Category Archives: Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal Yoga: The Third Trimester

This video guided practice is for all levels, so it is suitable for beginning yoga practitioners as well as those with a lot of experience. It was created with a woman at the end of her third trimester in mind, incorporating breathing exercises, squats, and other hip openers. Check out my YouTube channel for more guided practice videos.

*This video and blog post assume a healthy pregnancy. If you have had complications of any kind, consult your prenatal healthcare professional before undertaking yoga or any kind of exercise.

In this final trimester, you are constantly aware of your baby. Not only can you feel every movement the baby makes inside you, your new shape begins to dramatically shape your movement. If you have been attending hatha or vinyasa yoga classes up to this point, you may find that you now need a practice more specifically tailored to a pregnant body.

The third trimester is a fairly safe time for the baby, as it is well-formed by now, but the baby’s rapidly increasing size puts a lot of stress on your body, squashing you on the inside and stretching you to the limits on the outside. As you practice yoga or participate in any exercise, remember that you can injure yourself much more easily in this state than other times in pregnancy.

You may feel clumsier, much quicker to lose your balance, even if you are a very experienced yogini. This is not surprising considering that your center of gravity has shifted because of your changed shape, and your joints are relatively unstable because of the relaxin hormone (more on relaxin in Prenatal Yoga: The Second Trimester). When you practice standing poses, even if they are not one-footed balancing poses, stand near a wall in case you need the extra support.

Exercise even more caution when it comes to overworking and overstretching your abdomen so you don’t push your abdominal muscles past their breaking point. Limit any abdominal activity to gentle hugs of the abdomen. If you haven’t already, you may stop backbending altogether in the third trimester. If backbending continues to feel both safe and beneficial, limit yourself to only the most gentle backbends.

In the third trimester, your range of motion is noticeably inhibited by your belly. You will need to take a wider stance for chair pose, downdog, standing forward folds (including poses like pyramid) and seated forward folds. Stepping forward and back into lunging postures will feel much more cumbersome. You will not be able to stretch as deeply in poses like seated wide angle forward bend and pigeon because your belly will hit the floor or your leg. Even if you do not normally use props, you will likely find blocks useful in standing poses like triangle and forward folds, and a strap around your foot may be nice to get the hamstring stretch in a seated posture like head-to-knee forward bend.

That sounds like a lot of limitations, and you may be wondering, “Well, what can I do in the third trimester?” Now is a good time to think of your yoga practice primarily as preparation for labor and delivery.

Giving birth is a long and very physical endurance event, so you certainly want to maintain as much strength and flexibility as you safely can. Chair pose, free standing or with your back against the wall for stability, and lunging poses like warriors I and II, are good poses to maintain strength in your legs. Squats like garland pose and goddess squat, as well as hip openers like bound angle and wide angle seated forward bend will help you attain flexibility that will serve you well during labor and delivery.

Yoga can also help you practice mental focus and calming techniques that will be necessary, especially if you are planning to have an unmedicated birth. Basic balancing poses like tree will not only strengthen your legs, they will help you develop concentration. If you don’t  already, begin incorporating pranayama (breathing exercises) into your practice. Drawing your attention to your breath will divert your attention away from the discomfort of contractions, and certain types of breathwork literally slow your heart rate, thus relaxing your body and mind. Try inhaling through your nose to the count of five and exhaling through your nose to the count of seven to produce a calming effect.

Prenatal Yoga: The Second Trimester

This guided practice video is for all levels, meaning it is suitable for beginners as well as yoginis with more experience. It was created with the intent of providing a practice for low-energy days. The practice stays on the floor and focuses on breath, gentle flow, and hip opening.

*The following article assumes a healthy pregnancy. If you have had complications of any kind, consult your doctor before undertaking any form of exercise.

The second trimester is the favorite part of pregnancy for many women. Your belly is growing, and your pregnancy becomes visible to others. If you were having morning sickness, it’s likely that it will subside, and you may feel more energetic now than in the first trimester. However, as you gain weight, you may start to have soreness or cramping in your feet and calves.

The guiding principles for yoga during the second trimester are continued awareness of how you’re affected by yoga postures and, in response, making gradual accommodations.

As in the first trimester, we continue to avoid compressing the abdominal cavity in the second trimester:

  • Deep twists. Continue to leave deep twists out of your practice.
  • Belly-Down Postures. After your stomach “pops”, prone postures like locust and bow are no longer appropriate.
  • Shoulderstand. It’s pretty much impossible to get into shoulderstand at this point without compressing the abdomen, so if you haven’t already, phase out this posture during this trimester. Legs up a wall is a nice alternative to shoulderstand as long as lying on your back is still comfortable.
  • Core work. Continue to back off core work, either phasing out poses like boat and plank, or taking less intense variations. To make boat less intense, bend your knees and hold onto the backs of your legs. To make plank less intense, drop your knees to the floor.
  • Backbends. Notice how backbends like upward-facing dog, upward-facing bow, and camel feel to you, if you are still practicing them. If you sense that you might be overstretching the muscles of your abdomen or compressing the abdominal cavity with these deep backbends, don’t go quite so deep into them, or phase them out altogether. Supported camel (with your hands on your lower back) is a backbend that many women find they can do safely throughout the entirety of their pregnancies.

