Congratulations! You’re pregnant and that can make you a little nervous so what does it mean for your yoga practice?
Let’s have a look at the most common yoga poses that are contradicted and why they are on that list. Bear in mind that everybody is different and what might work great for you in pregnancy may not be ideal for someone else and visa versa. If you have a regular yoga practice that still feels good to you, trust yourself. Yoga is not a high risk form of exercise and has so many benefits especially in times of change. Be informed on what to look out for and mindful of how your body is feeling as it changes but trust yourself and your yoga.
What to watch
Cobra, bhujangasana, Locust, salabhasana, Bow,dhanurasana, Camel ustrasana, Upward dog Urdhva Mukta Shvanasana
For most pregnant ladies from about 14-16 weeks onward it will feel strange to lie on your tummy for obvious reasons. That means that cobra, locust and bow will probably have lost their appeal but why not other backends? For example camel and upward dog?
There are two main reasons, the first one is to protect the lower back. The addition of a hormone called relaxan, a hormone that softens the body tissue in preparation for childbirth, means that there is more flexibility and less stability in joints. The pelvis and low back, which are supporting the upper body and the extra weight or baby and her/his liquid home, may be a little less stable than normal so we prioritize stability over flexibility in the low back. That means encouraging length in the low back to counter the natural pull of the tummy and tiredness which may lead to more compression or ‘dumping’ into the low back.
The second reason is to avoid putting extra pressure on the abdominal muscles. These muscles are often the focus of our fitness workouts and regularly sucked in for photos but now is not the time to tone them. Instead let’s celebrate a growing tummy. During pregnancy these muscles stretch, soften and lengthen to create space for your bump. Rather than working on toning and pulling in the tummy now it is beneficial to breath softly into the tummy and encourage those muscles to gently expand. In between the abdominal rectus (six pack muscles) there is a sheath of connective tissue and in pregnancy it can split leading to what is called diastasis recti. This is very in common pregnancy, it’s not life threatening and won’t affect your baby but it may mean you need to do specific exercises postnatally to recover.
Avoiding strong core work can also help prevent this and lots of lovely calming pranayama practices such as the complete breath or a gentle ujia breath if it’s in your practice. If you do work the core then remember to spend time releasing and relaxing those muscles as well.
Seated twists, Ardha matsyendrasana, Marichyasana and parivrtta sukhasana or supine twists supta matsyendrasana
Twists not only rotate the spine but cause our internal organs to slide over each other, we squeeze some then release and squeeze others. In pregnancy the uterus, normally pear sized grows and expands to accommodate baby, placenta and the amniotic sac. By 12 weeks pregnant it is around grateful size and it grows and expands from there. This means there is less space to twist. Added to that the increase in relaxin and the added pressure of the extra weight to the low back, deep twists are not advisable. Be careful of the low lumbar and pelvis. If you have a regular yoga practice you might twist with mindfulness and care, avoiding twisting in the low back and focus on the thoracic spine instead. Any of the revolved postures involve an element of twisting too. If you are new to yoga maybe leave them out. If they are in your practice consider modifying them to prioritise stability in the pelvis and length in the spine. Avoid pressure in the low back or ditch them for now and have a longer yoga nidra instead. Roughly a quarter of your cardiac effort is going into growing your baby.
Wide legged standing poses
Warrior two, Wide legged standing forward fold
Okay so you don’t have to avoid these poses completely. They are great for strength and determination and you’ll need that for motherhood (and labour) but you may want to modify them slightly or at least practice with mindfulness and avoid pushing into your edge. Again the hormone relaxan can cause instability in joints and the pelvis is an important one. Any hip opening poses that we do from standing we need to be mindful that there is extra weight coming down on the pelvis and less stability so focus on strength in the legs and stability, work with a slightly shorter stance to make the most out of these poses during pregnancy.
Pelvic girdle pain
Any pain into joints in your yoga is always a red light and the same goes for pregnancy. Pelvic girdle pain (pain into the groin or back of the pelvis) is quite common in pregnancy due to the relaxan hormone and the added weight of extra blood and fluid as well as your baby. It can be genetic and it goes away once baby is born but if you do experience it then completely avoid all poses where your legs are apart, not just the standing ones but things like easy cross legged, sukasana or lunge, Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana as well.
Inversions like shoulder stand, headstand or tripod.
These poses all take a degree of core strength, balance and stability. If they are not in your regular practice now is not the time to start. Falling out of them could mean badly hurting your neck or back and your body is busy building a baby so your recovery could take longer. If they are in your regular practice you might still practice them depending on how far along you are and how you are feeling. The reasons they come up as counter indicated is partly because of the decreased joint stability, the extra weight and also the extra 30-50% fluid in the body. You may feel your balance is off and your core is expanding. It is.
Legs up the wall vipariti karani is excellent for pregnancy and can help with varicose veins and odema (swelling) in the ankles.
Corpse pose Shavasana
What? Relaxation pose is to be avoided? Surely not.
Lying on your back in the second and third trimester of pregnancy is contraindicated because the weight of your baby and growing uterus can compress the vena cava (large vein were blood from the lower body moves back towards the heart). This doesn’t always happen to everyone and it is not life threatening, but if it occurs it will leave you feeling dizzy, light headed and unwell so in a pregnancy yoga class lying on your back is generally avoided and instead you are encouraged to lie on your left side with a pillow, cushion or rolled blanket under your head. You can also use a bolster or firm pillow, or even your birth ball to come into a supported semi supine position for relaxation.
For regular yogis I’d say for your home practice if you want to lie on your back do. Move out of the position if you feel faint or light headed.
So what can I do?
It may seem like rather a long list of contraindicated poses for pregnancy so you’d be forgiven for wondering what’s left. Don’t worry there is plenty. For your asana practice anything from all fours is great for foetal positioning, so table, cat, counter cat (just keep the low back long) Movement is great for keeping all that extra fluid moving around the body so lots of limbering, gentle slow practices with lots of pauses are also excellent for the nervous system and your own sense of well being. As pregnancy progresses you may find that you naturally slow down so it’s an ideal time to explore the power of slow. We can also work on strong legs, good posture and nice open shoulders and strong arms. You’ll need these when, baby gets here.
If we look at Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga we can see that asana (postures) are only one of these eight. Try and see this time as a time for coming inwards and giving more time in your self practice to exploring pranayama, meditation and yoga nidra and connecting with your baby.
Pregnancy yoga classes can be a great way to get ideas and also to meet other new mums going through a similar journey to you.
If you’d like to learn more come along to my classes, live online every Thursday at 6 or if you are a yoga teacher why not check out the next pregnancy yoga teacher training course or come along to a workshop on supporting your pregnant students.
If you’ve found this article useful let me know or if you have questions or comments please share them with me here or by email.