In a recent post, I shared my experience of the first trimester of pregnancy as a yogi. If you have read that one you will know that I had quite a wild ride with first trimester symptoms. I’m now in the second trimester and thankfully feeling much better! I have more energy to reflect and express my experience and how the practice of prenatal yoga helped me to get through this challenging time. Today I want to focus on the Yamas and how they fit into a prenatal yoga practice.
The Yamas are the first of the eight limbs or facets of the yoga practice, as described in the yoga sutras. Yamas are ethical codes or “codes for life” according to the practice of yoga. They describe some of the negative behaviour patterns that we want to avoid to live a peaceful and fulfilling yogic life. I especially like the interpretation of the sutras, The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi. She gives the Yamas more of a positive spin, focusing on behaviours to cultivate and not only what to avoid. In prenatal yoga I feel like this more feminine, nurturing approach to yoga is even more relevant.
The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa, translated as non-violence. This can also be interpreted more widely as compassion and peacefulness. It goes without saying that Ahimsa is at the foundation of a prenatal yoga practice. We are suddenly adjusting to having another life growing inside us that we need to consider in everything we do. During the first trimester we spend time educating ourselves about what is safe for our baby. Lifestyle adjustments are necessary to make sure that we create a nourishing environment, free of toxins to support baby’s health and development.
Not only that, we also might be experiencing physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, headaches and digestive upsets. Emotional symptoms including anxiety, fear, confusion and frustration are also common in the first trimester. A prenatal yoga practice and especially Ahimsa helps us to show ourselves compassion as well as others. We learn to acknowledge that we are going through a major period transformation and offer ourselves grace. Instead of judging ourselves harshly for not keeping up with our previous workload, social life or family responsibilities, we need to be dedicated to self-compassion and kindness.
The second of the Yamas is Satya, translated as truthfulness and integrity. Living life according to Satya means being honest in thought, word and actions. In prenatal yoga, we may practice truthfulness with our partner about how we feel and what we are experiencing during this time. This is not to say ruthless honesty at all costs though! As T.K.V Desikachar shares in the Heart of Yoga, Ahimsa always comes first meaning that sometimes it’s better to say nothing when the truth could cause harm. As a test we can ask ourselves “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” looking for a yes to all three.
Satya also means being truthful to ourselves, especially in the first trimester. It’s important to be honest about how we are really feeling and what we need in each moment. Do we need more rest or to move stagnant energy? More closeness and affection or time alone to reflect? To educate ourselves more or to reflect within? It can be tempting to bury fears and ignore physical symptoms in an attempt to get on with things. Sometimes we feel obliged to meet our commitments to others and show up despite feeling rubbish. But by doing this we are not being truthful or living in integrity.
The third of the Yamas is Asteya, translated as non-stealing. Aside from the obvious, not taking physical possessions from others, stealing can also apply to things like time, energy, emotions and ideas. Living life according to Asteya means respecting others’ boundaries and their creations. It can also be interpreted as living generously. In prenatal yoga, we want to be generous with our baby in terms of nutrition, rest and attention. For me, part of practicing Asteya in the first trimester also meant not “stealing” time by bombarding everyone I met with updates about my pregnancy.
Despite me being in awe and slightly obsessed (first time mum here!) I knew that friends and family had their own lives to live. I tried not to over-share and find a balance in my relationships. Instead of telling everything to everyone, I was more mindful of how much time I spent talking about the ups and downs of pregnancy. Sometimes that meant spending more time alone. Not everyone will agree with me on this one I know, it’s just a personal opinion. It definitely helped to have a couple of pregnant/new mama friends to share freely with as I was also interested to listen to all of their experiences too. I also recently joined a local support group which has been great so far.
Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses)
The fourth of the Yamas is Brahmacharya, usually translated as moderation. This means living a life where we enjoy the pleasures of the senses whilst maintaining balance and harmony within. This can apply to all areas of life including our diet, movement, work and relationships. Overdoing anything can lead to disease but restricting ourselves also causes stress and harm. In pregnancy there are certain things we want to minimise but obsessing to the point of anxiety is certainly not helpful. It’s also a time to connect deeply to the feminine force within us. Part of her energy is sensuality and experiencing the pleasures of the physical body. So a certain amount of indulgence should be welcomed.
Saying that, in prenatal yoga, learning to moderate our sensory inputs and energetic output is super important. The first trimester is a tender time when we can easily be overwhelmed. The practice of Brahmacharya encourages us to find balance between rest and activity in both body and mind. Physically, we want to stay active and keep our bodies healthy whilst making sure to get plenty of rest. Mentally, we want to educate ourselves about pregnancy, birth and motherhood without overloading ourselves. We want to avoid being over stimulated, slow down and be gentle. So enjoying thing that nourish us and leave us feeling relaxed and content can be prioritised over intense stimulation.
The final of the five Yamas is Aparigraha, meaning non-possessiveness or non-attachment. Pregnancy can be a time of extreme uncertainty, especially if it’s our first time. So many things are changing in our physical bodies and we are also preparing for a huge transition from maiden to motherhood. It’s normal for us to feel out of control at times. Aparigraha teaches us to step back, let go a little and accept that pregnancy is a natural process that happens beyond our conscious awareness. We want to create the best environment but at the end of the day, there is only so much we can do.
I know for me, letting go of control has been a lifelong practice. Even when it came to getting pregnant, I always imagined that I’d have it planned and have been through a perfect pre-conception phase. In the end it was a surprise (a happy one of course) and the first trimester hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself fighting the experience at first, wondering why a very healthy woman like me was suffering so much. Eventually I was able to just let go and ride the wave and be present with the experience for what it was. Aparigraha in one form or another was a big part of my daily prenatal yoga practice!
So these are my interpretations of the Yamas within prenatal yoga. There is so much more to yoga than just making shapes with our bodies. When yoga becomes a way of life, it changes the way we think about ourselves and the world around us. It encourages us to be more aware and conscious of every action we take. By doing this we are practicing yoga all day long, not only when we step on the mat.
Over to you…
If you would like to work with me 1-2-1 to balance your hormones and improve your health, contact me to set up a free discovery call. I am a nutritionist, yoga teacher and women’s wellness coach. We will create a plan tailored to your individual needs and vision for your health. I will then be there for support, guidance and accountability as you work towards your goals!
- Please like this post and share to support my business
- If you liked this post, follow my blog or subscribe by email to receive updates on new content
- Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for daily updates and inspiration
One thought on “Prenatal yoga: how to live the Yamas in pregnancy”