I taught A LOT when I was pregnant. In fact, I taught way more than I teach now. My classes were popular with all kinds of students with only a handful of prenatal mamas sprinkled in here and there. And guess what? Every class that I taught during that time could be considered “prenatal.” Except for the occasional belly pose in my late-second and third trimester, I taught what I was able to do. My students got stronger week by week, and I don’t think that any of them would have thought they were “taking it easy.”
There’s a misconception that pregnant women are fragile. Pregnancy is often treated like an illness. While there are always exceptions to the rules (high-risk pregnancies), pregnant women can do most yoga poses.
I get asked a lot about practicing yoga while pregnant. While I am prenatal certified and have gone through the training to learn which poses are best and safest for pregnant women, I think, as with any asana teaching, going through it in my own body was the best training of all. Here are some basic guidelines that I followed when practicing while pregnant and that I like to keep in mind when prenatal students attend my drop-ins.
1. Make room for baby.
This is rule #1 for a reason…and for most women, making room for baby is pretty intuitive. What this means is that sometimes the legs need to be wider in a forward fold and twists might need to be open. But this might look different for different women. During my first pregnancy, I felt okay being on my belly until well into my second trimester. However, pretty much from the time I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I felt uncomfortable being on my belly. If a student feels comfortable lying on the belly, it is important that she doesn’t lift the legs and put additional pressure on the uterus. (Locust pose would be an example of what to avoid.)
2. Be aware of overstretching.
Pregnancy triggers the release of relaxin, a hormone which loosens ligaments to prepare the body for birth. Having relaxin on board means that yoga students may be able to get deeper into poses that they can when not pregnant, which can lead to injury. Relaxin remain higher than usual as long as women breastfeed, so nursing mothers should also be aware of overstretching when on the mat.
3. Don’t overheat.
Unless a student has a very established hot yoga practice (3-4x a week), I wouldn’t recommend a pregnant student attend a hot class. In the first trimester, overheating can cause neural tube defects. Also, as blood volume increases, blood pressure decreases, which can cause feelings of lightheadedness. You can still get sweaty in a non-heated class, so stay out of the hot room during pregnancy!
4. Don’t add new poses.
A great guideline for all prenatal exercise is to continue at the same level of exertion that existed pre-pregnancy. Pregnancy isn’t the time to try to finally nail that handstand or train for a first marathon. However, if inversions were a part of the student’s practice before pregnancy, then they can continue with them as long as they still feel good in the body.
Every single pregnancy is different, so speak with your doctor or midwife about your own individual requirements. It is important to remember that, just like in any asana practice, what feels good in one body might not feel good in another. Always listen to the body and enjoy your practice!