You know what’s really great about being a yoga teacher? We often learn who is pregnant long before others do. I love the little whispers prior to the start of class that go something like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I’m 8 weeks pregnant...but, I haven’t told anyone yet. What should I do in class?”
Of course, I want to be like, “Oh my gosh! Congratulations!” And, then spill out all the details of what to do and what not to during a yoga class, while simultaneously giving out hugs. But, if I did that, then EVERYONE would know the secret. So, I usually share a brief run-down - relax your core, steer clear of deep twisting, remember to breathe, etc.
But, there’s a little more to it. So, when you find yourself in an all levels yoga class or you’re practicing at home, here are some poses to avoid during pregnancy and those to be cautious about:
Closed Twists - What’s a closed twist? Essentially any twist where you are turning the upper body towards a bent knee or where you are compressing the belly a little too much. When practicing any twist, try and keep your belly and baby pointing forward and only twist from the mid to upper back, rather than your belly button.
Core work - Leave the boat poses, planks, and yogi bicycles behind. These put too much pressure on the abdominal wall, and we want to keep that area soft to allow space for baby to grow. Try modified side planks to strengthen your obliques and practice belly breathing to lightly engage the transverse abdominals. You can still maintain a strong core throughout pregnancy by incorporating exercises that engage the pelvic floor and diaphragm, as well as some of the abdominal muscles.
Deep backbending - During pregnancy, our rectus abdominis (the “6 pack” muscles that run up and down your belly) naturally separate a bit to make way for baby. This is normal! However, we don’t want to exacerbate the separation and deep backbending can do that. Start to take your backbends from the bra-line up and think more of opening the chest rather than bending the back. Camel pose with the hands at the low back is your friend. Remember this for postpartum, too. ;)
Breath retention - Pranayama (or breathing techniques) sometimes call for holding the breath. But, during pregnancy we want to send baby all the oxygen he or she needs! Try sama vritti, or equal part breath, inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of four. Or, try abdominal breathing where you take a big inhale and on the exhale imagine hugging baby with breath.
Belly down poses - During early pregnancy, this may not bother you too much. But, there will come a time where cobra pose, sphinx, bow, and locust just don’t make sense. To me, around the second trimester, I felt like I was squishing baby and it became uncomfortable. Again, we don’t want to compress the belly at all and instead give it plenty of space.
Inversions - So, this one is tricky. What’s an inversion? Well, technically it’s any pose where your heart is above your head - downward facing dog, dolphin, headstand, handstand, shoulderstand, etc. If you have a strong inversion practice, you can continue with care (maybe use a wall, pretty please?). If you do not have an inversion practice (meaning headstand, handstand, etc.), then hold on trying these poses until well into your postpartum period. Towards the third trimester, avoid all prolonged inversions. For one, your body may feel a little more unstable due to the extra weight out front. For two, we want to properly position baby so he’s head down and being upside down can in fact flip the baby. What?! Yes. It’s true.
So now that we know what to avoid and how to adapt our practice for pregnancy, I’m curious...What pose has felt amazing to you during your pregnancy? What has been the most beneficial for your practice? I would love to hear! In the next letter, I’ll share the poses to avoid and those to embrace during the postpartum period.