Photo: Yan Revazov of iKlick Photo Studio in Berlin
My second child is due in the end of February. Having already been pregnant once, I now have a possibility to compare the two pregnancies, as well as to share my experiences on how pregnancy yoga can be both safe and fun.
Before we begin with the detailed breakdown of the three trimesters, I want to establish the three main guiding principles for your yoga practice in pregnancy.
- Each woman is unique, and so is each pregnancy. There is no “golden standard” to go by, because women differ from each other in terms of their physical abilities, fitness levels, health conditions, genetic predispositions, lifestyle choices, diets, overall levels of energy and activity, and various justified (and sometimes not so justified) ingrained beliefs of what makes them feel good or bad. On top of that, since individual pregnancies in one given woman are separated by time and space, they inevitably differ from each other: things that worked well or were risky the first time may change in the subsequent times.
- Awareness is key, and so is your intuition. Awareness is that ability to listen carefully and respond adequately, it is an ability to “tune in” and make the appropriate choices required in each individual moment of time. Intuition, gut-feeling, listening to your heart, whatever you may call it, speaks of the ability to rely on the inner wisdom of the body rather than following a potentially faulty line of reasoning from the mind. Our minds tend to play tricks on us and “seduce” us into doing or believing things about ourselves that are not necessary true from the standpoint of the body.
- The highest authority is You, but considering other’s experiences may prove useful. No matter how brilliant, intuitive, and experienced you may be, it is always good to expand on your own understandings in the process of continuous learning from the self and others. There is no limit to knowledge, and the search for it is a wonderful principle to be guided by in life, provided you don’t depart too far from the common sense. Exercise your own judgement wisely and stay away from the people engaging in the kind of practices that seem too alternative, dangerous, and unsupported by the modern scientific research. If not sure, ask your doctor.
In the first trimester the fate of your fetus is being decided: wether it stays or whether you need to try again next time. About 10% of women experience a termination of pregnancy during the first 12 weeks, for no specific reason and without having done anything “wrong” per se. For this reason you practice yoga in the first trimester at your own risk. Some women decide to quit any physical activity at this time, especially when getting pregnant was a difficult process. Other women continue their usual activities, adjusting intuitively the levels of intensity and the times of rest.
When doing pregnancy yoga in the first semester, pay a special attention performing yoga postures on your tummy (for example: the sphinx, the cobra, the locust variations), being careful not to put too much body pressure on this area, especially if it feels tender and oversensitive. Also, try to stay in the safe zone when performing deep back bends (for instance: the camel, the wheel, the pigeon), not going too deep, especially when you feel too much of a stretch in the groin area. Moreover, be extra careful performing spinal twists (both standing twists: twisted triangle, twisted side angle pose, twisted half-moon pose; and sitting twists), doing “gentler” versions for the upper spine and shoulder area or twisting in the more “open” way to the otherwise “opposite” side (away from your bend/front leg).
Some female yoga practitioners have a fear of causing a termination of pregnancy by performing jumping back and forward actions, as well as jogging. This fear is not based on my own experience in both pregnancies, as well as observing intermediate/advance female yoga practitioners, dancers, and athletes. In fact, female athletes continue to train hard in the first trimester, claiming that they feel stronger than ever. In any case, the main rule to follow is this: listen carefully to your body and do not do anything that is more intense or difficult than the usual practice you are used to.
Because the risk of termination is reduced by the end of first 12 weeks, pregnancy yoga now tends to be more fun. In your first pregnancy, the baby bump develops very slowly and you can do your usual practice, sometimes even feeling stronger than usually (especially in the 3rd-4th months). If this is your second, third, etc pregnancy, you will be surprised how fast the belly shows itself compared to the previous times, making certain things impossible quite early on (postures on the tummy, spinal twists, and sitting forward bends).
Some women find back-bends very pleasant to relieve the tension in the upper spine and open the heart area, while others may not like the stretch in the tummy. However, all women at this point should avoid ab-training exercises and postures (the boat pose, the crane and other arm balances). As your body makes room for the growing baby, the tummy muscles have two choices: either to expand and stretch gently or to be ripped apart as a result of putting too much strain on them. Separated abs are not fun and cause all kinds of chronic body tensions, pains (especially in the lower back and neck), and imbalances. After giving birth they absolutely have to be brought together: something that depending on the damage done takes a long time and a lot of effort on your part.
Finally, pregnancy yoga in this trimester and in general is not a time to experiment or learn an intense advanced posture (arm balances, inversions, deep back bends) or technique (pranayama). Anything that would put too much strain on the tummy muscles, on your wrists or shoulders, on your neck, may overheat your body or cause you fall on the ground is a definite no! Pregnancy is not a time for progressing in your yoga practice or feeding your ambition, on the contrary: it is a time to slow down, relax, and surrender to the process of transformation, allowing it to happen naturally and with minimum damage and risk to you and your baby.
As you approach the last 3 months of your pregnancy, you need to slow down in your practice once again to make sure you are not putting your baby at risk of a premature birth. At this point, all inversions, arm balances, forward bends and backward bends are not necessary anymore, with the third trimester being the official time for hip-openers and gentle body stretches.
My own yoga practice at this point comprises of mostly standing postures, cat-cow variations, and gentle body openers. I personally remove any stretching routine by this time, because of the increased risk of overstitching and injuring yourself due to hormones that loosen up your body in preparation for the grand finale – the birth itself.
Lying on your back for final relaxation or sleeping at this time may cause difficulty in breathing, nausea, dizziness, and other type of discomfort and probably signifies that the baby is pressing on your vena cava, reducing the blood return from your lower body to the heart. As a result, adopting a position of turning to one side is a good idea, putting a pillow between your legs for extra comfort.
A gentle pranayama practice (just breathing with awareness) and meditation are especially beneficial at this point, preparing both the body and the mind for birth, making sure that you get enough oxygen despite the pressure that the big tummy puts on the ribs and the diaphragm.
When practicing pregnancy yoga at this point, pay a special attention to your baby’s positioning, making sure that your yoga practice does not cause the baby to flip, as well as to your baby’s activity, making educated guesses about his/her well-being.