Sep 28, 2015

Postures to Avoid During Pregnancy


A common question from those who have just found out they are pregnant is, “Do I need to change how I practice when I find out I am pregnant?”

The answer is 100% up to you, your doctor or midwife, and your body. But, those of us who have training in prenatal yoga would say definitely yes. The trimester, prior yoga experience, fertility challenges and your energy level will all play a role in the choices that you make while on the mat. Although we do not have any scientific evidence that states what postures should be avoided, intuitively we can be pretty certain of some basic rules for pregnancy. As my teacher Jessica Jennings always says the one hard rule for a safe and empowered prenatal yoga practice is to simply ‘make space for baby’.

So, which postures intuitively do not make space for baby? Those should be limited or avoided all together during pregnancy. Here is a general list:

Closed Twists These poses are meant to help activate the internal organs by putting extra pressure on them. When a woman is pregnant there is already a lot of pressure on the internal organs. Twists are also beneficial for the spine, so while pregnant it is not necessary to avoid them entirely. Open twists are great and should be done from the upper body without any compression on the belly. This is true in all three trimesters.

Belly up Abdominal work: Doing abdominal work during pregnancy is not recommended, even in the first trimester. Come back to that simple rule: make space for baby. Tightening the abdominal muscles can increase the possibility of diastasis recti as well. Modified planks and spine strengtheners on the hands and knees are a great way to stay strong.

Deep backbends: Because of the extra pressure on the lower back and the loss of core awareness during pregnancy deep backbends can be agitating. Deep backbends can also contribute to diastasis recti, especially as the belly grows in size.

Postures that compress the belly: cobra or any of the locust variations should be avoided after the first trimester, or sooner if it doesn’t feel good. This is simply because it compresses the belly. Also, any forward folds should be modified so that there is no compression on the belly by widening the legs or using props.

Inversions: Some believe that inversions should be avoided altogether during pregnancy. I do not think that this is necessary. It all depends on your practice prior to pregnancy and what feels good in your body. Remember down dog and forward folds are inversions. I think, intuitively, avoiding inversions such as headstand, handstand and forearm balance during the first and third trimester is wise. The first trimester is the most vulnerable time of the pregnancy and in the third trimester your center of gravity has changed quite a bit. The only time in the third trimester when it might make sense to do handstand (at the wall) would be if there is a ton of pressure in the pelvic area or if baby is breech and you are hoping to flip baby head down.

Lying flat on back: After week 16 this should be avoided for long periods of time because it can put a lot of pressure on the internal organs and/or compress the vena cava, the major artery that carries blood to the heart. Therefore, savasana can be done propped up on a bolster, lying on the left side, or legs up the wall.

Balancing Poses: These do not need to be avoided, but just keep in mind that as your belly grows your center of gravity changes and balance may become more challenging. Modifying or setting yourself up near a wall may be helpful when balance just doesn’t come as easily as it did before pregnancy.

Also, while pregnant the body produces a hormone called relaxin. In preparation for childbirth, it relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens and widens the cervix. This will likely make you feel much more flexible than before pregnancy. This can feel really amazing, especially if flexibility is something that was a struggle before. However, be very cautious not to push too deeply into postures to avoid damage to these ligaments. Focus mostly on stability rather than flexibility during this time.

Ultimately, when on the mat keep your intention towards nurturing yourself and creating a safe space for your baby to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yoga asana can support a healthy pregnancy as long as the goal remains ‘make space for baby’.

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