How My Yoga Practice Changed When I Got Pregnant
I've been an avid yogi for over 14 years. It all started when I was a sophomore in college, the day I found out it was "Madonna's go-to exercise." Little did I know it would become life-transforming and a significant part of my daily routine. I give yoga credit for helping me get through medical school and some of the hardest days of my life. I became a 200-hour registered teacher in 2011 while I was finishing up medical school; I intended to teach, but being a busy resident and attending physician didn't leave me much time. Instead, I simply enjoyed doing yoga on my own and deepening my practice as much as I could.
When I got pregnant I knew that my rigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa practice would have to change as my body changed. I am now enjoying a slower, softer, and even more mindful practice. Don't get me wrong, I still get a good sweat in, but I'm engaging different muscles and concentrating on different parts of my body better than I did before. My arms have gotten stronger as well as my lower body. I still start off with my sun salutations but I'm making adjustments and not compromising my belly or form for the poses. I am resting more, staying even more hydrated, and honoring my body. I still get to enjoy my inversions, back bends, and intense balancing poses. I am a little more careful than I was before, but also practicing regularly for 14 years gives me the confidence to know what I can and can't do.
There are some adjustments that need to be made so you can enjoy a safe and healthy practice. Here are five of them that you'll want to make when you become pregnant:
This one was hard for me. Initially, my belly wasn't that big so it was hard for me to "adjust" this pose. But as my belly has expanded I realize why it's important not to twist as much, as your belly gets in the way. I have now learned to open twist so I still get all the detoxifying benefits of twisting without harming myself or my little one.
2. Abdominal work
I had to make adjustments in abdominal poses and I no longer do any abdominal exercises. I used to enjoy doing side planks, but now I stick to modified versions with my leg down for support. I still feel the burn, but I'm engaging my outer thigh muscles more than I did when I was actually engaging my abs. I also avoid all floor poses like cobra, locus, and bow poses as they compress the belly.
3. Forward folding
I do miss some of the intense forward folding stretches, but I have made adjustments by widening my stance with my hips. So whether it's a seated or standing forward bend I am making room for my large belly to be comfortable. This is the same for standing splits as well as extended side angle pose. I don't do this pose as it constricts my belly and have learned that I can get the same benefits from an extended triangle pose instead.
4. Lying on my back
As your pregnancy progresses, lying on your back is not a good idea—especially after 20 weeks. You can compress the inferior vena cava which can cause you to be light headed, dizzy, and weak. So the days of Savasana or corpse pose are out the door until the baby comes. I have been enjoying lying on my left side during Savasana and reaping all the same benefits.
There are some breathing techniques that should not be done during pregnancy, and agni fire breathing or kabala bhatti breathing are two of them. You should also avoid any breathing techniques where you hold your breath, even for a few seconds. You can still get the same benefits of pranayama breathing but inhaling and exhaling through your nose or using a Ujai or victorious breath instead.
Want to read more about what doctors do during pregnancy? Here are three things this physician started (and stopped) doing when she got pregnant.