Pregnancy is both a joyful and challenging adventure. There are so many emotions and physical sensations constantly changing that it can often feel like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes you feel like yourself, and sometimes you feel like a new person growing an almost alien-like person inside your body. I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for a long time, and I didn’t know what to expect regarding changes in my practice upon getting pregnant.
My husband and I planned to have this baby, but there’s no way to prepare what condition your body will change into once it happens. The morning sickness made it almost impossible to cope with daily life. I tried to eat well and go on teaching and more, but ultimately scarfing down crackers and trying to be present while I was feeling horrible, it just wasn’t working out for me. So I decided to take a break from teaching, luckily with the support of my husband and focusing on staying healthy while taking care of my step kiddo and family the best I could, and eventually continuing my yoga training in the prenatal realm.
Even though I had taught and practiced for many years, my knowledge about prenatal yoga was super limited. After a few months-long hiatus, I craved yoga and would do a few gentle poses on my own throughout the day. I could barely do much yoga asana practice for the first four months. Being sick constantly, even in my sleep, and having no energy made it feel impossible to find myself getting on my mat. As my pregnancy progressed, so did the unpleasant pregnancy symptoms; the constant nauseousness. So, I started searching for prenatal yoga classes to attend. At first, I found an online recorded youtube class, which thoroughly convinced me that the teacher had never actually experienced pregnancy as it was way too much movement for me, and 26 minutes into her prenatal sequence, my heart was racing, and felt like I needed a nap immediately. Later I discovered a local studio in Fort Collins offering online prenatal yoga classes. I was beyond ecstatic to find this option and immediately signed up and never looked back.
Having been handicapped with unpleasant pregnancy symptoms for the past few months, I didn’t know what to expect when I started to practice yoga again. I watched yoga influencers I followed online doing handstands in the gym, on treadmills, and even have friends who continued to practice incredibly challenging inversions while in their third trimester. While I was happy for them, I knew that was not for me. My body was like a horse having the reins pulled on to say slow down. Even the slightest bit of a spin from a slow-paced carousel left me nauseous for hours on end. These physical changes require me to be realistic with my expectations. Shifting my focus away from the asanas’ physicality and aligning myself close to the philosophy of yoga, accepting and honoring myself where I am at, learning to let go of my go-to vinyasa practice, and opt for a more gentle approach for the time being. After my first prenatal class, I was hooked and observed the realization that the times I had pregnant women in my classes, unsure how to help them or what they were going through or needed, and suddenly I found myself understanding. Understanding how challenging it can be to move quickly, how we need extra space for the baby in our stance, how we need support to get up and down, and more. I finally got it.
I truly digested all that I had learned about myself versus the asana. Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to yawn the whole class time and move slowly as molasses, but it does mean that it’s pretty likely what your regular practice looks like will change,” it is going to be different for a while, and that’s okay.” Everybody is different, and there is a certain amount of genetic privilege in everyone’s body. So what’s important is to honor yours. You might be used to deep back-bending and fast-paced classes, and that might very well go out the window. Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to avoid everything that you would normally do, but it does mean you need to be open to changing what your practice looks like. There’s no need to be or look like anyone else. There’s no need to force yourself to continue to do what you always have. Your job is to take care of you and your baby the best you can. You have time. The pregnancy might seem long but is temporary, and adjusting your practice to serve your need is the essence of any yoga practice.
So if you’re like me, had no previous pregnancy experience, and are not sure what changes will show up to your body and practice might look like, here are a few examples of how I changed my approach with my pregnancy journey. First off, my energy levels had changed big time. Fast-paced vinyasa was not an option for me as I would get dizzy with different body positioning, standing up, and sitting down. I have come to appreciate the usage of props, like blocks, to help me get up slowly. Instead of stepping to the top of the mat, I now preferred to step back into standing postures and skip the usual forward fold and half-lift sequence when transitioning between poses. For me, stepping forward from the downward-facing dog was a no-no. Not only could I not reach my foot that far ahead like my pre-pregnancy shape, but it also was too fast and unstable with my baby-in-the-oven body shape, plus it just didn’t feel good. The solution, bring yourself to all fours. There is no shame in putting those knees down to get the foot forward. I’ve taught this transition in private sessions to people like runners who get pretty tight in the hips, and now I appreciate the minor adjustments for the first time in my life.
Another huge change for me was no plank. Not even for a moment with all the weight. I prided myself on a strong core and did lots of core work throughout my yoga practice, but this option was not for me as the baby-enhanced belly grew. Even doing a plank for a micro-second felt awful, especially as I got further along into the later trimester. I knew in my heart and body that this was not safe for me. That said, the side plank was still on my to-do list, but I needed a break in between sides or lowered onto my knees to find more stable side planks. A child’s pose becomes a great friend when you’re pregnant, and even that pose may need to be modified to meet you in comfort.
And last but not least, back bending. We love our backbends in yoga, and while we still need to get this action into our practice, it will likely look very different. Simple poses like Cat/Cow could not go as deeply and forget about Mermaid or Dancer pose looking or feeling the same as before. Again we are all different, and what is important is to find what works for you and to do that. Just remember that there is no shame in changing your yoga practice. All the new adjustments to shapes you used to do beautifully are equally beautiful with your pregnancy shape. I think you’ll find that once you’ve learned to see and experience what you do and don’t need, you are thankful just for the presence you’ve acquired through these actions. Once the baby arrives, these changes will undoubtedly continue. There’s no end of destination here, rather a journey on this yoga train, so get used to changing the practice that suits your life stages, embrace them and enjoy the ride.
By Jessica Waters
January 10, 2022