Following on from the recent post I shared about how to live the Yamas in pregnancy, today we are looking at the second of the eight limbs: the Niyamas. In pregnancy yoga there is a big focus on movement and breath which are amazing tools to support us during this time. But the yoga practice offers us so much more! Yoga can help us to develop a mindset and lifestyle practice to support ourselves through pregnancy, motherhood and beyond.
The Niyamas are the inner attitudes we are encouraged to cultivate as part of a yogic lifestyle. There are five Niyamas: Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya and Isvara Pranidhana. Together they offer us a philosophy for living a whole and awakened life. Adopting these attitudes during pregnancy helps us to have a more mindful, conscious experience of this time of transformation.
The first of the Niyamas, Saucha, translates as cleanliness. This means both external cleanliness such as a tidy environment and also personal hygiene. It also relates to internal cleanliness of the body mind system. We can keep ourselves “clean” on the inside by minimising the toxic material we take in and by regularly detoxing. This is important for all yoga practitioners, not only for pregnancy yoga.
On a physical level, toxicity can come from the food we eat and any products we use to keep our bodies and homes clean. Choosing natural, organic products where possible will reduce our toxic load to protect ourselves and our baby. One that is harder to control is the air that we breathe. As many of us live in cities, it is difficult to avoid breathing air contaminated with chemicals from cars, cigarette smoke and industrial fumes. Living a pregnancy yoga lifestyle is not about being perfect but is about doing the best we can and accepting the rest with grace.
Mental toxicity is equally important and can arise from our relationships and any media we consume. Excessive drama and conflict in our personal relationships and the information overload and competition encouraged by the internet and social media can lead to excessive mental chatter. During pregnancy it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparison or be influenced by other peoples’ opinions of what we should be doing or experiencing. This can make it harder to feel at peace and to think clearly, to make decisions that our right for ourselves and our growing baby.
We don’t have to do anything extreme such as fasting, enemas or rigid diets to detox. Especially in pregnancy yoga, it is important to take things slowly and be gentle with ourselves. Taking time in nature to breathe fresh air, live simply and take a break from technology can support our own natural detox systems. It can be especially beneficial to do mini-detox like this prior to conception but also at regular intervals throughout pregnancy.
The second of the Niyamas is Santosha, meaning adopting an attitude of contentedness. During pregnancy, we see so much change in our physical bodies and also in our lifestyle. If it’s our first pregnancy, we are also navigating the transition into motherhood which is a huge identity shift. We have to accept that we may not be able to do all of the things we used to do. And we definitely do not look the way we used to look, especially for a period of time!
The practice of Santosha encourages us to accept and be happy with where we are in each moment. Instead of living in the past or anticipating the future, we try to stay right here in the present moment. Pregnancy is a beautiful journey and so much is happening at each stage. It can be easy to be excited and count down the weeks till baby arrives or to wish away the more challenging periods (hello first trimester!). But by doing this we miss out on the full spectrum of this unique womanly experience.
In our physical yoga practice, there are things we need to consider or skip altogether to avoid harming ourselves and our baby. Instead of being frustrated that we cannot practice more dynamic or advanced asana, we can focus on deepening our connection within ourselves and to our baby. Pregnancy yoga involves slowing down and being more mindful that ever of our bodies, breath and the energy flowing through us. If we appreciate it for what it is, it can be a beautiful journey that transforms us on all levels.
The third of the Niyamas, Tapas is all about discipline and stoking the “fire within”. In pregnancy yoga this is not about enforcing harsh rules on ourselves, remember the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence) always comes first! But we do need to have a certain amount of discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to do the things that best support us and the baby during pregnancy.
A practice of Tapas also includes committing to a daily pregnancy yoga practice. This can be different every day, depending on our needs. It may look like a gentle flow to get energy moving or a series of restorative poses to restore energy. Other days our practice may not be on the mat at all. Sitting for ten minutes to focus on our breath, still the mind and connect to our baby is also a great daily pregnancy yoga practice. I’ve also really enjoyed guided yoga nidra practices to deeply relax after a long day.
We also need a certain amount of discipline to keep to a healthy diet and lifestyle throughout our pregnancy. When we are feeling tired and overwhelmed, we might feel like giving up on healthy eating, moving our bodies, paying attention to our posture or other self-care practices. Staying committed to our pregnancy yoga practice keeps us on track and helps us to feel better. Even though it takes effort, the rewards in terms of better energy and less physical discomfort later in pregnancy are definitely worth it.
The fourth Niyama Svadhyaya is usually translated as self-study or self-inquiry. Both are equally important parts of pregnancy yoga. In the traditional yoga practice study relates to the study of ancient texts. Translating this to pregnancy could mean educating ourselves by learning from experts in the fields of pregnancy yoga, nutrition and midwifery. There are so many amazing resources out there which can help us to become informed about pregnancy in all dimensions: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Just a few of my favourite books include:
- Yoni Shakti: A Woman’s Guide to Power and Freedom through Yoga and Tantra by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli
- Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful: Experience the Natural Power of Pregnancy and Birth with Kundalini Yoga and Meditation by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
- What To Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League
As well as seeking external information, we can also practice Svadhyaya in pregnancy yoga via self-inquiry. This means tuning into the wisdom within us. It’s a fine line between empowering ourselves through learning and becoming overwhelmed. We don’t want to take in so much information that we lose connection with our own intuition and become completely reliant on external sources of information and support.
A daily journaling practice throughout pregnancy is beautiful. Not only does it help us to understand and process what we are experiencing but it will also be something beautiful to read back over in the future.
Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power)
The final Niyama, Isvara Pranidhana invites us to surrender to something greater than ourselves. I think this is one of the most important considerations for pregnancy yoga. It’s amazing that our bodies just know how to grow a baby for nine months. We don’t have to think consciously each day about where to place the delicate eyelashes or how to build each of the incredible organs. All of this is controlled by a power far greater than us. And at the same time we are this power!
So the practice of surrender to the flow of nature, God or however you prefer to refer it is the foundation of pregnancy yoga. As I shared in my post about the Yamas, we can only do so much and trying to control every possible outcome only leads us to more worry and stress. During pregnancy and birth, we need to prepare for the unexpected. To be willing to let go of resistance and to experience everything as it arises. Easier said than done, I know. But if we can align with this natural flow, our experience of this time will be more peaceful.
So these are my thoughts on the Niyamas and pregnancy yoga. If you have any other ideas I’d love to hear from you! I love how the yoga practice supports us in all ways and is adaptable to the different stages of our lives as women. Through my practice, I hope to approach pregnancy and motherhood in a conscious way. The seeds we plant now in our children will be the flowers we see throughout the generations to come. I want my actions now to create resilient, healthy, empowered children and to lead to ripples of positive change in the future.
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!
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