Updated: May 5, 2021
I won't just give you the modifications, but explain the thinking behind them, so you can develop your own safe modifications. This is my comprehensive summary of how to actually think about modifying your own existing practice.
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NEVER push through pain. AND observe if pain comes a bit later, after class, even if it felt good in class, and ask a physio about it (happy to recommend women's physios, I've used 3 myself).
cardiovascular, respiratory & balance changes continually throughout your pregnancy.
In English this means:
- you might get dizzy, lightheaded or even faint easily due to your body literally pumping 50% more blood than normal while building a whole other human
- you'll be out of breath more: that 50% more blood requires that much more oxygen, plus you are ever heavier so you end up needing to breathe more, literally
- your balance / centre of gravity is forever shifting as your baby grows, so adapt for that
- not to mention: lack of space in general which can cause nausea/ feeling ill, and generally needing to physically adjust your posture to accommodate the other being you're building inside
To learn more about this from me and my physiotherapist, check out Mama Empower!
Think: Baby breathes as you breathe.
a) exhale through mouth is encouraged
- in traditional yoga we are often encouraged to breathe in and out through the nose; try doing that in labour hahaha
- when you're pregnant, your average temperature is higher than normal and creating heat in the body is not a goal anymore, in fact its preferable to keep the body temp steady and cool it when it gets hot (whereas 'normal' yoga often aims to create more heat in the body)
- Exhaling the breath through pursed lips, as if you were blowing out a candle, is a nice way to work with the pressure that encouraged activation of the pelvic floor
b) Pranayama: don't hold, pump (kappalabhati) or force the breath
- (ie. avoid most of the classic pranayama exercises); if the class you're doing includes these, you can do a simple long inhale and a long exhale (4-6 breaths each) as your version of the pranayama exercise.
2. Stance, Balance & Space
Think: you don't want to fall and hurt yourself or your babe.
- modify most standing poses with: feet bump width distance apart, knees soft/bent and wider (tracking over feet)
- your point of gravity is ever shifting with your growing bump, and your brain has to constantly readjust for it in order to keep you balanced while moving and standing; so DO stand with wider legs generally, potentially a shorter stance than normal to retain stability, even while doing warriors etc. partly to balance better, but also to make space for the bump when you fold forward for example;
- similar with seated forward folds, you'll need to keep space for your bump, so legs together is less and less of a sensible option as you progress, you do NOT want to compress the belly
3. Holding poses:
- it is better to not hold poses for a full 5 breaths (that a traditional hatha/ashtanga based class would hold for): when you're pregnant you have 50% more blood and holding any pose extended and statically can cause circulation issues/decrease in circulation, so keep poses flowing and dynamic as long as that feels good;
4. Keep belly open & safe
Think: Don't compress or stretch belly (or your baby!)
- don't lie on belly
- leave space for it in forward folding & twisting
- lift ribcage off the baby (avoid slouching)
- avoid deep backbending - to keep belly safe, more below
5. Twists Think: as above, you don't want to compress the baby's space more
- Naval forward, twist from ribcage upward (thoracic spine rather than lumbar/lower back)
- modify. avoid closed twists
Think: you'll already have a tendency to overbend in your lower back
- this can cause lower back pain
- aim to keep lower back neutral and instead
- open from the chest and shoulders
avoid deep backbending - you might be able to do do it, but the more you do it, the more you'll encourage the separation of your abdominal muscles, and why would you want your postnatal rehab to be even harder than it needs to be? (or the alternative, your insides herniating out between your abs... better not to think about that too long!)
7. Head below the heart
If you feel dizzy/ light headed OR hearthburny/nauseous OR if it just doesn't feel good, then modify ALL poses where your head goes below your heart (e.g. Forward fold, down dog, bridge)
- Use the wall, or lean on a table or sturdy chair, blocks/cushions etc. to modify everything from your 'normal' practice
8. Upside down:
Think: What's the risk and is it worth it, why do i want to do it?
= if you feel rock solid in your inversions, i.e. there's no real risk of falling, and you really want to do them, then until your baby is in position and as long as you don't spend much time there, this is kind of up to you.
- However, you still want to avoid compressing the belly and it is hard to get upside down without doing that at least for a bit;
- also once the baby is in position, eg. from 34-36 weeks onwards potentially, you just don't really want to mess with that by confusing your bodies with up and down; labour is tricky enough as it is!
9. Adjusting traditional Surya Namaskar / sun salutations: I'll post a video later, but the long and short of it is, adapt from the above: - feet bump width apart (instead of together) - if dizzy, slow it down, leave out bits, modify with wall, etc. - instead of cobra, I recommend a push up and a cat cow maybe depending on pace
10. Learning new poses: You don't know what you don't know: Think: If I've not done it much before, I won't know if it feels funny/bad or not. - Now is not the time to try learn new and harder yoga poses; if you have done them regularly you'll know when your body feels weird about it; but if you've not done them much before you won't be able to tell if your body is feeling just 'normal weird' or 'not good weird'.
11. Not the time to push the limits: Think: What's really important is to stay healthy, well and enjoy your pregnancy. = Not to push limits of fitness or flexibility - don't worry, you'll have plenty of sense of accomplishment just having made a human being and getting them out (in whichever way they come out!).
- is encouraged!
Think: 'Sleeps like a baby' is an absolute lie.
While it is also good to move, rest as much as you like during your practice.
Sleep will be scarcer and scarcer for the next years. so use this logic.
Any questions, comments, please let me know :) email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And finally, one more thought:
13. Move Think hunter gatherer - if they didn't do it much, then our bodies aren't really designed to do it much especially while under the extra pressures of creating and carrying another human. Squatting, standing up, picking things up, strolling on uneven ground - they did a lot of that. Sitting on chairs and typing.. much less.