Can You Practice Yoga While Pregnant?
The number one question I receive as a pregnant yoga teacher and student is: can you do that?
Well, yes. And no. And maybe. It depends! If you do a quick Google search on "prenatal yoga" or "practicing yoga while pregnant", you'll quickly find that opinions range across the board regarding what you should and shouldn't do in terms of getting your ommmmm on. It can be very confusing! This post marks the beginning of a little series offering tips and guidance on practicing yoga while pregnant to hopefully answer some common questions.
The bottom line: pregnant or not, practicing yoga can lead to increased stamina and strength, reduced stress, improved balance, reduction of tension throughout the body, better circulation and a calmer nervous system. Additionally, yoga often fosters a deeper connection between mind and body and a higher awareness of varied sensations and emotions. Taking the time to slow down, tune in, and breathe can work wonders on your relationship with yourself and other people.
All of the above is true for men, women and children as well as expecting mamas.
But, of course, pregnant woman have something else to think about -- a little baby growing inside of them! That fact doesn't mean you cannot practice yoga; it just means you need to keep a few key guidelines in mind:
Talk to your doctor.
This is the number one, most important thing before starting or continuing any exercise, including yoga, while pregnant. Make sure you've got the A-OK from your health care team before making any decisions about your fitness during this period of growing a human being.
Find a qualified teacher and/or studio.
Ask around; look online. Prenatal-specific yoga studios are an amazing way to add yoga to your life and routine, but you can also take varied level classes at all kinds of studios.
Be sure to tell your instructor that you are pregnant. He/she should be able to give you an honest description of what you can expect in the class, as well as provide modifications before, during and after the class. If your teacher reacts with any attitude of "well . . . I don't know" to hearing that you are expecting, or in some way makes you feel unsupported, find a different instructor.
Also, don't be afraid to ask if the instructor is trained to teach pregnant students! Most anyone with a 200-hour certification has learned the basic fundamentals of guiding a pregnant student through a yoga practice, and some teachers are additionally, specially certified. Clarify the little things -- no question is silly -- like, "Can I bring water into class? If I feel tired or overheated or anything kind of iffy, can I stop practicing? Can I step out of the room if I need a momentary break?"
Above all, go to a teacher who helps you to feel empowered and/or a studio that prioritizes your safety.
Listen to your body.
Some days you'll feel great. And some days you won't. Some days you'll make it to a class and feel crazy strong and badass; some days you will feel so incredibly annoyed by all the things you "can't" do. Some days you will begin a practice, at home or at a studio, and then realize, nope, not happening today. All of that is fine.
Whether you're pregnant or not, yoga is intended to help you become more in tune with what's going on in your mind, body and spirit. Listen for your own cues.
Set your ego aside.
Every time I aim to practice nowadays, I remind myself: this is not about you right now. I mean, it is -- I go for my own mental and physical reasons -- but I'm not the one in charge, entirely. The baby is! I'm responsible for making sure my yoga practice is a safe choice, one that benefits me. What my yoga practice looks like changes on a daily basis, and my job is to pay attention to how I feel -- essentially, how the baby feels -- to figure out what is possible for me in a given moment. This setting aside of ego is both rewarding and frustrating, sometimes all at once.
Again, this is something any yogi practices both on and off the mat. But it's important to keep it at the forefront when you're growing a little person inside you.
A yoga practice while pregnant is an on-going journey that requires constant reevaluation and awareness. Again, it's not cut and dry, and there isn't one path for everyone. I remember seeing other pregnant teachers and students, in years past, who were totally whooping my ass in plank pose or ardha chandrasana during a heated practice, and I know of others who checked out entirely after the first trimester. An asana practice (the physical part of yoga) can be wonderfully complementary to your pregnancy journey, but it might not be the best choice for you. If it isn't, note that there are a many other ways to add yoga to your life, such as through breathwork and/or meditation.
So remember: there can be a whole lotta yes:
YES, keep practicing if you've cleared it with your doctor or OB-GYN.
YES, keep practicing if you already have an established yoga practice. By established, I would suggest at least 3-6 months of weekly practice with a credible instructor.
YES, keep practicing it feels good and safe to your body, mind and spirit.
And some very clear no's:
NO, do not add a yoga practice to your exercise routine if your doctor does not recommend it, due to reasons such as a high-risk pregnancy.
NO, do not practice yoga if you feel tired or sick the vast majority of the time. (Focus on getting sleep and nutrients instead!)
NO, do not practice yoga if you feel unsafe with an instructor, if the class seems too hard or hot for your comfort level, if any part of you (body, mind, spirit) does not feel like it's a good idea for you right now.
And a ton of maybe-babys:
MAYBE practice yoga at a prenatal studio if you've never done yoga before, ever.
MAYBE practice yoga if you find that regular movement and exercise increases your energy levels, but be willing to make adjustments.
MAYBE practice yoga after talking to qualified teachers or students who have practiced while pregnant to learn about modifications, potential issues, and ways to manage your new body and abilities.
For the most part, I feel strongly that yoga can be a wonderful tool and an amazing way to prioritize health and fitness while expecting a baby. I feel grateful that my body allows me to practice, now halfway through my pregnancy, and I hope these tips that I've learned by way of experience are helpful to you.
In posts to come, I'll provide some more detailed information regarding practicing yoga during your first, second, and (eventually) third trimesters -- as well as what it's like to teach yoga while expecting a baby.
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm a RYT-200 with Yoga Alliance. All opinions are my own, and the words above are based on my personal experiences as both a teacher and a student who has practiced for 7+ years both pregnant and non-pregnant. Talk to your doctor first if you are practicing yoga while pregnant or exploring that as an option.