Have you been practicing yoga for a number of years? Are you pregnant and wondering if you should still practice? The answer is emphatically: YES! Yes, if you are willing to take responsibility for your practice. When I became pregnant ten years into my yoga practice, this is exactly what I did.
Because yoga is science, a process of gaining systematic knowledge through observation, I used my pregnant body to experiment. Armed with a sense of adventure, the support of my obstetrician, who said I could do everything until I couldn’t do it anymore, I embarked on studying yoga from a whole new perspective. What felt good? What made sense? What was happening energetically?
In Book Three of the Yoga Sutras, Master Patanjali says, “baleshu hasti baladini.” Through concentration, meditation and deep focused attention on the strength of an elephant, strength comes. To be pregnant, to deliver a baby, and to become a mother, requires a tremendous amount of physical and emotional strength. Inside of this strength are confidence, patience, and awareness. The ancient practice of yoga is hands down the best preparation for motherhood.
There are a lot of rules out there about practicing pregnant: don’t twist, don’t invert, don’t practice mula bandha, don’t backbend. My question every step of the way was, “why…where did these rules come from?” I never found any good yogic or scientific reasons to back up these claims that were satisfactory to me. Plus, focusing on the “don’t” is such a negative approach. I firmly believe that what is good for the mother, is good for the baby. Here is what I figured out:
Twisting. Twisting is good for the spine. Deep, closed twists cleanse the abdominal organs by first compressing them and then bringing fresh blood back into them. Most women who practice yoga twist, and then one day find out they are pregnant, and all of a sudden the next day they are afraid of twisting. Clearly, you do not want to compress the placenta, the organ of nourishment for the baby. But, during the first trimester, the baby is well below the abdominal organs, protected in the womb. As the pregnancy progresses, the abdominal organs are pushed up and out of place to make room for the growing baby, which is unpleasant and just plain bizarre! At some point, deep compressive twists will be uncomfortable. It is up to you to know when. Modify your twists so you can still enjoy the benefits for your spine.
Inversions. Inversions are highly energizing poses that take the pressure off the legs as well as turn the perspective upside down. For a pregnant woman, who has an inversion practice, what better way to relieve the pressure on the legs? At some point, it may become less comfortable to invert, as the diaphragm does not have much room to move down when inhaling. Clearly, inversions become shorter when the breath is harder to maintain (as do any asana.) There is also a fear that somehow inversions could cause the umbilical cord to wrap around the baby’s neck. This happens in approximately one third of all pregnancies whether the woman is inverting or not. It is a function of how long the cord is and how little room the baby has to maneuver.
Mula bandha. Mula bandha is essential! The muscles of the pelvic diaphragm are supporting the extra weight of the baby for nine months and are the muscles that will be used to push the baby out! These muscles should be toned and ready. They will be stretched during a vaginal birth, so having performed mula bandha prior to delivery will greatly enhance a woman’s ability to tone these muscles after the baby has arrived.
Backbends. During pregnancy, the body produces ten times the normal amount of the hormone relaxin so as to relax the muscles of the pelvis and prepare them for childbirth. This tends to make other areas of the body more flexible than usual. As the baby grows and the abdominal organs are pushed up and out of place, the linea alba, the connective tissue that runs down the midline of the abdominal muscles stretches to accommodate the growing belly. If placed under too much pressure, the linea alba can overstretch or tear (diastasis) which could lead to a hernia. When backbending deeply (and stretching the front of the body), too much pressure may be placed on the already relaxed the linea alba. Backbending “deeply” means something different for everyone. As the weight of the baby energetically pulls the body forward, backbending is a great way to counter depression and heaviness. It is up to you to know when to modify backbends so you can still enjoy the exhilarating feeling of opening your heart.
To bring new life into this world is a privilege. The miracle of pregnancy is creation, the highest form of energy and love. Practice yoga pregnant. You will only know what works for you if feel it in your own body. Be a pregnant warrior and discover your strength!
Consult your doctor prior to undertaking any exercise program. This article is addressing normal, healthy pregnancies. You are responsible for your own body.
This is the first in a series of articles on pregnancy and yoga.