Yoga & Pregnancy: How to adapt your practice when pregnant
Firstly, how are you? How are you feeling?
There is a myriad of emotions and thoughts when we start our pregnancy journey, and no two journeys are the same. It is one of those life experiences that encompasses something so natural within us and yet can feel so alien to someone else. So before we dive into Yoga and pregnancy, do take a moment to notice your thoughts today and know that however you are feeling about it at this exact moment, is completely normal, and completely ok.
Yoga is one of the practices that can really benefit the journey of pregnancy. It is a common question these days if one is pregnant - if you are going to start pregnancy Yoga, or if you’ve been practicing Yoga regularly, if that practice will continue and how.
There is much we can chat about regarding all the different aspects of Yoga in relation to trimesters, moods, emotions and stages of pregnancy, so today we will focus on general tips for you in a pregnancy or a regular Yoga class!
We use the term ‘general tips’ because there is certainly no hard and fast rule about this. Like every pregnancy and every person, what feels suitable for one may vary widely for what suits another. However these things are the common variations to start taking as you progress along your 40 weeks, to keep supple, healthy and importantly, safe!
Changes that you might find beneficial to make during your practice:
1. Changing closed twists to open ones
This is one of the first pieces of advice given by most yoga teachers that I’m sure you may have come across. So what do we mean by this?
A closed twist for instance is one like so, with a leg across the body:
Vs an open twist with space around the belly:
We will naturally want to begin changing our twists to open twists, to provide ample room for our growing belly, and to not squash any growing our system is doing in there. This ensures space, but also a healthy blood flow to our body. As the trimesters roll along, you may find the natural progression happening of your twists changing a little more so they become more about opening up the upper spine and shoulders instead of further down the back.
2. Modifying what constitutes ‘core work’
There has been much advice about if core work is to take a big halt when you find out you are pregnant, and generally speaking yes, if your core work constitutes compression of the belly and say, many reps or crunches. This definitely should change, as our bodies and bellies become more focussed on creating space to welcome a growing baby. However, we also do want to remember our core, and its vital role in supporting our midsection and our lower backs, which will be changing shape as the months roll on too. A mindful core can also alleviate growing pressure we will feel on our lower backs.
So what is a ‘mindful core’? In all honesty, we've just made that up.. :D But we think it’s a good name for it. Bear with us!
I’m sure you have all heard too of ab-separation / diastasis recti, which is something very normal that happens during pregnancy. It is the spreading of our ‘linea alba’, a tendinous section in the middle of our abdomen that separates the right and left side of our ‘abs’. Now during any form of exercise during pregnancy, what we need to change is anything that puts extra strain and pressure on this section. You’ll notice this if you got into Boat Pose, and took a peek down to your belly - the middle section will generally stick out, which is common if we undertake lots of typical core exercises and postures during pregnancy, while our joints and everything else is loosening. Perhaps this is something we want to change during pregnancy and definitely postpartum too as we give time for the body to heal.
Saying this, we certainly want to remain mindful of our core too as it is a big part of helping us carry the baby throughout and maintaining healthy posture and mobility. ‘Mindful core’ practices are simply being mindful about the direction of how we hold ourselves during our practice, or even throughout the day. Think about a hug, an envelope from either side of your waist, wrapping towards the midline of your body. Try to envision this directionality within your midsection during practice, rather than ‘crunching’ or ‘hardening’ of the abdominals. Practicing this soft ‘hug’ towards the midline is a softer, mindful approach to maintaining stability through our core, without over-pressurising specific muscles. And this ‘mindful core’ is also helpful to carry through to your postnatal weeks after birth!
Examples of postures that we recommend avoiding, as they can put too much strain on the midline and back are:
• Boat Pose
• Crow Pose
• Chaturanga in a vinyasa with no knees (pop your kness down!)
3. Postures on your front
You will start feeling this quite soon and will naturally want to avoid being on your belly! This puts too much pressure on this area, but they can be modified by adapting the posture to be done similarly but in an upright position. If you encounter any belly down postures in a class, either skip it or change it so you can practice a similar posture on your knees, or standing up. You can also try using props like blocks and bolsters to gain some height from the floor so your belly is lifted off it!
4. Modifying backbends so they’re more supported
Try taking a step down variation to the backbends you would usually go into. This change is to ensure you feel stable throughout your practice, rather than lean into too much flexibility that will naturally happen through your pregnancy due to the hormone relaxin that loosens up our joints, tissues and muscles! For instance if you are used to practicing full wheel, perhaps taking bridge pose instead, with the arms along the floor and your hands clasped together, or pushing on the floor. You still get a lovely stretch but it is more supported plus you get a nice shoulder stretch added in too!
A few helpful postures to keep in your practice during your pregnancy journey:
1. Cat-Cow Poses
These two in conjunction keep the spine supple and it also feels good for the belly. Move in more ways than flexion and compression of the spine, try side to side or rolling movements!
2. Gate Pose
A lovely one to stretch the side body, which we can often ignore! Try taking your arms and rotating them round and round for an added shoulder mobility stretch. Feels good on tight shoulders!
3. Hamstring Stretch
There is generally more sitting and lying down especially later on in your pregnancy. This is a good stretch to give some love to the back of the legs and can help stiffness that builds up in the lower back too. In this posture, try pointing and flexing the feet to feel it in different areas of the back of the legs.
4. Garland Pose
This yogic squat is a lovely hip opener that is great for preparing your pelvis to open for when we arrive at labour. It is also quite a natural pose that some of you will get into during the birth process! If you are newer to this posture, try a variation by placing some rolled up blankets or books under your heels if they lift up, and perhaps lean forward and use your hands on the floor for support. Try rocking left to right on the toes too to feel into different areas in the hips!
5. Time for breathing
Being mindful of our breath can help manage stress, lower blood pressure, and help you connect to yourself and everything that is changing inside you. Practicing a calm breath can be very helpful during labour too when you need to find your focus and calm. Sitting in any comfortable position, try breathing deeply through the nose. Envision taking your inhale to all parts of the lungs, to spaces you usually don’t. Keeping the mouth closed, exhale through the nose too and let’s see if we can calmly exhale, smoothly and steadily, with your exhale length the same, or longer than your inhale. Repeat a few times.
How do you feel?
The main thing to remember is that everyone's journey is different, and you know your body and feelings the best. Always be good to yourself, stay present and mindful with what feels right for you, and more times than not, we’d recommend you err on the side of what is the more restful option. There is much happening inside of you that you need the energy for!
--Our Weekly Pregnancy classes are:
• Tuesdays, 7.30-8.30pm
• Fridays, 7.15-8.15pm (from Jan 2024)
• Saturdays, 10.30-11.30am
• Sundays, 11.45am-12.45pm