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How to Modify in Yoga Class When Pregnant

A student of mine recently wrote to me:
I’m a longtime student of yours and I was wondering if I could ask you for some advice. I am pregnant with my first child (just 7 weeks). My yoga teachers have given me conflicting information – one says since I have a 10 year practice I can keep up my regular vinyasa practice in my 1st and 2nd trimesters (except for lying on my tummy in the 2nd) and the other says I should immediately refrain from forward folding and twisting.  Now I’m confused and I really trust your experience and knowledge and I’d appreciate your advice if you have some!
 
 
My reply:
There’s a ton of conflicting information around pregnancy, not only in yoga but with fitness in general.
 
The first thing I’ll say is that I am not a doctor so I’m just giving you another opinion to think about. Physio therapists are great people to ask if you’re not sure or want an educated answer. 
 
I’m prenatal and postnatal certified yoga teacher and I’m almost 5 months pregnant right now with my first babe.
It’s been quite a trip for me and I’m sure it has been for you as well.
 
I’ll just share with you what I’ve learned and intuited.
Prenatal yoga
In my prenatal training with my teacher, Shiva Rea, she really stressed being gentle in the first trimester as this is when miscarriage is more likely to happen. She encouraged newly pregnant Goddesses (loved her name for us) to really take it slow and listen to their own bodies about what felt right/good and what didn’t. Especially if you’ve been a long time practitioner, your body will let you know if the pose/transition is working or not working.
 
 
Midwives I’ve spoken to say that you can continue doing what you’ve been doing throughout your pregnancy, especially in the first two trimesters. The key is not introducing something very intense into your workout/practice that you were NOT doing before you were pregnant, as you don’t have the muscle memory or understanding of how the move works with a “regular” body. Make sense?
 
Your body will let you know when it longer works for you to lie on your belly. In my own body, during the first trimester, it felt terrible but early in the second trimester and tail end of my first trimester, it felt totally fine. Now it’s not working as my belly is bigger than my boobs.
 
 
Prenatal yoga image
The general rule of thumb when pregnant is not to twist or backbend too deeply. It’s not recommended to over stretch your abdomen since you’ve got a little bean in there. Now that being said, I’ve known quite a few yoginis who did full wheel throughout their pregnancy. So, what I always recommend around that is really listen to your own body. What can happen, especially those of us who have been practicing a long time, our ego can step in and say “we can do this!”.
 
Questions a few older yogini moms have posed to me are:
“Is it worth it?”
“To what end?”
Ask yourself, why am I doing this pose?
Does this pose serve the two of us?
 
I’ve been airing on the side of caution in my own practice and really taking my time. I haven’t been doing deep backbends, instead focusing opening my chest and getting my back body strong to prepare for the weight I’ll be carrying in the front body as my baby gets bigger.
 
My mantra has been “This pregnant body is temporary and I have my whole life to do all the things.” Why not chill a bit?
 
With twists, just do open twists so there’s space for your babe. Be mindful of where you feel the stretch. If you feel a “tug” deep in your belly, maybe take it down a notch.
 
Shiva recommended to take out inversions in the first trimester, again because it’s a precarious time. If you have an inversion practice, you can bring it back in in your second trimester. It’s recommended to do them against the wall so there’s no fear to flip over into full wheel. I’ve known some women who love inversions during pregnancy and others who did not. Feel it out for yourself.
 
Great rule of thumb: When you’re about to do a big movement, engage your pelvic floor and TA (transverse abdominals) first to stabilize your pelvis.
 
I’ve never heard anything about pregnancy being a contraindication of forward folds. The only thing I would say is about that is make space between your legs for your belly as you fold.
 
There are quite a few schools of thought that believe you should not twist, invert, do core work or backbend throughout your whole pregnancy. They are airing on the side of caution which I recommend to women who come to yoga for the first time when pregnant. Again, rule of thumb, pregnancy is NOT a time to introduce new intense forms of movement.
Clara roberts oss prenatal
The other thing to think about is that you have a ton of relaxin flowing through your body which makes the space around your joints a bit more loosey goosey so just be mindful of “over stretching”. I’ve been really working hugging in as I “stretch” so I can keep the insertion points of my muscles safe.
 
There’s a great online course called “Empowered Birth” on Commune that I would recommend. I took it and found it so insightful.
 
My last piece of advice is take a deep breath, trust that ahhhmazing body of yours and know that you know. 🙃
 
Feel free to email me about your journey or if you have more questions.
 
Enjoy the inquiry this time is offering you!
 
Check out my 20-minute video on how to modify in a vinyasa yoga class. 

 

PS.

Practice yoga online with me or catch me at my next yoga event

To see my latest playlists follow me on Spotify.

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