There is so much conflicting information about what to do and what not to do in everything in life and especially while pregnant. But I think the one thing that is really important to remember is you are your own best judge. You know best about what feels good and does not feel good. It is your body and your yoga practice. Of course there are general guidelines of what to do and what not to do when practicing yoga while pregnant. But always the most important rule is to honor your body, you are no longer just practicing for you, you are also practicing for another life.
If you regularly practice yoga pre pregnancy you can usually continue to practice in the way you feel comfortable. This means that while you want to be prepared to have alternatives there is no need to must make modifications to an asana if you are still comfortable including pressing up into inversions. But note pregnancy is not the time to be learning new and challenging things and note most big backbends and hand balancing wont feel good after a certain point. It is best to practice with a feel good intention and safety in mind, rather than a push and advanced mentality. Keep in mind that there are never two pregnant people or pregnancies a like. It is always different that is why it is critical to listen to your body.
Here are some basic principles or guidelines you can take in to account to make yoga more friendly for your pregnancy.
Make room for the Baby:
As the pregnancy progresses, many asanas in their traditional alignment can start to feel restrictive or uncomfortable. So it is important to start modifying asanas so they do not compress the belly. Things like using a prop, such as blocks for forward bends and staff pose or opening legs wider to allow room and decrease compression of the belly. Avoid lying on your belly especially after first trimester. In place of belly backbends, you can lift yourself higher if you want to continue by using blocks or simply start using positions on all fours like cat and cow or arm and leg extensions. Compression also includes compressive twists. Instead try open twists. This basically means “twist in the direction opposite to that of everyone else.” Pregnant yogis should also focus on opening up through the chest as they twist, not twisting from the belly.
The hormone relaxin increases flexibility during pregnancy to help prepare the body for birth. Because the influx of relaxin causes the ligaments to become laxer, pregnant yogis should take extra care not to overstretch. If overstretching occurs it can lead to joint and pelvic instability and or pulled ligaments (which also take a long time to heal). To avoid overstretching it is best to focus your practice more towards strength and stability rather than flexibility.
If inversions, feel good you can continue to practice them. But please note it is a good idea near the end of the first and beginning of the second trimester to avoid inverting (10-23 weeks). This is when the placenta is attaching to the uterine wall. It is also best if you are inverting to avoid long inversions instead stick to around 30 seconds or less. Alternative option to inversion work would be supported bridge pose with a yoga block under the sacrum and feet on the floor or legs in the air is a great friendly option.
As center of gravity changes the lower back pain is a very common complaint. It is common to have an extra archy lower back (excessive lumbar lordosis) in many pregnant women. Many people think a quick tall tuck would be the solution but more often than not that can cause problems especially during pregnancy. Excessive lordosis and an excessively tucked pelvis are not mutually exclusive (which explains why you will often see the two go hand in hand). Often the “extra-archiness” will be in the upper part of the lower back, and an action in the pelvis (like tucking) isn’t really going to make much difference. Combine this with the fact that chronic tail tucking can weaken the pelvic floor (not exactly something that we want during pregnancy, or at all really). The best option is to draw the sides of the waistline back, or even placing a hand on the lower back and to “breathe here,” can be useful ways to go about this. (“Draw your low ribs back” can be an okay for non-pregnant yogis and those in their first trimester, but during the later parts of pregnancy the low ribs become less of an accessible reference point!)
Admittedly, none of this is quite as “quick and easy” as “tuck your tail,” but ultimately, it’s more than worth it to take the time to do good pelvic alignment (pregnant or not), and to find alternatives to tail tucking (even if they take a little longer to explain at first).
For example plank/chaturanga can encourage pregnant yogis to practice these poses with their knees on the floor, which will be more stable and supportive for their lower backs than practicing the poses in their traditional forms. (And it goes without saying that lowering all the way to the floor in chaturanga should be avoided! Stick with a few well-aligned “ half chaturanga push-ups” instead.)
Kumbhaka no more:
Breath retention such as practice like Kumbhaka (bhastrika and kapalabhati) are best to be avoided during pregnancy as they are such powerful practices. Instead it is best to just breathe smoothly, continuously and evenly. Great breath practices during pregnancy include nadi shodanam (alternative nostril breathing) or bhramari (bumble bee breath).
Avoid Lying on your Back if unsure or no comfortable:
Is it really dangerous for pregnant yogis to practice a traditional shavasana (corpse pose), or supine stretch?
The answer (of course!) is “it depends.” The reason why this caution is given is that as baby continues to grow, lying flat on the back for an extended period of time can compress the inferior vena cava (an important vein which returns deoxygenated blood from the lower body back to the heart). When this happens, it tends to be pretty uncomfortable. Bottom line try savasana alternatives when pregnant, and I encourage you to honor your bodies and to change positions if you start to feel nauseous, dizzy, or uncomfortable.
Tips for Modifying Savasana:
If you are no longer comfortable lying flat on your back, you can practice a side-lying savasana or a propped “incline” savasana instead. For the side-lying variation, you should lie on your left sides (since the vena cava is on the right side of the body). A block, bolster, blanket, or pillow between the knees may help make this position more comfortable, and resting the head on a pillow or folded blanket, hugging a pillow bolster, or covering up with a blanket are other ways that you can make side-lying shavasana extra cozy and supportive.
For the incline variation, elevate the far end of a bolster with a yoga block or two, so that when you lie over the bolster (with your bottom on the floor and your back on the bolster) your head is above your heart). A second bolster or rolled blanket under the knees can feel especially nice here, and may help to relieve lower back discomfort.