Yoga Pregnancy is always a topic that raises questions. Should I do yoga while pregnant, is it safe, how long into term can I do it and what poses are ok to do?
This image I am sharing with you is NOT intended for self-comparison whether you are currently, have ever been, or never intend to be pregnant. Simply, this is my experience that I hope may benefit you in some way.
A yoga teacher for over 15 years and pregnant for 8 months when I took this picture, this is my first embodied experience with pregnancy. I have taught yoga to and done body work on many pregnant ladies, and what I have witnessed most often are complaints of shortness of breath, back pain, edema, slow post partum recovery, and lack of abdominal contraction post delivery. Having now lived the journey first hand, I would like to share with you what I have learned. With that said, it is overwhelmingly important to trust one’s instinct, and practice what feels right.
Every body is unique and must be approached as such. Some woman have short torsos, therefore may have more heartburn or difficulty breathing earlier in their pregnancy. Other women have a great deal of elastin in their connective tissue and need more joint stabilization to carry the weight of the baby pain-free.
Prenatal shortness of breath is a result of an increase in the hormone progesterone to allow for greater lung capacity and to breathe more often for oxygen to be carried to the baby. As the baby increases in size, it will begin to push on the diaphragm, which may also cause shortness of breath. Our individual body shapes may contribute to how we breathe. If you carry your child high, the diaphragm will be compromised more so than if you carry low. I believe that the more malleable the diaphragm is BEFORE pregnancy, the better off your breath will be during pregnancy.
To stretch a diaphragm, practice uddiyana bandha: an abdominal lock created on exhale by a hollowing out of the abdominal cavity. Not only will it stretch the diaphragm allowing for greater breath capacity, it also tones the internal digestive organs and increases the power of the core. Please note that this is NOT a pregnancy exercise! This is work to be done BEFORE you are actually pregnant. You should never withhold breath while pregnant, as it would keep breath from your baby. The work one does before pregnancy is vital to 9 months of carrying as well as to ones recovery process.
TO AB OR NOT TO AB?
The disclaimer for abdominal work and pregnancy is that if you are high-risk, the first trimester may not be the time for you to push your abdominal exercises to their limit. In addition, the state of a women’s body before pregnancy has imperative value in deciding their prenatal workout. That said, I think the biggest crime passed down from doctors and teachers is telling their pregnant patients and students not to do abdominal exercises. As the belly grows and carries more weight, it pulls on the back musculature and spinal bones.
Of the many abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominus are the most superficial layer, the popularly named “6 pack.” These are five pairs of muscles that run vertically over the abdomen separated by a sheath of connective tissue known as the linea alba. The rectus abdominus are responsible for postural support as well as flexing the lumbar spine. This is the set of muscles most at risk for diastasis (tearing of the abdominal wall) and excessive strengthening should be avoided as it needs to stretch to accommodate baby. Still, it is valuable to have strength in the rectus in order to sit up from a chair relatively easily as well as be able to pick up your baby pain free, post birth.
My favorite abdominals to engage while pregnant are the oblique muscles. These diagonally crossing muscles essentially hug the baby like arms around your belly. The stronger their support, the less force of pull you will experience on your spine. My prefered oblique exercises are the revolved abdominal series as well as side plank. I was able to be on my back throughout my pregnancy and did these exercises all the way up until delivery. I am also happy to report that I had no back pain during any of my 9 months!
Lastly, there are the transverse abdominals. These run horizontally just beneath the internal oblique muscles from the hips to the ribs, even connecting to the diaphragm – like a girdle around your middle. They are responsible for providing pelvic and lower back stability as well as assist in pushing during delivery. If targeted during pregnancy as well as after, the transverse abs will support the return to your pre-pregnant belly. I do not wish to perpetuate the obsession with a “flat belly” 2 weeks post delivery as Hollywood encourages; instead I promote retaining stability and strength throughout one of the most physical transitions a mother will experience.
