I recently ran into a friend and blog reader in downtown Missoula. She asked if I would write a post on how it feels to practice yoga while pregnant. This one’s for you, Wendy!
One of my first questions after learning I was pregnant was whether I could still practice yoga safely. I’ve been doing yoga for over 15 years. Yoga keeps me sane, balanced and happy. These seemed like uber-important qualities to maintain in the face of rampant hormonal shifts and a major upcoming lifestyle shift. But I was worried that I might be relegated to a few boring poses instead of my usual vinyasa practice.
Since I was living in the Kingdom of Tonga at the time, Google was my main source for answers, along with emails to a few fellow yogis who’d gone through a pregnancy. Here’s what I learned: no one agrees on the “dos” or “don’ts” for how to practice yoga when you’re knocked up. Every question yielded 10 different answers.
Sure, there’s tons of information cautioning against twists and inversions, especially during the sensitive first trimester. And plenty of websites offer opinions about the best poses to open hips and prepare your pelvis to push through a very (repeat: very) large object. Every individual body responds differently to each asana. Every pregnancy is unique. Hence, it makes sense to find conflicting stories and advice on prenatal yoga.
After hours and hours of research, nine months of practicing, and three months of teaching yoga while pregnant here’s my takeaway formula: yoga + pregnancy = do what feels good. Or, even more simply, don’t do things that feel bad. Your body and your instincts are your best guide, and they’re not shy about shouting out when something is amiss. So, I listened carefully and kept experimenting to find out what felt best to me.
My practice has changed as continuously and as rapidly as my body has over the past nine months. The only constant is that yoga always makes me feel better, whether I squeeze in ten minutes of floor poses before bed or a full 90-minute vinyasa session. Each time a new pregnancy-related complaint surfaced – sciatica, rib pain, pressure on my pubic bone, cankles the size of wiener dogs – I could find yoga poses to ease the symptoms.
In short, I can’t imagine not doing yoga while pregnant. My cankles would probably be as big as labradors, and I’m pretty sure my moods would be as fierce as a pit bull’s. Here’s a brief recap on what has felt good to me while practicing yoga as a prego, given with the caveat that, again, every body is different:
- Slow down any transitions to standing, especially during sun salutations, to avoid dizziness.
- Try to twist only from the bra strap rather than the tailbone: keep your belly pointed forward.
- Warrior poses – hell, all lunges and squats – feel awesome, and help keep your foundation strong for the weight gain to come.
- Spend lots of time in savasana.
- Almost everything feels good.
- Do several cat/cow stretches and tabletop extensions (opposite arm and leg reaching long while on all-fours) in the morning and evening.
- As the belly gets bigger, modify upward dog, child’s pose, standing forward bend and other poses to make room for the growing baby bump.
- Balancing poses (like tree and dancer) keep hips strong and pelvis centered, which counteracts sciatica pain.
- Keep doing planks and sideplanks to maintain internal ab strength, but be careful of overdoing core-reliant poses.
- Wide-legged downward dog feels like heaven.
- Pigeon pose, straddle stretches, and goddess pose open the hips.
- Be careful of loosey-goosey ligaments and joints: don’t stay in a stretch too long.
- Try a supported bound-angle pose or feet-up-the-wall pose when you’re belly is too heavy for lying flat in savasana.