Prenatal yoga: Listening to Baby
One of the most valuable lessons of my yoga journey has been learning to listen to my body. Being present in each moment, each pose, each breath enables me to recognize when I am pushing too hard (and my alignment suffers as a result) or, contrarily, when my body can handle more before reaching my soft edge. Finding, and respecting, the soft edge in each pose is a beautiful skill. In doing so, we are able to seek our physical limits, while maintaining reverence for our bodies and setting aside our ego, thus avoiding injury. Being pregnant brings a whole new level of awareness to my yoga practice. It is no longer about simply listening to my body. Now, there is another voice that guides my movement and dictates the limitations of my practice: Baby’s. Even though my body may be telling me that I can still engage in certain poses, how much of my desire to do so is my ego? Conversely, even though it is suggested by others that certain poses be avoided during pregnancy, is there good reason and/or science behind those warnings making them relevant to my practice in particular? Finally, and most importantly, which postures are safe and comfortable for Baby as she continues to grow and my body continues to change?
There are conflicting opinions out there from the “experts,” and at least up to a certain point in pregnancy, I believe the answers to these questions are different for every woman, depending on her level of practice at the time of conception. Accordingly, in determining what is appropriate for my prenatal yoga experience, learning to listen to my body and Baby has been the most crucial element informing my practice. This is especially true because healthcare practitioners are not yoga experts, and yoga instructors are not medical experts. Additionally, many yoga teachers, outside of those teaching prenatal classes, are admittedly naïve when it comes to which postures are safe and/or comfortable for pregnant women. Beyond confirming with my midwives that the style of classes I’m attending are safe for pregnancy and letting my yoga teachers know before class that I will likely modify certain poses because I am pregnant (and hoping they are knowledgeable enough to offer helpful suggestions), I do not rely on these persons to define my prenatal yoga practice.
I am approaching my 36th week of pregnancy, and I have made it a point throughout to attend at least 3 yoga classes each week. My body is still craving long (1.5 hours) classes in which I work up a sweat, so I have not made the switch to prenatal classes just yet. My midwives told me heated yoga classes and vinyasa flow classes are fine during pregnancy (since I was engaging in the same prior to conceiving), as long as I make it a point to drink water during class. This has been an adjustment for me, as I usually refrain from hydrating during my physical practice. Here are some other adjustments I have made over the course of my pregnancy, especially since starting to see physical changes in my body and moving into the third trimester: (1) no poses on my stomach; (2) no deep backbends; (3) no deep twists; and (4) no poses on my back, unless they are held for a short time and I can comfortably position a block under my head. I still engage in balancing poses (on my feet and hands) because I feel comfortable enough in doing them that I don’t fear toppling over. Also, balancing poses are good practice for birth in my opinion -- both require the utilization of focus, breath, and visualization.
Yoga in general has been immensely helpful in preparing my mind and body for my first birthing experience and keeping me feeling good throughout pregnancy. Plus, I believe it has provided an incredible bonding opportunity: my time on the mat is now OUR time on the mat -- an opportunity for Baby and I to work together as one, sending positive thoughts and energy back and forth between us in a serene and wholesome environment. I look forward to continuing our yoga practice together once she makes her entry into this world!