As you get bigger, you will begin to experience a decreased range of motion, meaning that you won’t be able to go as deep into postures because your belly is in the way. It may be necessary to take a wider stance in poses like chair pose, downward-facing dog, standing forward fold, and seated forward fold.

If you are comfortable lying on your back for short periods of time, you may continue to practice yoga postures lying on your back. If you aren’t, leave out poses like reclined big toe pose and reclined bound angle. Instead, take seated postures that get similar stretches like head-to-knee forward bend and seated bound angle. The second trimester is also a good time to begin incorporating a side-lying svasana, finding a comfortable resting position on your left side, rather than the classic supine svasana.

Another consideration is the pregnancy hormone relaxin. Relaxin makes your ligaments, the relatively inflexible tissues that hold your joints together, more flexible. The purpose of relaxin is to allow your pelvic bones to spread during the delivery of your baby, but it affects all the ligaments in your body, not just the ones in your pelvis, and it is present throughout all of pregnancy, and even a while after you’ve given birth. You may not feel more flexible, so it is easy to overstretch your joints without realizing it. This can lead to pain and injury later, possibly even chronic injury. Pay attention and notice if you feel any looseness or overstretching around your hips, shoulders, or other parts of your body during or after yoga practice. Do not go deeper into poses than you did pre-pregnancy.

Prenatal Yoga: The First Trimester

This guided practice video is intended for experienced yoginis with a regular, established vinyasa flow practice. It was created with women in the first or second trimester, when range-of-motion is still fairly uninhibited, in mind. If you are in the third trimester, a beginner, or if you’re feeling very tired or sick, this practice may not be appropriate for you. See the previous post for more information about what type of yoga practice suits you best, or visit my YouTube channel for more guided practices.

*The following article assumes a healthy pregnancy. If you have had complications of any kind, consult your doctor before undertaking any form of exercise.

So you’re having a baby– congratulations! Now what? Your body is busy knitting together a new life, and you are experiencing a variety of changes, although most of these are not evident to anyone else. For most women, staying mindfully active throughout pregnancy  enhances their experiences greatly. When approaching yoga in the first trimester, the most important considerations are to respect your body’s increased need to rest and to create the best possible environment for your tiny baby to take hold and grow.

Respect Your Body’s Need to Rest

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to grow another human being. But if you’re typically very active, it may take an even greater measure of humility and self-control to give yourself proper rest during pregnancy. Be especially attentive to how tired or nauseated you are, and whether certain activities or yoga postures make you feel better or worse. Be open to decreasing the amount and intensity of your activity according to what you observe. Know that coming out of postures early or taking breaks in child’s pose may be better for you than keeping up with a yoga class.

Your blood pressure is lower during the first trimester, so you may find that inversions like headstand and shoulderstand are not comfortable or make you dizzy. In this case, it’s best to forgo inversions. Inversions also direct blood away from the uterus, so the most conservative approach is to leave them out for the entirety of pregnancy.

Create the Best Possible Environment for Your Baby

From now until you give birth, you are your baby’s environment. The first trimester is when your baby is the smallest and the most vulnerable. Miscarriage is the most likely during this trimester, so if you had difficulty conceiving or are otherwise at a higher risk for miscarriage, you will want to be especially mindful about creating an environment conducive to nurturing this delicate little life.

In yoga we do this by avoiding compression to the abdominal cavity:

Intense core work and deep, closed twists like revolved side angle, revolved triangle, and half lord of the fishes should be avoided. If you have had fertility issues or otherwise want to minimize risk, you may decide to forgo all core work from the very beginning, and you may want to avoid all but the most gentle (cow and bridge) backbends.

Other than postures that compress the abdominal cavity, a woman in her first trimester can practice all basic yoga poses that feel good and help her to maintain her strength and flexibility.

Another consideration in creating the optimal environment for your baby is room temperature. If you are low-risk for miscarriage, accustomed to practicing yoga in a hot room, and it feels good to you to do so, you are welcome to practice in a hot room. If you are at a higher risk or it does not feel good to you, it’s best not to add unnecessary stress to your body.

Prenatal Yoga: What Type of Yoga Should You Practice?

*The following article assumes a healthy pregnancy. If you have complications of any kind, consult your doctor before undertaking yoga or any form of exercise.

There are many types of yoga practices, and, whether pregnant or not, your goal should always be to practice what is going to be the most beneficial to you and avoid that which is not helpful (or even detrimental) to you. If you’re looking for a class in a studio, online, or in a book, first consider where you’re starting from.