Edema is most often present during the third trimester and manifests as swelling in the ankles, legs, and hands as a result of an increase in fluid that collects in the tissue. It is also due to the growing uterus putting pressure on the vena cava (the vein that pumps the blood from the lower extremities back to the heart) that slows the return rate of blood causing it to pool. This is why pregnant women are encouraged to lay on their left side. Note that constant pressure on the left hip while attempting to avoid edema may result in hip joint pain from the imbalanced weight distribution. This requires pelvic and hip work such as the pelvic primer series to keep the pelvis in alignment. Not to mention the necessity for open hips during the labor process!
Inversions can also help reduce edema, though it is unknown what actually occurs to the blood and oxygen supply of a fetus while a mother is inverting. I have yet to hear of a women miscarrying due to inversions and have met many women who have chosen to invert while pregnant. I have also worked with many women who experience dizziness while inverting, an obvious sign that it is not meant for them. From the picture you can tell that for me, it worked. I loved being upside down with my daughter as well as learning how to use my abdominals to balance the new weight distribution.
I would not recommend beginning an inversion practice while pregnant, but if you have been upside-down pre-pregnancy, you are more likely to know if it feels appropriate. There are many more mild inversions than handstand, like viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) to alleviate leg and ankle swelling.
Along with stretching the legs frequently, walking is probably the best tactic for avoiding edema. On average I walked 4 miles a day up to my 9th month and was lucky to never experience swelling.
The state of a woman’s body pre-pregnancy has as much to do with hormone rebalance, uterus contraction, and the general return to pre-pregnancy conditions as genetics and discipline. As I write this I am just 2 months in to my own healing. I whole-heartedly believe that my recovery time has been aided by my physical discipline throughout my pregnancy. I must admit that I am quite stubborn in nature (an attribute gifted to me by my grandmother who is currently two weeks shy of 105 and played tennis well into her 90s) and my natural tendency was to immediately move my body again.
Post pregnancy, the body will continue to bleed when you have overexerted yourself, a tell tale sign of how to address your own healing process. There is also a huge difference between vaginal and cesarean birth recovery, the latter taking much longer.
There is still much left to be desired for our societies expectations of women and their individual physical/emotional/hormonal journey into motherhood. I often feel that eyes are especially upon me to see “How does the Yoga Chick look now?” What is most important is my physical and emotional ability to be present for my daughter which involves a constant negotiation between sleep, working out, and eating well. Some days I get the combination right, others end with ice cream. When I am able to make space for my yoga and other exercise, I feel the most balanced and able to be the mother I wish to be. This is also the most important time to listen to your intuition, and ask for support.
Along with Yoga Tune Up® exercises, you may want to schedule pregnancy massages and/or invest in a cheaper option, Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls. You can roll your own back, leg, and shoulder pain away any time of day or night!
Read our “Pregnant women have no fear” article.
Watch our Free Hip Fix Video.
Read about abdominal exercises for pregnant women.
Leg cramps during pregnancy? – Read about it here.
Yes! Every woman and every pregnancy is different and it’s important to mention it! The link between health before pregnancy, during and after is super relevant!
I often have pregnant women attending my classes and since I have not yet myself experienced the situation, it is nice to get some insight from another yoga teacher!
I like your thoughts on the importance of doing basic abwork during pregnancy. In my owrk as a prenatal yoga teacher as well as a doula, I find it astounding how many women are told not to do anything involving the abdominal muscles by their primary care team. And then they wonder why we have so many complaints about back pain, poor fetal positioning and difficulty with progressing in labor. By doing safe pelvic alignment poses and some work on the transverse abdominis and the obliques, we can avoid many a complication!
It is nice to read about someone else’s experience with pregnancy and yoga as a longtime practitioner! There is so much conflicting information out there. I especially liked hearing your theories on why abdominal work is still important during pregnancy, including ways to engage the obliques and rectus abdominus (specifically to add in post-partum recovery.) This makes so much sense!
Thank you Tiffany. Every guy who wants to teach yoga needs to read articles like this one. The reason is that we have our own limited views on what is advisable or unadvisable for pregnant women who want to maintain their yoga practice. Interestingly, every woman I know who has continued her yoga practice throughout her pregnancy has said they wouldn’t change a thing. Articles like this help clear things up. Thanks.
