Pregnancy yoga can help to prevent and relieve aches and pains, it can keep you physically and emotionally healthy throughout pregnancy, and it can prepare the body and the mind for giving birth. However, there are many safety considerations for yoga during pregnancy.
If you are new to yoga, the best way to be safe is to find a special pre-natal yoga class or a qualified pregnancy yoga teacher. Experienced yoga practitioners can often modify their existing practices or do a more gentle practice.
Should You Do Yoga During the First Trimester?
Many teachers (including my teachers in India) recommend that it is best to avoid yoga during the first trimester – especially if you have never done yoga before and/or if you have a history of miscarriage. The body goes through so many changes that it is a good idea to take a break from practice during this time.
From the second trimester onwards pre-natal yoga can be very helpful. During the third trimester the practice generally needs to be modified more and more, and being gentle and relaxed in practice becomes increasingly important.
Some postures should be avoided during pregnancy:
- deep twisting postures that put pressure on the abdomen
- postures that involve lying on the stomach
- postures that involve lying on the back for long periods of time
- postures that involve pressing the heel into the lower abdomen
- inverted postures: opinions seem to differ about shoulderstand and headstand during pregnancy, but pregnant women are generally discouraged from doing inverted postures especially during the third trimester. Read the online article Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy by Betty Lai for a detailed explanation why you should not do a headstand during pregnancy. There are stories about women who happily did headstands when nine months pregnant, but these are generally very experienced practitioners with years of daily advanced practice behind them, and they are exceptions to the rule.
Some yoga postures should be modified during pregnancy:
- in seated and standing forward bends, spread the legs to give more space to your growing belly
- instead of lying on your back when relaxing, try lying on your (left) side in a fetal position and use pillows, rolled towels or bolsters under your head, between your legs and between your arms to make yourself comfortable.
General Safety Tips for Pre-Natal Yoga
- if a posture puts strain on your body or if you feel discomfort while in the posture, come out of it. Don’t feel like you should be able to do what you normally do.
- if you have morning sickness, consider waiting for it to stop until you start practice during the 2nd trimester. To avoid feeling sick, don’t practice on an empty stomach. Stay hydrated through practice.
- make sure to relax after the practice. Deep breathing and relaxation become especially important as the pregnancy advances.
After giving birth, wait at least three months (normal birth) or 5-6 months (C-section) before you start your yoga practice again.
The Sivananda Yoga Centre: The New Book of Yoga (Revised Edition, Ebury Press, London, 2000)
Betty Lai: Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy (online article on ashtanga.com)
Photo: YoGeek Mami (Flickr.com)