If you are…

  • Brand new to yoga
  • Coming back after a long break
  • A sporadic yoga practitioner

…I highly recommend classes that are specifically prenatal yoga classes. You may find the environment in a prenatal class to be more supportive and inviting. It is important that the instructor is familiar with the changes you’re undergoing, not only to make your experience more enjoyable, but also for safety. You will be far less likely to hurt yourself or your baby in a class geared toward the particular needs of pregnancy.

If you had a…

  • Regular, established vigorous vinyasa practice previous to pregnancy
  • Regular, established gentle hatha flow practice previous to pregnancy
  • Regular, established restorative practice previous to pregnancy

…you are familiar with yoga postures and your body is already conditioned for them. You may continue to practice in a similar fashion, with certain modifications (see future posts), IF it feels right to you to do so. Your body is constantly changing during pregnancy, so it is important that you are always prepared to make adjustments and modifications to your practice in response to those changes.

The video above is marked “all levels.” This means that it can be appropriate for a beginner or an experienced practitioner with a strong practice. It is intended to be accessible during any trimester. In  this practice, we emphasize the cultivation and maintenance of balance and strength, so you may find this is better to do on a day you have more energy.

More videos to come! Happy practicing!

Prenatal Yoga: A Change in Perspective

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I am currently in the middle of my third trimester of my first pregnancy. I have been inspired to be a resource for other women who want to practice yoga during their pregnancies, so over the next month or two I will post guidelines and tips for prenatal yoga practice, as well as some videos of guided practices.

Of everything that could be said about yoga during pregnancy, the mindset with which you approach it is probably the most important. While prenatal yoga can feel amazing and greatly enhance your pregnancy, there are also additional risks to both your baby and to you during this time. If you make space for your baby in your practice, take it day by day, and listen to your body and trust your instincts, odds are that you will naturally find yourself making the most of your prenatal yoga practice while also keeping safe.

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or prenatal care professional in any sense. This blog is meant to be helpful to you, but ALWAYS heed your prenatal care professional’s advice over mine.)

Make space for your baby. Bit by bit, this new little person starts to make its way into your life. The baby begins to take up more and more of your thoughts as you prepare for its arrival. The baby becomes more and more a part of your conversations as your pregnancy becomes obvious to others. The baby even begins to take up more and more space in your home, especially after a baby shower. Obviously, the baby also begins to have a bigger and more noticeable presence in your body as pregnancy progresses. This inevitably means that your baby will have a bigger and bigger presence in your yoga practice as time goes on. If you’re like me, you might be inclined to keep your practice exactly the same. It can be frustrating to:

  • give up certain poses
  • practice less often because you’re sick
  • need a less vigorous practice because you’re tired
  • find yourself losing range of motion because your belly is getting bigger

The good news is that all this is temporary, and you will eventually have your yoga practice all to yourself again. In the meantime, I find it helpful to remember that all these changes are not merely limitations to me, but they serve a purpose:

  • I give up certain postures to keep my baby and my own body safe
  • I have less energy because my baby needs a lot of my energy to grow
  • I have less range of motion because my baby needs the space in my body to grow healthily.

When I make necessary changes to my yoga practice, I am making space for my baby, inviting him or her to do life with me, even before birth.

Take it day by day. In yoga practice it’s always important to approach each practice anew, but during pregnancy, when your body is changing constantly and at a relatively rapid pace, this is especially true. You’ll have days you feel great, and you’ll have days (or weeks or months!) that aren’t so great. You’ll have low-energy days, days you feel sick, and achy days. All of a sudden you find that you’re not able or not comfortable doing something you usually do all the time. Maybe you’ll be able to do it again tomorrow, but maybe you won’t be able to again until after giving birth. Since you never know which version of your body is going to show up, it’s important to be extra-attentive and make no assumptions.

Listen to your body and trust your instincts. There’s a lot of information out there about how to do yoga when you’re pregnant. You will be told what you might expect in each trimester, what changes you should make to your yoga practice, and when you should make them. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here in future posts. But while it is important to be familiar with prenatal yoga guidelines, the most important piece of advice I have for you is to listen to your body and trust your instincts. No two women are the same, and (from what I hear) no two pregnancies are the same. A woman who experiences a lot of morning sickness will likely have a very different prenatal yoga experience than a woman who has none. Some women have pregnancy-related joint or ligament pain, while others don’t. You may find that you need to make particular modifications to your yoga practice earlier or later than the standard prenatal guidelines suggest. Some women are comfortable taking some form of backbend throughout the entirety of their pregnancies, and some stop doing backbends in the first trimester. Now more than ever, notice how yoga postures feel to you. They should feel good or, at worst, neutral. If something doesn’t seem right to you, assume that you’re correct and adjust accordingly.

Yoginis who are mothers are quick to agree that pregnancy in itself is a yoga practice: you must be aware and in tune, you must use wisdom, and you must be okay with letting go. With these things in mind, happy practicing to you!