What a handstand during an 8 months pregnancy. The lady seems to be brave one. Her journey is quite adventures to read. A multitalented teacher.
Il est fréquent d’entendre des contrindications lorsqu’on parle de grossesses comme ne pas faire d’inversions. Comme il est mentionné dans ce texte, chaque personne est différent et il est important de garder cela en tête lorsqu’on conseille une personne peut importe si elle est enceinte ou non. Il est intéressant de connaître une pratique concrète qui nous permet d’améliorer notre diaphragme. Je recommande la lecture de cet article à tous afin de connaître les inquiétudes fréquentes et les solutions qui viennent avec.
I joined a prenatal yoga in dubai.It gives me mind relaxation in my pregnency.Happy mom, happy child.I refer you awesome places in dubai for pregnant mom:
http://fittpass.com/community/Fitness and Exercise/Best Fitness Exercise for Pregnant Moms
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. I am currently 7 months pregnant, a yoga teacher and am really connecting with your blog. I have been very curious about the post-natal period these days and loved your authentic voice about your 1st 2 months and the experience and tips during pregnancy. I have been working on preparing myself to not put so much pressure on how I look afterwards, or if I manage to be a super mom, just continue to strive for balance and go with the flow.
Thank you for this very informative article. A close friend of mine who practices yoga daily is recently pregnant and has been asking me a lot of questions about her practice and what to do and what not. I have warned her about over using her new flexibility but now I feel much more prepared to help her. I didn’t know about the relationship between pregnancy and the diagram, but it makes perfect sense, and it something I’m going to focus on in my practice before I become pregnant.
Great read! I am an avid yoga practicer and currently in my 200 hr training to become a teacher. As soon as the training ends, my husband and I will begin trying for our first child. This article gives a lot of insight into pregnancy and yoga – obviously since we’re all different in our bodies, the answer to should you practice while pregnant is ‘it depends.’ I know I will attempt to continue practicing while I’m pregnant and won’t know until I am how my body handles the pregnancy. After learning about the diaphragm in YTU workshop how it moves, the explanation about shortness of breath for pregnant women makes all the much more sense. I plan to continue to hone into my breathing exercises so that I can prepare for pregnancy as to better ready my body. I am grateful for yoga in my life every day, but after reading this article know I will be ever more so grateful for yoga when I am pregnant and all of the good it’s already done to my body!
Thank you again Tiffany, for all your wonderful posts about pregnancy! As a prenatal yoga teacher who’s now 11 weeks pregnant herself, I find myself struggling with how much I’m already feeling like I need to modify my practice. I have a strong practice and am at my YTU Teacher Training this week, and have been frustrated by how many things already feel “not quite right,” especially seeing Jill do all kinds of stuff at 35 weeks pregnant. I know that a huge part of this is just getting used to the fact that things are shifting in my own body and letting go a little bit of the need to get my body to move in a way that I think it should. I spend so much time with pregnant women who are brand new to yoga and for whom even the slightest amount of movement makes a huge difference, but it’s really inspiring to read about a yoga teacher’s personal experience with what worked and didn’t work for them. Now the challenge is to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me!
HI Stephanie! Congratulations! I hope your journey is filled with lots of light and surrender. 😉
Although I completely understand wanting the “Answer”, for me, this question has done more harm than good in the pregnant women I have worked with. It is unnecessary and for most self-critical, to compare any two pregnancies. The truth is you have no idea what the next 10 months will bring physically. There are too many factors deciding how you feel. Genetics, previous physical disciplines, injuries if any, current work load… Not to mention the unknown labor and immense shift of focus once baby is here.
I can share with you my personal journey of which I am currently embarking on number 2 due in 4 months. I taught 7 days a week up until the day I delivered my daughter. My intention was to take 2 weeks off but my daughter came 2 weeks early. I physically was capable of teaching all the way up until the end, however in retrospect I wish that I had taken more time off to prepare. The shift from working life into immediate motherhood was huge for me. I know that my ego was enjoying my ability to teach as long as I did, as well as my bank account for the fear of taking maternity leave and not knowing what would be waiting for me on the other side. Back then I only taught 2 classes a week and the rest private clients. Equinox gave me the space to come back after 3 months and emotionally I wasn’t ready until 4. I was blessed the they held my class for me to return to when I felt ready. I will say that I started back with 1 client at 2 months post because he was struggling with my sub. It was TOO EARLY for me.
