Prenatal Yoga Doesn't Have to be Easy!
So here you are on a blog post about prenatal yoga. Chances are, you're pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant (soon or someday in the future), or just wandered here out of curiosity. If you've kept up with my blog posts, one topic I have touched on frequently is how yoga is growing -quite significantly actually- in popularity. Along with this sudden surge in popularity comes a new prenatal population with a well established, intermediate, maybe even advanced, yoga practice. If you seek out prenatal classes on the internet or at your local health center, you will likely find classes that are beginner-focused. Emphasis tends to be on relaxation, breath control, and and introductions to some very basic asanas. Don't get me wrong, all of these things are extremely important in any yoga practice. But what is a newly pregnant yogi supposed to do if she wants to continue to challenge herself physically, cardiovascualrly, and mentally?
BTW- There really shouldn't be any need for me to point out the obvious but people sue for anything nowadays so ...it is important that you talk to your healthcare professional about what works best for your pregnancy routine. Luckily I have a kickass OBGYN who I know from yoga and is actually a yogi herself. Naturally, she completely understands and encourages me to move and flow in a way that still challenges me mentally and physically but is completely safe for my brewing little yogini -who has been doing some yoga of her own inside to womb lately, but I digress.
So here are the top 6 questions I had when figuring out how to navigate the next 9 months on my mat. These are my answers based on my own experience and research; however, it is most important to trust your own intuition because what is right for someone is not right for everyone. I hope it helps you too!
- How hot to keep the oven? What's the deal with HOT yoga?
- Which postures should I avoid and when?
- Inversions. Are they ok?
- Can I continue abdominal work?
- How do I handle advanced transitions?
- What other things should I be aware of?
1. How hot to keep the oven? What is the deal with HOT Yoga?
Ok. let's just dive into the most heavily debated topic in the yoga community. I'm going to give you my take but everyone is going to feel a little different about this so let's just absorb that a minute before continuing on...........Ok, deep breath are we ready? This could be an entire article in itself, but I'm gonna keep it short. You will find many different opinions on this topic. Even health professionals cannot come to a consensus. So here is my advice, come to your own decision about this but it is important to understand the facts first. First, if you're a well established hot yoga practitioner, your body is more acclimated to heat than someone who is trying it for the first time. Do I practice hot yoga? Yes and no. It is important to note that many very important organs and systems are forming in the baby within the first few weeks of gestation. The baby is more vulnerable to hyperthermia (excessive heat) during this time. Most importantly, the neural tube (the larval stage of the central nervous system) is closing during this time. The closure of the neural tube is proven to be affected by extreme temperatures such as hot tubs or high fevers. There haven't been any studies specifically looking at hot yoga but within the first several weeks of pregnancy, this would the the time period where the greatest risk would be incurred. Better safe than sorry, right? I have done a few hot vinyasa classes but only from my second trimester onward and I don't do them every day like I have in years past. Maybe once a week, if that. It is important not to become dehydrated which is very easy with a daily practice. I have embraced a home practice where I turn the heat up to a comfortable 85 degrees that is completely safe for me and baby and warm enough to get a light sweat going. Other than that, if you choose to continue hot yoga, don't over exert yourself, take breaks when you need to or step out in the lobby to cool off if need be. This is NOT your time to be a hero, or prove your abilities to yourself or anyone else.
2. Which postures should I avoid and when?
Deep backbends- Right at about 10 weeks is when I stopped practicing deep backbends such as wheel pose or full dancer. Playing with major backbends like Wheel after the first trimester runs the risk of over-stretching the abdominals and later on in your pregnancy overly compressing the uterus. Your abs are already getting a damn good stretch out thanks to bubs, so stick to milder backbends. Depending on your flexibility and your body, Camel and Bridge Pose can be lovely alternatives if Wheel is something you’re craving.
Closed twists- Prenatal yoga is all about creating space for bubs. When you revolve your chair or revolve your triangle, you instead minimize space for the baby. It can also affect blood circulation to bubs, so make sure to only do open twists. So avoid any postures with the word "revolved" and opt for the regular variations instead.
Forward rounding or closed leg forward folds- Folding forward can compress blood vessels and nerves that connect to your uterus. Keep things flowing by separating your legs like in a wide leg forward fold to make space at the top of the thighs.
Prone postures- Belly down postures like cobra and locust pose become obviously uncomfortable after a certain point, but for me, it didn't feel right putting all my body weight on my belly beyond the 8 week mark.
Supine Postures- Once you hit the second trimester, avoid lying on your back for extended periods of time (as in Savasana). The increased weight of your uterus interferes with the flow of blood and nutrients to your developing baby. It can also aggravate lower back pain, heartburn, and elevate blood pressure. Use blocks and bolsters to prop your torso up instead of lying flat, and whenever possible find ways to stretch the same muscles while you're standing, sitting, on your hands and knees, or when lying on your side. I usually opt for Fetal Pose (what an appropriate name!) during Savasana.
3. Inversions, are they OK?
If you have an advanced inversion practice and there is no risk of falling, it is ok to continue your inversions. Just be aware of postures such as headstand, where a nearby student could accidentally knock you over. I only practice these postures when I am alone at home and I don't have to be nervous that Adventurous Amy next to me is going to come tumbling over on top of me and my tiny bun in the oven. Also, an advanced practice for postures such as handstand means that you don't land with a thud (even on your feet). Around weeks 8-10 the placenta is attaching to the uterine wall and you don't want to interfere with that process. Finally, of you are planning on delivering vaginally, it is a good idea to avoid inversions beginning in the third trimester when baby begins to make their way to their final head-down position. Changes in gravity and inversions can make this transition confusing for your little babe.
4. Can I continue abdominal work?
Depends. As your belly expands, it's difficult to support the weight with your rectus abdominus (the muscles you see when someone has a six-pack), so you use your obliques (ab muscles on the side of your belly). Overly-strong obliques can pull your front-facing abdominal muscles apart, causing a condition known as diastasis. I still practice planks and side planks but avoid more traditional forms of abdominal work. This is your call, but I would just rather whip my abs back into shape after baby than have to deal with diastasis which is cosmetically not ideal and could require corrective surgery later.
5. How to handle advanced transitions?
First let me note that I have found very few arm balances appropriate during pregnancy. Most require a twist of some form or a rounding compression of the abdomen like in Crow Pose. If you love Crow a flat back wide knee variation can be done. But most importantly, it's probably not the best time to try to jump back to Chaturanga or many other transitions like this. Avoid any jerky movements and you can always jump right back in (no pun intended) after bubs arrives.
6. What other things to be aware of...
Just remember that pregnancy doesn't mean you have to hang your intermediate or advanced yoga hat. But it does require some extra awareness. If you have been practicing for a while you know that sometimes visualization can be very helpful in yoga. For me, visualizing my tiny babe in my belly as I practice helps me be more aware of what is safe for her and picturing how a posture would affect her really helped me decide which postures were right for US rather than just me. It is actually a beautiful lesson on mindfulness and will help you hone that skill. But as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, take these pointers at face value because every yoga mama is different and their own intuition is best for both them and baby. So keep on bending your badass advanced yoga self and don't let anyone pass judgment on how you want to flow during your very special months where you get to experiment a little with some "partner" yoga. After all, you growing bump is really the best little yogi partner there is. What a wonderful journey to experience together.
Namaste, Bendy Mamas