adapting a yoga class for pregnancy

Adapting a yoga class for pregnancy

This week I went to my first face to face yoga class since finding out I am pregnant. Until now I’ve been practicing yoga at home following a beautiful program for pregnancy by Salina at Kukoon Yoga. I’ve also been using the tools I’m learning in the pre and postnatal yoga teacher training with Bliss Baby Yoga. I am about half way through and enjoying so much! But this week a friend was teaching a flow and restore class here in Athens so I decided to join. Finding a yoga class for pregnancy is ideal but it is safe to go to a regular yoga class if you feel comfortable adapting the practice to your needs.

Benefits of yoga during pregnancy

Pregnant or not, each of the elements of yoga has profound effects on your body, mind and spirit. Combining supportive movement, breath awareness and mindful awareness of your thoughts can help to make this time more easeful and enjoyable. Some of the benefits of the practice of yoga during pregnancy include:

  • Reduces stress and promotes relaxation and emotional wellbeing
  • Helps to maintain good posture as your body changes during pregnancy
  • Can help to alleviate or prevent common aches and pains
  • Improves physical fitness, deep core strength and mobility for pregnancy and birth
  • Encourages breath awareness and control (a fantastic tool for birth)

A yoga class for pregnancy is specifically designed with pregnant women in mind and also offers additional benefits:

  • Helps you to better understand the changes occurring in your body during pregnancy
  • Nourishes the spiritual connection between you and your baby
  • Offers wisdom and tools for a conscious pregnancy and birth
  • Provides an opportunity to meet other pregnant women and build a supportive network

Adapting a yoga class for pregnancy

The goal of adapting a yoga class for pregnancy is to avoid compressing, straining or over-stretching the belly. This means taking care with twists, backbends and prone (face down lying) poses. The number one rule is to always listen to your body. If something feels strange or uncomfortable in your body it is more important than ever to pay attention and modify appropriately.

Some of the basic rules for adapting a yoga class for pregnancy :

  • The first step is to check in with your doctor or care team that it is safe for you to practice yoga. Generally, this will be a yes for most women with a “low risk” pregnancy. Other women may be safe to practice but may need additional modifications so it’s best to get checked out.
  • Keeping the feet wider than hip distance apart in mountain, forward fold, child’s pose, downward facing dog and kneeling lunge. This creates more space in your pelvis for your growing bump and avoids putting pressure on your belly
  • Avoiding over-tucking the tailbone in standing poses. We want to maintain good posture and not over arch the lower back. Saying that, a gentle forward tilt of the pelvis is natural in pregnancy. Tucking the tail can cause constriction and tightness in the pelvis which we want to avoid for an easier birth
  • You also want to minimise engaging the abdominals during pregnancy. This can make diastasis recti (the separation of the 6 pack muscles) worse. Avoid poses such as boat where you need to contract the abdominals. Modify by placing your hands and feet on the ground. Focus on deep core engagement instead of the surface level muscles.
  • Take it easy with the stretching! We release a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy which helps muscles, tendons and ligaments to soften in preparation for birth. This can make you feel more flexible but also at risk of overstretching and injury
  • Move slowly, being mindful of your changing body and how it affects the way you move. Throughout the pregnancy you’ll gradually be carrying more weight and your center of gravity will shift. This can affect your balance and co-ordination so it can be helpful to be near a wall for support.
  • Props are your best friend during pregnancy! Bring in blocks, bolsters, blankets or anything else you need to feel supported in your practice. Ask your teacher for some tips before the class or do some research online. Find the most comfortable way for you to use props so you can bring them in as you need.

Now for some specific tips for adapting a yoga class for pregnancy in each trimester!

First trimester

In the first trimester, your baby is tiny and well protected deep within your pelvic bowl. During this time it is generally safe to continue your yoga practice as before. If you didn’t practice yoga before pregnancy, it is best to start slow with a gentle, beginners level yoga class. Or if you have been practicing for for a while it is safe to keep attending your usual yoga class with a few minor adjustments. Remember that each woman’s body is different. For some, even gentle backbends and inversions may already be uncomfortable early in the pregnancy.

The first trimester also comes with it’s own challenges which may affect your yoga practice. It is common to experience fatigue, nausea and headaches during the first few months of pregnancy. If this is your experience, be kind to yourself and SLOW DOWN. A restorative yoga class can be great for pregnancy, supporting deep rest and relaxation. Avoiding or modifying poses like downward facing dog and forward fold where the head is below the heart is best if you are feeling sick or have a headache. For example, child’s pose and half way lift are great alternatives in a sun salutation flow.

Second trimester

The second trimester is often referred to as the “golden time” of pregnancy. Usually the nausea and fatigue of the first trimester have passed. You start to see your bump growing but it’s likely not yet big enough to be in the way. Of course for some women, symptoms continue into the second trimester and it’s possible to have a big bump already, especially if its not your first pregnancy or you are expecting multiples. Again, listening to YOUR body is the most important when adapting a yoga class for pregnancy.

If you attend a non-pregnancy specific yoga class during the second trimester, again you want to avoid compressing, straining or over-stretching the belly. Probably this will come more naturally to you now as you start to see your bump grow and maybe even feel your baby move! Instead of poses such as locust or cobra where you are lying on your belly, try gentle seated or kneeling backbends instead. For example, you can replace chaturanga and cobra or upward facing dog with one round of cat-cow.

It is beneficial to keep gentle spinal twists in your practice but instead of twisting the whole length of your spine, focus on movement in the upper back and neck. You will probably also feel more comfortable practicing open twists rather than closed twists where your belly is compressed. The second trimester is the time when you might consider switching your usual savasana with a side lying version. Most health professionals recommend avoid lying flat on your back from the second trimester on.

Third trimester

By the third trimester, you will have noticed significant difference in your body. It is great to stay active but now is definitely a time to slow down. At this stage a regular vinyasa or ashtanga class will probably no longer be supportive, unless you had been practicing yoga for many years prior to pregnancy. Now is a good time to seek out a prenatal class as it will be designed to your needs and will also help you to feel prepared for birth. If you can’t find once locally, there are lots of great live and pre-recorded classes available online.

It’s also a good time to check in again with your care team to make sure you don’t have any conditions that could affect your practice. Certain yoga poses are not recommended for women who have a low lying placenta or a baby in breech position. If you experience sciatica, sacroiliac joint (SIJ) pain or symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) you will also need specific modifications for your practice. These are most common during the third trimester but might also arise earlier in the pregnancy. Be sure to inform your yoga teacher if you have any of these conditions so that they can advise you appropriately.

Other than that, keep moving slowly and mindfully, keeping in mind the general adaptations for pregnancy. Enjoy the increased connection with your body and baby that the practice encourages. Moments of stillness during the practice are a great time to place your hands on your bump and bring your awareness down to baby. You might even feel him or her kick in response or the gentle swaying of the breath might lull them to sleep. Either way, know you are doing something great for both you and baby by practicing yoga during pregnancy!

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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