I LOVE my work and never thought that it would have been hard for me after 3 months to return, Especially because I could leave to teach for an 1.5-2hrs and be back to my little bunny. It just happened to be that I didn’t want to be away yet. I would get anxiety leaving her prob until she was 6 months old and then I began to feel truly grateful for the break and balance.
With my second pregnancy I am a bit more tired because I have a two year old. I plan on taking a bit more time off before to spend the last few moments of just “daughter and husband” time as it will be the last. I anticipate it will be easier for me to return to working this time as I’ve been a mom already, but hormones are a mutha?$%&. Those puppies are strong, so only time will tell.
I hope my answer does not seem too long winded. I find pregnancy a passionate subject within a society that has pushed woman to do too much and compare too often. Allow yourself the freedom to change your mind, to not know, to honor the moment and to trust. Work will always be there, believe that. This major journey and transition will change who you are forever, and you are not supposed to know who you are about to become. Simply to experience it and be as kind to yourself as you will be to that beautiful baby. You are each being born after all.
Thanks so much for sharing this info. I’m a yoga teacher and have just discovered I’m pregnant. I know everyone is different but I’m wondering how soon you were back to teaching classes?
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Thanks for sharing, I have never been pregnant and often have pregnant students in my classes, this information is very helpful!
This hit so close to home 🙂 When I was pregnant with my son, over 4 years ago, I lost 12 lbs in my first trimester because of morning (aka all day) sickness. I was practicing yoga but cut back when my doctor told me to be careful while pregnant. I was so sick I had to do something, so I simply switched styles and started practicing a lot of kundalini yoga. I felt better within days. I had a great practice on the day I delivered. I had to push 5 times and my baby was out! I attribute all of this to practicing yoga while pregnant.
P.S. 🙂 For the ice-cream comment
As a Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher, I have seen a lot of women come into yoga for the first time when they are pregnant. It’s a great way to de-stress, practice relaxation and opening for labor and delivery, and keep their wildly-changing body supple. But these women are very different from the ones that already had an established yoga practice before they became pregnant. Those women do it all – inversions, twisting, Sun Salutations and back bends; everything right up to delivery. They are incredible and somewhat crazy! They’re also pretty darn lucky! The complications possible from doing yoga in a pregnant body are numerous. Keep in mind that the mother’s body produces hormones which soften the joints, and keeps producing elastin until the baby’s around a year old! So while this can mean greater flexibility, it does not mean more stability or strength. So it’s easy to get over stretched. Even walking can be painful when you’re pregnant.
And remember lying flat on your back while pregnant can compress the inferior vena cava, which can cut off the blood supply to baby.
That being said, to yogi or not to yogi while pregnant? Depends on the practice and the availability of willing teachers. But they ALL can get amazing benefits from using the YTU balls. Try changing the orientation so that the balls, together, are sandwiched between momma’s back and a wall, with the spine fitting into the groove between the balls. She can flex her knees and hips to roll up and down where it feels best. I’ve noticed with pregnant women it’s the lower back, and with post-partum moms it’s the upper. Enjoy!
Jamie~ SO very true!
I had a steady yoga practice for many years when I became pregnant with my first child. I got comments in class all the time, asking if what I was doing was safe. I modified my existing practice and paid close attention to how my body was feeling. With the first pregnancy, that worked perfectly and my practice soared. My second pregnancy was much different, and I wasn’t able to have the same practice. I listened to my body and didn’t force it. Its different for everyone and different every time.
During this past weekend of yoga teacher training we covered yoga during pregnancy and post-partum, so I felt compelled to read more about the topic. I would love more info because I feel like there is a lot of fear out there preventing moms-to-be (and yoga teachers!) from really exploring poses and exercises that could actually benefit the pregnancy and decrease the recovery time after. In the meantime I think it’s great to encourage any woman who is thinking about having a baby to start strengthening her diaphragm and abs in preparation for the changes she will experience when that baby is on its way. It’s great to be able to read about Tiffany’s experience of truly enjoying being pregnant.
