It’s no secret that your body is different during pregnancy. You are evolving and the way you work out should as well.
The majority of healthy women can continue, or even start, exercising when they become pregnant. It’s key. Though, to learn how to modify your workout so that you can comfortably exercise through the end of your pregnancy.
When it comes to yoga, there are a number of key modifications, both physical and mental, to keep in your back pocket before you carry on with your practice while pregnant.
Here are 12 simple modifications for practicing yoga while pregnant. As a reminder, before beginning or continuing any workout routine you should seek the advice of your doctor or medical team.
Choose a spot with good air flow.
If you’re practicing yoga while pregnant at a studio, arrive a little early to place your mat near the door, where you likely receive a bit more breeze throughout the class. It’s important that you stay cool during a workout as your body is not regulating your temperature the way it normally would. You can meet with your instructor beforehand to let him or her know you’re pregnant. Your instructor should provide specific yoga modifications for your body and general advice for the class itself. And if you’re practicing at home, you can take the same approach by practicing in a cool space or near a window to avoid overheating.
Some styles of yoga and some yoga instructors will ask that you do not drink water during class. It is occasionally viewed as a distraction as well as a way to “put out the fire” instead of building up internal heat. But, when you’re doing yoga while pregnant, it’s critical to stay hydrated—which means you should drink water during yoga class if that’s what feels right for your body and baby.
Connect with your breath.
“Focus on connecting with your breath during each and every yoga practice,” says Emilie Browne, a 200 RYT-certified yoga instructor. “It’s great practice for labor and also calms the mind and nervous system.” If you think that sounds easy, just wait until you get further along in your pregnancy! Skip any yoga while pregnant that involves holding your breath or exploring intense breath exercises, and instead prioritize cultivating a smooth, even breath with a maintainable in-out flow, matching the length of each inhale to each exhale.
The larger your belly gets, the more your center of gravity will change, which means your sense of balance also shifts. “Place your mat near a wall or something sturdy to assist with balance,” says Browne, and utilize extra props such as blocks or folded up yoga blankets for additional support. Using these can help you modify favorite poses. For example, try keeping your foot on your shin or even lightly touching the ground in tree pose versus putting your foot closer to your groin.
Even in poses that aren’t traditionally associated with balance, you may feel wobbly. You can use blocks in postures like extended side angle, wide-legged forward fold, and triangle pose to support you and keep you from falling.
Avoid laying on your belly or chest after the first trimester.
Laying on your belly or chest, particularly after the first trimester is a big no-no for pregnant women who practice yoga. Some women will have no issue with the first 5-12 week period of pregnancy, depending on how their body expands. Others will feel very uncomfortable putting any pressure on the front of the body. That’s why there’s room for choice in the first trimester but, after that, shift to modifying postures on your hands and knees or moving to your side.
Be mindful during any stretch.
Though it may not feel like it on a day-to-day basis, your body during pregnancy is continually expanding to make room for baby—and that includes your insides as well as your outsides. It’s easy to pull a muscle or overdo a stretch when expecting a baby so, focus on building strength and stability versus flexibility as a whole. For example, there’s no need to touch your toes with every forward fold; just enjoy a gentle stretch forward with wide legs instead!
Avoid deep twists.
The 411 on twisting while pregnant: you can do some twists, but not all. Avoid deep twists that cross the body, compress your middle line and “close” off your midsection or chest area as these types of twists decrease circulation. What’s okay? Twists that are considered “open” and do not cross the body, which usually looks like twisting in the opposite direction of what’s “normal” in a yoga class. Another option during yoga while pregnant is to add inside bends that stretch your low back and side-waist muscles. Really, any mini-twist that keeps your belly and heart open are safe, as long as they feel okay in your body.
Take wider stances with forward folds of any kind.
As your pregnancy continues, deep forward bends can start to feel restrictive and uncomfortable. Rather than feeling like you can’t do them, view it as a chance to explore different alternatives that make more space for baby. (“Make space for baby” will become your new yoga while pregnant mantra, if you couldn’t already tell!) Taking a wider stance in any forward fold, including downward dog, may feel good. Putting blocks under your hands in a standing forward bend or lounge may also help you extend your spine and reduce compression on the belly.
Consider lying on your side versus lying on your back.
The biggest risk of lying flat on your back while pregnant involves the potential to compress the inferior vena cava, which is a vein that brings blood from the lower body back to your heart. When this happens, you’ll feel extreme discomfort—so in some ways, you’ll know when it’s no longer okay to spend time on your back as an expecting mother who practices yoga. Your body will most likely tell you—loudly.
Another option is to move to your left side (since the vena cava is on the right side of your body) or prop your body up to a slight incline. For the side-lying version, use a block, bolster, blanket, or pillow between the knees while resting your hand on a pillow or folded blanket to make this pose cozy and restorative. For the inclined variation, use a bolster or block to lift your head a few inches above your heart, and place the second bolster or rolled blanket under your knees.
When it comes to yoga modifications, most teachers will say no inversions while pregnant, but (and this is a big “but”), you technically can continue to practice them if they feel okay in your body and you are already well-versed in them. Stick to 30 seconds or less (no long holds) and use a wall for extra support or balance. If you have never tried an inversion pre-pregnancy, don’t do it now!
Chances are high that your body will naturally prefer less intense inversions throughout your pregnancy, so remember you can practice poses like downward dog (from knees or feet), upright half or full pigeon, extended side angle (with a block), low wide squat (with a block under your seat), half moon (with a block and against a wall), dolphin (downward dog on forearms with wide legs), or even bridge (with a block under your sacrum). All of these options invite more stability and therefore make your inversion experience safer while pregnant.
Reduce ab work.
For many women, the loss of abdominal strength is a hard reality to face while pregnant, but think of it this way: your ab muscles are still working hard buried way down in your body. Strengthening your pelvic floor and maintaining the overall stability of your inner core helps with baby positioning throughout pregnancy and eventual labor and delivery. In the meantime, lose the sit-ups and full planks for exercises such as leg lifts from hands and knees, planks from your knees, cat/cow movements and boat pose with heels placed on the ground. Focus on maintaining versus adding core strength in the form of ab workouts.
Trust your body.
If something doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right for you. Come out of the pose and take a break, explore another posture or ask your teacher for a different modification.
Another tip: think about how you can get the same benefits out of a different way of doing the pose. For example, if a teacher cues a heart opener from the belly, you can do a modified camel pose to work the same muscle groups minus any of the risk to your body or baby.
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