Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to stop practicing yoga. If you’re one of the lucky ones like me, with an unpleasant pregnancy experience that has left you nauseous for months and unable to do much yoga except to cope with your new pregnancy daily life, then, by all means, wait to start practicing again. But, if you’re feeling up for it, there’s no reason why you can’t practice yoga and have fun doing it. As a long-time practitioner and yoga teacher, I have loved vinyasa practice for many years. However, yoga practice does not have to be fast and vigorous all the time; it has to serve you and your life stages. You might be able to do more or less than me, so try things out and see what works for you. I have learned to adjust my approach to yoga to fit my pregnancy body, and below are a few tips to help you modify the practice to support you and your baby bump.
Modified Sun Salutations
Practicing Sun Salutation A and B with a baby bump may be too much as your body goes thru pregnancy changes. Instead, opt for a different kind of sun salutation. It’s fast and vigorous, which can leave you feeling depleted and feeling like you are in an endless dizzy spell with everything around you spinning. There are many ways to do this, but my favorites include Tadasana to a Prenatal Forward Fold. Forward Fold to a Child’s Pose; from Child’s Pose to a Prenatal Lizard Pose with blocks, then from Child’s Pose or Downward-Facing Dog to the second round of Prenatal Lizard on the other side. Using props like blocks is the most brilliant move, as they are great for a stable transition when firmly placed under the hands for the lizard pose. They also give you extra room to help you step forward from a Downward-Facing Dog or a Child’s Pose to a Prenatal Forward Fold.
Modified Transition: Downward Dog to Stepping Forward Fold
Never in my life did I imagine that I would need to surrender to the yoga teaching of Ahimsa, or “non-violence”; throw my ego out the window, stop feeling frustrated with the physical yoga practice, and accepting my current state completely, no matter how incapable I am at the moment.
Before pregnancy, transitioning from the downward dog to a forward with a jump was a breeze for me; little did I know that when the body changes with pregnancy, it takes A LOT of energy to step forward from a downward dog to a lunging position. The extra toll and weight definitely can leave you feeling depleted and plain not feeling very good! Instead, break down the transition into baby steps, and opt for moving from a downward dog into a tabletop position, on your hands and knees, then slowly work your way up to a lunging position, add a little challenge with arms in the air for a warrior pose or open yourself to either the right or left for a wide-legged stance goddess pose.
Use Blocks to Get Up and Down
Front-heavy much? Having a baby in your belly can take up a lot of frontal space and make you feel cramped. As the baby bump grows, your center of gravity shifts forward. The growing bump also adds extra load on joints, which means more work for the back muscles.
You may be more aware of your changing body and size in between poses. So when faced with balance issues, equip yourself with a couple of blocks. Blocks perform the magical task of making your arms longer to reach with ample space and length as your bump grows.
Sit on Props to Elevate the Spine
If you’ve never needed to elevate your bum higher with seated poses, boost those seats up with blankets, blocks, bolsters, or towels to help you keep your back long and strong. Hunching over in poses like Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose, or Seated Wide-Legged forward fold is even more challenging with the extra weight on the front side now.
Stay Open is Twisting Poses
Be mindful when you are doing the twist. I’m sure you’ve heard it before; it is not safe to deeply twist in a closed twist while pregnant. It can even be hard to cross your legs as the baby may start bobbing you, letting you know that they are being squished! Instead, open that twist. Avoid doing anything that could harm the baby. Remember, your body is changing and flooding with hormones to sustain the pregnancy. Honor the time and body now and let your practice change to serve your current being.
Say NO to Rectus Abdominus Core Work
Baby is growing right in the center of your belly. Let that bump shine, and follow your doctor’s guidance and measurements for a safe and healthy pregnancy. While maintaining a strong core is essential, it’s also important not to focus on the expanding midriff or waistline while the baby is growing. Save Boat Pose or Full Plank Pose after the pregnancy. In the meantime, opt for modified versions with planking on the knees or side planking with knees up or down and work that side core. Always take a break when you need to as it is not ideal to be out of breath as the baby will also receive less oxygen. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can still speak a few words. Otherwise, you have gone too far.
Stay Off Your Belly
This one is a no-brainer. Any poses that require you to be in a prone position (belly on the floor) are off-limits during your pregnancy. You’ll need to stay away from this until the baby arrives and take it even further by waiting after your postpartum period or the first six weeks following childbirth. While I can’t think of any way to modify Shalanbhasana or the Locust Pose, I recommend trying a prenatal cobra with plenty of blankets or bolster underneath the front of your thigh to create more space and distance between the growing baby bump and the floor. Cobra Pose feels so good, and after spending a lot of time more leaned forward, getting those shoulders back and heart shining is necessary.
Yes, please do practice balancing postures, but do so safely. Our bodies are holding weight much differently than they used to, and what’s most important is to keep our baby and us safe. Try using a wall in standing postures, but come off the wall if you find it’s not needed. Also, start with an easier variation first. While you might usually do a Tree Pose with a side bend or the number 4 pose without support, things likely have changed. Start with an easier variation and level up to a more challenging variation once you’ve determined it’s steady and safe. For the confident yogi-mama-to-be, you might want to take the Half Moon Pose with assistance from a block. You may even want to try a kneeled version to find the proper alignment for balancing with the baby bump. These changes are new even to the most seasoned practitioners—the beauty of balancing postures is understanding your body weight distribution before, during, and after pregnancy.
Whether you are practicing at home by yourself, online with a zoom group class, or in person with people next to you flowing fluidly between postures, know that you do not need to keep up with anything that does not serve you. Take breaks, pause and laugh or cry when you need to. All is good. Remember that pregnancy is a temporary state; you are growing a baby inside, and while not being able to do what you used to do is frustrating and lengthy, it is only nine whole months of taking it easy. My doctor informed me that a good rule of thumb is that, If I cannot say more than two words, I’ve gone too far. Know when to stop and be okay with it.
I hope you find these modified prenatal practice suggestions helpful. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you want to do for your body, and I encourage you to explore and embrace it all.
By Jessica Waters
January 25, 2022