Please write more on this subject! Especially about therapy ball contraindications! As a YTU instructor, I’ve always relied on the skills we developed to think out of the boxana both for teaching and devising exercises for people with particularly chronic issues. But I’ve shied away from working with moms-to-be because of all the vague warnings “out there.” And that’s unfortunate because who wants comfort and care more? I will tread very slowly but will follow your advice on abs and edema–great stuff!
As yogis we seek to understand our bodies. Being pregnant must be a fascination other dimension to experience. 🙂
Congratulations on your new baby. How awesome that you were able to continue your practice through your pregnancy. My first experience with yoga was eight years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I suffered with severe back pain and shortness of breath & yoga was the perfect balance for me. I felt so connected to my baby and to my body, it was wonderful. Thank you for the tips on how we can continue on our journey even through pregnancy.
I must admit, I was unsatisfied with your other blog on pregnancy and relaxin, but this blog I absolutely LOVED. It was so informative and educational, helpful and insightful. thank you so much for sharing!
thanks for this post, i am inspired to add some plank variatios for some of my prenatal students.
I really appreciate this blog, especially your discussion about abdominal muscles. Usually the sentiment is that ab work during pregnancy is a no-no, but your experiential writing about specific muscles and their role throughout pregnancy illuminates how strengthening certain muscles with awareness can actually be therapeutic in prenatal, birth, and postpartum stages. I’m trained in prenatal yoga, and the info you just presented gives me a broader context to understand they “why” of restricting certain ab work and consciously exploring others for their therapeutic benefits, of course all based upon the mama’s body and process.
Thanks for broadening my understanding of a woman’s body and the anatomy of birth!
[…] One Teacher’s Journey into Pregnancy… And Beyond! (Yoga TuneUp) […]
Tiffany raises many important issues for appropriate pregnancy practice, and I enjoyed reading about her personal practice and seeing the beautiful handstand photo. With alignment like that, a broader spectrum of safe practice in pregnancy is accessible. Inversions are best continued in pregnancy as part of an ongoing practice, and it is a good idea to have a wall nearby as proprioception and alignment adjust to the changing center of gravity as pregnancy progresses. Breathing enters the thoracic abode as abdominal breathing becomes less accessible. Abdominal exercises that are overly compressive can compromise pregnancy health and lead to miscarriage, but a sensible, individualized approach focuses on support and strength, eg. chair pose on a wall with blocks, plank. Deep backbends are best avoided during pregnancy to prevent the formation of a diastasis, the tearing of the linea alba, connective tissue that joins the rectus abdominus muscles in the midline. Revolved abdominal exercises, while appropriate for some, may represent too much twisting compression and cause strain for women who did not enter pregnancy with an abdominal practice. Working with knees bent may be preferable. Like many things in pregnancy, gentle exploration of ranges of motion in light of increased connective tissue elasticity is preferable to diving in and discovering injury. Practicing with awareness and acknowledging the small being who is a passenger in these explorations can create some beautiful duets.
This is a fantastic myth buster. Just six years ago, I couldn’t get a straight answer about abdominal work during pregnancy. I lost a lot of strength due to uncertainty and fear of making the birth more difficult in some way. Pregnancy and childbirth also de-stabilized my sacro-iliac joint quite a bit. Thanks for the post, it’s super well done 🙂
Oh Tiff – I wish you were here in San Diego! I miss yoga and wish I could find an instructor that I connected with. I’m so proud of you, not only for how gracefully you transitioned into pregnancy and motherhood but for sharing your experience and knowledge. I agree that in this day and age of doctors, so much woman wisdom is being lost or not shared!
Thanks for sharing Tiffany! Sounds like your little baby was a breeze during the 9 months. My mother is a gynae and I will be sending her this info asap.
I have noticed many women want to start a yoga practice as soon as they find out they have a bun in the oven. It mostly worried me because I would wonder about the space between their organs and whether it was the right time to embark on new movement. Most of the time, all they needed was some Viparita Karani to keep ’em happy! Hope you are enjoying being a mama.