Adapting Yoga for a Pregnant Body

This blog post was written by Michelle, one of our yoga teacher trainees, who recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Check out her post on adapting her yoga practice for a pregnant body.

I received the exciting news that I was pregnant during my first week of my year long yoga teacher training. As I approach my due date, I’d like to share how I’ve adapted my practice while growing a human being and the benefits that yoga has provided during my pregnancy. The points below are from my personal experience and may not apply to all pregnant students, but I hope they can be useful if you are expecting or if you are a yoga teacher with a pregnant student in your class.

Most Regular Yoga Poses can be Adapted

When possible, I try to go to special pre-natal yoga classes, but they don’t usually work with my schedule. And, as a regular yoga practitioner, I find that pre-natal classes are often missing some of my favourite aspects of asana (poses), such as surya namaskar (sun salutations). Mostly, I continue to do my regular practice and go to open level classes, adding a few adjustments, which I’ve outlined below.

1. Use Blocks for Lunging

I found quite early on that my belly was getting in the way when doing a lunge. I now always make sure I have blocks to use for lunges.

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2. No Deep Twisting

The first thing I learned when I told my yoga teacher I was pregnant was to avoid twisting my abdomen. Deep abdominal twists put pressure on the the uterus. Instead, I just twist from my chest and shoulders. If the class is doing a twist from a lunge pose, I twist away from my forward leg instead of towards it.

3. Standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) 

This should be applied in and out of class. As my belly grew, my tendency was to let it stick out, creating an inward curve in my back (known as lordosis to people keen on anatomy).  Although this feels more comfortable in the short term, it puts strain on my back and can lead to pain. When standing, I always try to remember to:

  1. Tuck in my tailbone (this is called “pelvic loop” in Anusara yoga language)
  2. Make sure my ribs aren’t sticking out (this is called “kidney loop” in Anusara yoga language)
  3. Hug my baby into my body

These photos below show the difference between how I stand naturally and what it looks like when I intentionally taking these steps:

 

Stand like this!

Stand like this!

IMG_1712

Not like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. No Abdominal Crunches

During pregnancy, as the belly grows, the abdominal muscles stretch and become thinner. This makes pregnant women susceptible to a condition called “diastasis recti”, in which the right and left abdominal muscles spread apart. I’ve heard and read different opinions on whether doing abdominal exercises are safe or if they can worsen diastasis recti. Personally, I opted to avoid any type of crunches, including navasana (boat pose). I continued to do plank pose as an ab strengthening exercise, although it got more difficult as my belly grew.

5. Backbends / Front Body on the Floor

At some point during pregnancy, it no longer works to lay on the floor, belly down, let alone do backbends that push baby into the floor. Here are some options for common backbends from the floor such as bhujangasana (cobra pose), salabhasana (locust pose) and dhanurasana (bow pose):

  1. For the first part of my pregnancy, I found that doing a small bhujangasana was still okay and would do that while the class took deeper bends.
  2. Urdhva mukha svanasana (upward-facing dog) has been a good option to keep my belly off the floor and get in a backbend, especially during surya namaskar (sun salutation).
  3. For salabhasana and dhanurasana, I sometimes try it laying on my side, although this is very ungraceful – I feel like a fish out of water getting into the pose!
  4. Another option I have tried is putting a bolster under my thighs to keep my belly up.
  5. Last but not least, some days I prefer to just stay on my hands and knees and do bitilasana (cow pose) instead.

6. Back Body on the Floor

I have found that laying on my back to be no problem for short periods of time, but it does become painful after 5-10 minutes. This is due the the weight of my uterus on the veins in my back. Here are some things I’ve done to ease the weight:

  1. I always put a folded blanket under my back to add extra cushioning.
  2. I find keeping my legs bent is more comfortable than having them straight on the floor.
  3. Instead of savasana (corpse pose) for relaxation, I do one of the following:
    1. Lay on my left side with a bolster between my knees (left is better for circulation).
    2. Do a supported balasana (child’s pose), using a bolster under my chest and head.

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7. Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)

During my third trimester, as the swelling in my feet and legs increases, doing viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) is amazing. Using a bolster under my hips, I can hold this pose for 10-15 minutes without any back pain. This pose allows fluids that have settled in the low body and pelvis drain out and improves circulation.

Photo credits: Charlotte Clarke

michellebenes

 Michelle Benes is a participant in QSY’s 2014 yoga teacher training program. Since writing this post, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. When not on parental leave or doing yoga, she works as a project manager at a healthcare software company.

 

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