By Jenny Cain Pregnant women are often apprehensive with keeping up a regular, challenging yoga practice. They want to keep their growing babe safe and just don’t know which poses are ok. Maternal instincts kick in and the priority becomes protecting. It’s quite beautiful.
Actually, pregnancy is a very important time for women to keep up their strength and energy, as well as allow time to slow down and acknowledge the space they’re creating for their sweet new soul. So although your practice may shift during your pregnancy, you could think of it as your practice evolving. For example, before I was pregnant I did not have a restorative yoga practice at all. It was strictly Ashtanga Vinyasa (yum) and some Pranayama. Due to pure exhaustion, feeling so heavy and maybe a bit of anxiety in third trimester, I started a weekly restorative practice. Now three years later, restorative yoga is a valuable aspect of my practice, and a lovely compliment to my Ashtanga practice.
So which poses are safe?
If you already practice yoga, you probably know that there are an enormous number of poses and their variations. Instead of trying to find a list of acceptable poses, think about the shape your body is making. The following five tips will help you to decide if a pose is right for you during your pregnancy. Remember that as the months go on, your body is constantly changing and so should your practice. Intuition is key here.
- Make Space for Your Baby
This is a basic mantra you can adopt when practicing yoga, lifting weights or training in another discipline. Making sure your not pressing, compressing or squeezing your belly is important. This applies when twisting, folding forward, backbending and even side bending. One common modification for pregnant yoginis is to perform an “open twist”, in place of a cross-body twist. This way you still get that yummy spinal rotation without squishing babe. Making space also applies to your movement practice when doing abdominal work. Now is not the time to work of your six-pack. Other examples may be: taking a wider stance with your legs when folding forward, sitting on a prop in child’s pose, and using a block in triangle pose. If you aren’t sure, just ask yourself if your eliminating that space.
- Get to Know Your Pelvic Floor
This is a big one! Pelvic floor awareness is on the rise but it’s still very much up to us to educate ourselves on the topic. While kegels have been prescribed for many years, there is so much more to preparing your pelvic floor muscles for childbirth. A healthy pelvic floor is one that is able to engage as well as release, which for many women, is much harder. Spend time consciously softening the hammock-like group of muscles underneath your pelvis, between your public bone, tailbone and sitz bones. Meditation, visualization, self massage and restorative yoga are all wonderful tools. A pelvic floor physiotherapist will help you to understand your own pelvic floor health, as well as give you tools to prepare for delivery and postpartum.
- Don’t Over Stretch
Maybe not so widely known is how common it is to overstretch during pregnancy…especially yogis. In the the first trimester, your body will produce a hormone called “relaxin”, which softens the cervix & ligaments and can affect your joints. Relaxin stays in your body until a few months after baby is born, or a few months after you finish breastfeeding. During pregnancy you will likely feel more “flexible”, especially if your practicing regularly. If you continually stretch to your max during pregnancy, these areas can become weakened once the relaxin leaves your body. This will be especially true if you are not strengthening as well.
- Everyone’s Pregnancy is Different
While one woman may have a wonderfully comfortable pregnancy, lots of energy and minimal pain, the next woman may have a very uncomfortable and emotionally draining experience. We need to be honest with ourselves during this vulnerable and often confusing phase of our life. Remember your body is being put through the ringer – never mind the hormonal science experiment that is happening at the same time! Pay attention to warning signs, find a balance of strengthening and stretching, and take time to acknowledge the work you are doing by simply holding this space for your baby.
- Try Not to Shock Your System
One of the most commonly asked questions by yoga students is “is hot yoga safe?” This is subjective. If you are someone who is really affected by external heat, you may want to skip super hot classes. If hot yoga is already your regular practice and it is very comfortable for you (no shortage of breath, dehydration or major increase in heart rate) you might chooses to keep it up. This principle also applies to breathwork. In the first trimester especially, avoid breath retention or fast, sharp breaths. The fetus is at a crucial stage of development and newly pregnant often feel nausea and dizziness.
BONUS: Nutrition tips!
Holistic Nutrition Student (and my sister) Patricia Cain has added some tips on important foods to introduce while pregnant & trying to get pregnant:
Foods containing Folic Acid. Folic acid is extremely important for women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant. This vitamin is essential for nerve cell development in the fetus. A deficiency in folic acid has been linked to birth defects such as spina-bifida.
Good food sources: dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, beet greens, asparagus, broccoli), citrus fruits, whole grains, dates, avocados. Supplementing with Folate/Folic Acid prior to and during early stages of pregnancy is the most effective way to obtain a proper amount of this vitamin to aid in the prevention of neural tube defects.
Foods containing B12: This vitamin plays an important role in circulation, and supports memory and mental clarity, which can all be affected during pregnancy, i.e “mom brain.” B12 and Folic Acid work synergistically. If you are taking a folic acid supplement, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough B12 as well. Both of these vitamins are important for cellular division and protection against DNA mutation. Both important for you and the fetus.
Good food sources: Nutritional yeast, non-dairy milk, cheese (not mouldy or aged cheeses) eggs, and chicken.
*B12 is found in highest amounts only in animal products. If you are a vegetarian/vegan supplementation may be needed.
Foods containing Vitamin C: This vitamin is very important during pregnancy or while trying to conceive. It is important for proper immune support as well vitamin c needs are higher during times of stress on the female body like going through significant physical, hormonal & mental changes. The absorption of B12 is slightly increased in the presence of vitamin c & vitamin c also aids in the performance of folic acid.
Good food sources: Citrus fruits, berries, papaya, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, green peppers.