Pregnant? You can still Practice!
By Stephanie Cantrell
Yoga and pregnancy go together like bread and butter. The benefits of a regular prenatal yoga practice reach far further than the physical body, preparing the woman’s mind and spirit for motherhood. After two pregnancies as a yogi, and one YTT that I finished at 38 weeks pregnant, here is my advice for how to get the most out of yoga while pregnant.
Yoga Tips while Pregnant
Listen to your body
Yoga is about finding a connection between your mind and body, and pregnancy is the perfect time to be in tune with how we’re feeling. Within each pose, find your own limits and don’t go beyond them. Pain is never a sensation you want to be feeling. As a general rule, you can keep up your normal yoga practice if you feel able, but avoid compression or over-stretching your belly. When in forward folds keep a wide stance to allow space for your bump, and activate your core to protect your back. Don’t just let your belly hang.
Empowerment through pranayama
Focus on your breathing. I found that my yoga practice and hypnobirthing practice overlapped somewhat during both pregnancies. I used yoga as a time to work on my breath, learning how to use it to both invigorate and relax my body. Dirga (three-part-breath) was amazing during the early stages of labour, as it allowed me to relax my whole body and just allow the gentle opening phase to be. Later, Ujjayi breath was great for the second stage of labour, when I was breathing the baby out. Incorporate your birth breathing into your yoga routine for a dynamic practice perfect for preparing your body and mind for what’s to come.
Watch your back
During pregnancy, many women experience some form of lordosis, which is when your lower back curves as your bump gets bigger. Not only is this bad for your spine, but it also places greater pressure on your hips as your weight sinks into them, rather than being supported by your core muscles. Yoga is great as it fosters mind-body connection, which allows us to tune into the positioning of different parts of our body.
A great way to watch your back as that pesky pregnancy curve creeps in, is to do the following:
Stand in Tadasana or mountain pose
Stick your bum out so you have an anterior pelvic tilt. This is how pregnant women naturally tend to stand.
Now tuck your tailbone right in so you have a posterior pelvic tilt.
Move slowly between these two pelvic positions until you find a nice centre. Close your eyes and feel what this position is like for you.
Whenever you are standing (outside of yoga class), focus on correcting your stance to this neutral position. In cat-cow pose, work in this neutral table position in replacement of the usual cow, anterior pelvic tilt. You can also practise pelvic tilts while lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, or by standing against a wall in chair pose.
Pregnancy is the perfect time to focus on alignment as your figure is changing everyday. You’ll constantly be making tiny adjustments to your poses, and hopefully gain a thorough understanding of what feels right in your ever-changing body. As your bump gets bigger, you may wish to take your feet from touching one another, to hip distance (or wider). This will be for poses such as Tadasana (mountain pose), Uttanasana (standing forward fold) and Utkatasana (chair pose). Also, watch the direction of your feet in these poses. There’s a tendency to develop a bit of a pregnancy waddle, where you feet stick out like a duck. This can cause havoc for your hips, so work on keeping both feet parallel, with toes pointing forward. Remember this in poses such as tadasana, chair pose and downward facing dog. You’ll feel stronger and taller instantly!
Do the leg work
When you’re in labour, you don’t want your legs to be the thing that lets you down. Focus on strengthening your legs and keeping your hips supple, to support you as you grow with your baby, and in the final throes of labour. I practised squats while I waited for the kettle to boil -fifty squats every morning before I even poured my tea. Lunges stretch your hips and work your thighs and hamstrings -just be mindful to keep your knee in line with your ankle to avoid injuring yourself. I also practised Malasana, or the Vietnamese squat. This is perfect for conditioning the pelvic floor and can be quite a comfortable position to hold in later pregnancy. Don’t practise this pose if you suffer from pubis symphysis dysfunction, or have a weak cervix.
Above all, think of pregnancy as a time for maintaining your practice, rather than pushing your boundaries.
Whether you are new to the practice or have been studying yoga for years, take the time in class or in your home practice to connect to your baby. Enjoy all the kicks and bumps you feel as you slow down in Savasana at the end of class. Relish the presence of your baby and the changes to your body which signal his or her growth. Use yoga as a time to slow down, breathe and thank the world for the gift of your present experiences.
About the Author
Stephanie practices and teaches yoga in Saigon. She completed her YTT at 8 months pregnant, and soon after completed pre and postnatal training so she could share the joy of yoga with other mothers. When she’s not on the mat, she can be found swimming or food shopping in Saigon with her husband and two children.