By Nancy Lea
200 Hour E-RYT
As a yoga instructor it is our job to keep our students safe during their practice
and this becomes particularly important when an expectant mother joins one of
our classes. At first you are pleased that this mom- to-be is continuing or maybe
just beginning a yoga practice. Practicing yoga postures helps them to stretch
and create space in the body, get gentle exercise and strengthen and prepare
the body and mind for labor. However, this can quickly turn into anxiety if you are
unclear about which postures are safe, which postures are not and ways to
modify postures so they not only not injure but also benefit the student on her
journey towards birth and beyond.
Benefits of yoga during pregnancy:
Yoga is an activity that helps increase the qualities of Sattva in the mother and
baby. These include clarity, peacefulness, awareness, positivity, gentleness,
compassion and LOVE.
- Yoga asana is a wonderful to way to build up and maintain strength, stamina and vitality all of which are needed for labor, childbirth and beyond into parenthood.
- Many postures can help to soothe and even alleviate common physical discomforts such as tightness or pain in the hips or low back, sciatic pain and tightness in the shoulders or neck, swelling and constipation.
- Breath awareness (pranayama) helps to soothe anxiety, fear and stress. Many gentle pranayama techniques can be used to keep women calm and relaxed and to work through discomfort during labor and childbirth.
- Meditation teaches women to be present to the changes in their bodies, to the amazing process of growing a baby and to the capacity and innate wisdom of their bodies to give birth and raise a child.
Postures that should be avoided or modified during pregnancy:
Some women enter into pregnancy as very experienced practitioners and are
able to continue with very few modifications (at least in the first and possibly the
second trimesters) but in general these are the guidelines for postures and
movements that are contraindicated for pregnant women:
- Intense pranayama practices like Kapalabhati or Kumbhaka (holding the breath). Some teachers caution against Ujjayi pranayama because it can lower blood pressure. Students should be aware that if they feel light headed or dizzy, they should release this practice and just breathe with awareness.
- Intense backbends such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel), Ustrasana (camel) or Urdhva Mukha Svasana (upward facing dog). These can cause overstretching in the abdominal area and even separation of the abdominal muscles (diastasisrecti).
- Some abdominal strengthening exercise such as crunches which can cause pressure and compression on the uterus and/or baby. This can also include plank, cueing to engage the core, stepping or jumping forward from Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog).
- Deep, closed twists which again can cause compression.
- Lying prone (directly on the belly) due to pressure on the baby.
- Lying supine or on the right side due to pressure on the vena cava vein. This can cut off blood flow to the heart and cause dizziness or shortness of breath.
- Inversions: Down dog and Viparita Karani are safe. Other inversions can be risky even if the student has been practicing for many years. It's best to be cautious for the relatively short time you are pregnant.
- Intense heat. This can cause dehydration but some women who are accustomed to heat or a heated practice may be able to tolerate it.
- Be mindful of balance: a pregnant woman’s center of gravity is different during pregnancy and she may need to modify some standing postures by increasing the distance between the feet. The wall is also a great prop for standing balances to prevent falling. Arm balances probably require too much core engagement and there is also the risk of falling.
Postures that can be practiced during pregnancy:
- Gentle pranayama such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril), Dirga (3 part breath) and mindful, deep, slow breathing.
- Modified backbends such as supported bridge pose, tabletop, pose of joy (1 leg extended, 1 bent, lift up onto shin and open front body), Ustrasana (camel) variation (on shins, knees bent, hands behind body and gently press hips up).
- Safe abdominal strengthening such as opposite limb extension. Cueing Mula Bandha (pelvic floor engagement) rather than Uddiyana Bandha (low belly engagement). You can also remind your student that most standing postures and balancing postures require a certain amount of core stability and engagement and this is enough to keep them strong during pregnancy.
- Open twists: twisting away from the bent knee or taking a wide stance in a lunge twist so there is plenty of room for the expanding belly. Using a block under the bottom hand in the lunge twist helps to create more space as well. You can also offer twists from hands and knees towards thread the needle or Parivrtta Prasarita Paddotanasana.
- Standing posture: lunges, warriors (try warrior 3 with both hands on blocks),
- Utkatasana, Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Parsvottanasana and Goddess.
- Standing balances: Vrksasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Natarajasana,
- Creative Surya Namaskar or Chandra Namaskar (sun and moon salutations)omitting plank, chaturanga, up dog or cobra.
- Seated postures: Baddha Konasana, Janu Sirasana, Agnistambhasana
- Shoulder and chest openers: Gomukasana (cow face) arms, Garudasana (eagle) arms and Yoga Mudra.
- Pelvic tilts and circles: cat/cow or standing in modified chair pose. These are wonderful movements to teach expectant moms to use to during labor.
- Adho Mukha Svansana (down dog), Balasana (child’s pose) and Malasana (squat).
- Savasana variations: Side lying on the left side with a bolster between the legs,
- Queen’s Pose (lying back over a bolster) or Viparita Karani with a bolster or folded blanket underneath the sacrum.