide your practice.
Someone likely told you to stop twisting, back-bending, lying on your back and inverting the second you peed on a stick, right? Possibly this person was your yoga teacher? While there is certainly some truth in this advice, it is by no means universal, nor does it always apply to the early stages of pregnancy.
With your doctors “OK," it is perfectly safe to continue practicing to the level you achieved prior to becoming pregnant. That means you can keep exploring those luxurious heart openers and flipping upside down to your heart's content. This is of course, until your body tells you it’s time to start slowing it down, which I promise, your body is incredibly intuitive and will let you know (for me, this didn’t happen until my third trimester).
Those other ominous warnings against laying flat on your back and twisting are not considered harmful in the first stages of pregnancy. Up until 12 weeks, the uterus (and therefore your precious baby) is still well protected below the pubic bone, meaning there is no way you can twist into it and there is no risk of your uterus compressing the vena cava, a major artery that can possibly compromise blood flow while lying on your back later in pregnancy.
3. Honor your body.
As yogis, we are extremely tuned into our own bodies. This is especially true when expecting, as we listen and take extra care with every step. One day, you may feel a surge energy that translates to a rigorous and exhilarating day on your mat. Enjoy it! Drink it in! But the next day might find you sluggish and achy, and that’s OK, too!
Throughout your expectant 40 weeks (give or take), you will probably experience both extremes in abundance, and just about everything in between. Take those off-days as a signal to rest, for your own good and for your growing baby. Likewise, a pose that was effortless one day may become inaccessible the next. Acknowledge that and try to let go (easier said than done, I know!), but it all will come back eventually, I promise.
4. Break the rules.
Take water breaks as often as you need, skip poses, and do something completely different from the rest of the class if you need to. But most importantly, always remember to step outside to cool down and get some fresh air! When you're pregnant your yoga practice is truly your own.
Of course, you should give the teacher a heads-up about your intentions before class (and always let your yoga instructor know that you are expecting before a practice). Any yoga teacher should understand that you have unique needs while pregnant, and that your comfort and safety are more important that following the crowd.
5. Take rest.
Even if your actual practice becomes shorter and shorter as you near the end of pregnancy, always carve our time for Savasana. Taking rest gives you time to soak in the delicious effects of your time on the mat to quiet your mind and connect with the life growing inside you.
Both of my babies would “wake up” while I was in Savasana, and with one hand on my belly, those were precious moments of bonding before birth. Your pregnancy Savasana might look different from before, because as you near the end of your pregnancy you'll probably want to lay on your left side and support your head with a bolster. Either way, it will still be just as much (if not more) rewarding.
Hungry for more? Check out Prenatal Yoga: The Complete Guide by internationally renowned yogi, founder of Strala Yoga, and best-selling author Tara Stiles for safe and effective yoga routines that will give you energy, ban morning sickness, and so much more.