By Ally Ford
Many students ask me for advice on how to modify their yoga practice to support a healthy pregnancy. Because I maintained my yoga practice through two healthy pregnancies right up until the day before my children were born, this advice is based on my experience. Now more than ever tune into your body and honor how you are feeling, because every woman´s pregnancy experience is unique. You may have a ton of energy, you may have no energy, maybe you feel great, or perhaps you´re feeling terribly sick. Remember that our bodies have incredibly intelligent systems which communicate with us in a myriad of ways. Listen to them! If you´re not feeling like a rock star, even though you are, this is your body telling you it needs to rest while it courses through this miraculous journey and takes you along for the ride.
Always check with your doctor to be sure that any physical activity you take is appropriate for your situation. Also, it is important to note that this information is for expecting mothers who have an existing yoga practice. Pregnancy is not the time to try anything new. If you do not have an existing practice, seek out a pre-natal yoga class specifically designed to be safe for your changing body during pregnancy. Pre-natal yoga classes are much gentler than an average asana class and they avoid offering poses that are definitely not safe. If you currently practice yoga, the tips offered here will help you modify your practice to avoid unsafe poses. Finally, err on the side of caution. Stick to what you know and wait until after the birth of your child to introduce brand new poses into your practice, such as inversions or backbends.
For both of my pregnancies I followed the general advice to honor the experience and go with it instead of against it, as glorious and as difficult as it can sometimes be. I combine directions from the guru of Ashtanga Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois with advice from alignment and yoga therapy expert, Ana Forrest, and incorporate guidelines from pre-natal yoga regarding consideration for a pregnant woman´s changing body and her growing baby, resulting in a more cautious and conservative approach to practice. Seek out a knowledgeable teacher and follow these general rules as much as your energy level will allow.
1. Don’t squish the baby! No deep twists or turning your belly into your leg, especially after the first trimester. In revolved triangle and revolved side angle pose, place your lower hand on a block and extend forward through your chest, leaving the twist out of it. In seated twists, simply take the leg position and sit up straight, leaving the twist out of the pose.
2. No heel in your belly! In half bound lotus standing balance, half lotus seated forward fold, or in baddha padmasana (bound lotus), garbha pindasana, or pindasana, simply take the lotus position as much as your hip flexibility will allow, and leave the forward fold out of the pose.
3. No more jumping! Step back and through for vinyasa, and avoid “roly poly” poses, like garbha pindasana, supta konasana, ubhaya padangustasana or urdhva paschimottansana.
4. No uddiyana bandha! Let your belly go. I suggest stopping core strengthening like navasana or any other core exercises. Our bodies inherently have plenty of core strength and after baby arrives it will come back fast, especially with an ashtanga practice! Your belly wants to expand so let it. However, practice mula bandha all day long (or kegels, as is recommended for pregnancy).
5. Poses on the belly are ok until your belly starts to grow, or stop before then if you feel it is uncomfortable.
6. Backbends are ok throughout pregnancy unless it doesn’t feel good. Some people love to stretch the belly; others feel it is too much strain on muscles and ligaments. Really listen.
7. Inversions are ok throughout as long as it feels good, but it is suggested you stop at month seven, when baby is trying to turn. Legs up the wall is helpful for varicose veins or swollen feet.
8. Start taking savasana and sleeping on your left side at month four to aid the circulation of blood in your body and to your baby.
9. Use a block for deep lunges and avoid over stretching. Your body increases in flexibility with the production of relaxin hormone to prepare for child birth so ligaments can be less stable.
10. When in doubt about whether or not to take a pose, choose gentle hip openers like goddess pose (deep yogi squat), pigeon, baddha konasana, and janu sirsasana A to help open your hips and prepare for childbirth.
Overall, listen to and honor your energy level. This is a wonderful time to invite in the lunar, feminine energy and softer side of the practice, which can be quite humbling. If you’re used to strong practice, this really gives you an appreciation for others who can’t or don’t move that way. While the next nine months or so may seem a lifetime ahead of you, try and resist the urge for your mind to race about events that might happen in the future. This is an “in the moment experience” as much as anything can be. Trust the process, slow down, and focus on the moment by drawing your attention to your breath. Notice how this can calm your mind, allowing you to sail gracefully through fleeting moments of anxiety, and rest in the sweetness that a miraculous process is happening within you.
For more information about Ally, or for questions regarding this article, visit www.allyford.com.