Pregnancy yoga is much more than a class full of pregnant ladies stretching. It’s an entirely different yoga practice designed to fulfill the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of expecting mothers.
While some of what happens in a pregnancy yoga class may look like poses from a regular class, the goal is different and so the practice is adapted.
What actually happens in a pregnancy yoga class?
* Connect with your baby through conscious breathing, intention setting (sankulpa) and sound vibration (chanting);
* Begin to prepare for labour and birth;
* Stretch and strengthen your body. Your teacher will guide you through stretches to alleviate aches and pains from the extra weight of baby growing, while also supporting you to building strength;
* Address pregnancy specific conditions like back pain, sciatica, headaches, nausea, oedema (swelling), restless legs, insomnia etc;
* Connect with other expecting mothers, who are each on their own journey at this sacred time of life.
What yoga poses should a pregnant woman avoid?
It depends. There’s a lot of mixed information about how to adapt a yoga class for pregnancy, in terms of what’s safe and what’s not. General class teachers are either overly cautious with pregnant students or they throw them up the back of the room and leave them to look after themselves.
As with all yoga classes, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to pregnancy yoga – how each woman practices will depend on her body, the physical/mental/emotional changes she is experiencing, how she is feeling on the day, and what sort of exercise, or yoga practice she had before falling pregnant.
Ultimately I’m an advocate for one-to-one classes, so you get personalized attention and a completely customised practice. But in terms of a group class, as teachers we do our best to create guidelines for a safe practice, then it’s up to each woman, in relationship with her teacher to find what serves her and her changing body best.
In my fifteen years of doing yoga and being half-way through my second pregnancy, I know each pregnancy is different and every day is different, which requires different yoga tools to support my body/mind/spirit.
Myth busting pregnancy yoga.
MYTH 1: Avoid Core Work.
Core work is essential to support your structure; maintain integrity and build strength while you are baby growing. But HOW you work your core abdominal muscles will be different to non-pregnancy practice.
You need to focus on your pelvic floor (yes this us part of your core! Think of it as the floor of the abdominal area) and transverse abdominus (TA)- the deepest layer of abdominal muscles. Forget crunches, boat pose and six pack abs and work instead on the deep core stabilizers ideally from an all fours position.
TA wraps around the entire ‘core’, almost to the spine and attaches to the sterum (chest bone) at the top and the pelvis at the bottom. To activate TA you can imagine drawing your core in from all angles, like the tightening of a corset.
EXERCISE to activate transverse abdominus
1. Take an all fours position. Wrists under shoulders, knees under hips.
2. Inhale, and as you exhale draw your baby/ belly button towards your spine.
3. Take a full breath, while maintaining position.
4. Inhale to release.
MYTH 2: No Forward Folds.
During my first pregnancy yoga class back in 2011, when I was about 8 weeks pregnant, an not showing at all, the teacher would not let me fold forward. Avoiding forward folds completely, especially during first trimester when you don’t even have a baby bump yet, is mostly unnecessary.
Precautions for forward folding.
* Be mindful of squashing your baby! (This is kind of obvious) Just take your feet wider apart to accommodate bub.
* Be aware you aren’t creating a ‘blood stop’ and cutting off circulation at the front of hips, as this will limit blood flow to the uterus and your baby.
* Come out slowly, and keep breathing. Sometimes with the extra blood volume we can get dizzy when coming up.
MYTH 3: No Backbends.
Some pregnancy yoga classes avoid back bending, however, opening and stretching the upper back in (particular while supported) can be a wonderful practice for pregnancy. Many of us are quite stiff and rounded in a forward slump, and by opening the front of the body we create more breathing room.
Precautions for back bending
* Deep backbends (ie full wheel) can pull on lower belly, therefore the uterus and baby’s attachment. These poses are not advised unless you have an established back bending practice.
* Maintain smooth breathing. As soon as the breath becomes compromised it’s a sign the body is struggling.
* After about 13-20 weeks laying on your belly = squashed baby, therefore it’s time to stop back bending from the belly, ie NO baby cobra, locust pose or bow pose.
MYTH 4: No Twists
Twisting creates a squeeze on the abdominal organs including the uterus. Awareness is advised when taking twist to see how far is appropriate. I have my students to focus on rotation in the upper spine, keeping the twist open to ensure good blood flow to the uterus, and we warm up the spine very well in all other directions to prepare.
Precautions for Twists
* Be cautious with closed/ locked/ deep twists (ie hooking elbows, revolved triangle etc)
* Be mindful not to squash baby or create a blood stop.
MYTH 5: No Inversions
Many teachers will avoid taking their pregnant students into inversions, even avoiding downward facing dog in third trimester, while other students enjoy inversions like headstand (albeit against a wall and for a limited time) up until giving birth.
Precautions for Inversions
* Only invert if you have a strong inversion practice prior to pregnancy. For example with headstand, can your neck really handle and extra 10-15kgs of baby weight? If you are not sure, don’t risk it!
* Balance. You are full of baby so your balance is compromised. Adapt by taking it to the wall-- it’s better than a crash landing.
* If baby’s head is engaged ready for birth, you need to decide whether you want go upside down. Many women report inversions, can create space and freedom from the weight in the pelvis, however prolonged and frequent inversions in late pregnancy but may interfere with baby’s position for birthing.
THE RELAXIN HORMONE: Proceed with caution when stretching.
This sweet, ligament-softening hormone is NO MYTH.
It will take your flexibility to new heights, which may feel very rewarding if you’ve been longing to bust out full splits all your life… BUT, truth is, it can wreck havoc on the ligaments and soft tissues in your joints. Go gently and balance stretches with strengthening.
LAYING ON YOUR BACK: When to Stop.
After about 26 weeks this will feel really uncomfortable. Your baby is squashing your vena cava, the large vein which takes deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart. This is not safe. So take Savasana on your side with pillows to support your belly.
As a pregnancy yoga teacher, my most important job is to empower my students with information and guide them on a path of self awareness. By cultivating deep somatic (embodied) awareness and learning to listen to the wisdom of the body you are able to make informed and safe choices.
Remember you are pregnant, not powerless! Keep moving and doing what feels good and as much as possible go to prenatal classes and work with an experienced teacher.
Best wishes for a healthy pregnancy and beautiful empowered birth!