I have practiced yoga for around 10 years now, it’s been my gift to myself and has been through so much in my life with me. Following the death of my brother 4 years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD and it was my continued practice that helped me find the strength I needed and learn to let go of all the pain and fear that I couldn’t process, without having to try and understand it.
Over the years it helped me to develop a deeper respect for my body and mind, what I’m capable of and also what i’m not and to recognise when I need to be gentle on myself, it has ensured that I can always find that happy place inside whenever I need it.
I have shared some of the most incredible and memorable times of my life with yoga, from watching the sun rise with my soulmate, standing unified in tree pose overlooking the ocean as the sea air blew around us, to meeting and learning alongside beautiful teachers that although scattered around the world will always stay close in my heart … and now adapting my practice for this little soul that’s now shares this body as his home.
Again I want to share all the amazing benefits of yoga whilst trying to conceive, but for now I am focusing on when this beautiful spirit’s life entered my body and I became pregnant.
I trained in hatha and vinyasa yoga and throughout the 3 trimesters I have modified my practice to compensate for pregnancy symptoms, my changing body, growing bump and the needs of my emotions, my original study adapted as I began a journey in pre natal yoga.
Pre natal yoga is designed uniquely for pregnancy, to support mums not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. It can play a vital role in having a healthy pregnancy and baby, helping you connect to your changing body and the new life that you are growing inside it. The practice helps you to remain relaxed, calm and present, but also strong and empowered of your capabilities and just how awesome you are, which will all aid you during birthing. It is important to remember with yoga that you never need to push yourself beyond your own capabilities and that these will change throughout you pregnancy, whether you feel pregnant on not. I have put together some simple tips for each trimester. However please always practice safely, in a space free from clutter, not putting yourself or baby at risk. If you’re new to yoga or if you have or suspect any complications speak to your midwife or doctor first.
The first 3 months of pregnancy is a strange time, especially if you have taken the decision not to share your news with people yet. Your body is going through many changes, although you do not look pregnant. Its also one of the most apprehensive / exciting times, when even through the morning sickness you are glowing with your wonderful secret. All exercise you do at this time should be helping to provide the most optimal environment for your new little life to settle and stay put in their new home, so encouraging blood flow to the uterus and not away, as I also mentioned you may be suffering from morning sickness or due to the excess blood flow, low blood pressure and dizziness, so this is the time to focus on a hatha yoga class or something more restorative.
What poses to do and avoid in the first trimester;
In your first trimester you will still be able to do a lot of yoga poses, but you must listen to and respect your body. The focus here should be to build strength and encourage flexibility and relaxation. As throughout your whole pregnancy all poses that help to strengthen your pelvic floor and leg muscles are amazing and should now become your best friend, squats, warrior and even balance poses such as tree and eagle poses as long as you are not feeling dizzy are great for engaging your pelvis and tilting in your tail bone which as you get bigger will start to curve outwards. Open twists, especially seated are wonderful for alleviating sore backs, stretching ligaments or lower stomach & back cramps. As your bump starts to grow you shouldn’t lie flat on your back in Savasana, so now is a good time to start to practice your relaxation in a side lying savasana. Lying on your left hand side to encourage blood flow to your uterus and your baby, make your head comfortable with a towel or blanket, bending your knees and bringing your right knee over your left (think the recovery position) try and take 5 mins a day to learn now to deeply relax and feel comfortable in this position and scan your mind and body for any stresses or discomfort. Pregnancy and child birth is demanding on the body and takes a lot of your energy, it is so important now that you can learn to relax deeply, listen to your body and by placing your hand on your tummy have a lovely moment connecting with your baby.
Most inversions should be avoided at this stage with the exception of downward facing dog (although not held for too long) as they encourage the blood flow away from the uterus where it is needed. Closed twists put too much compression on the abdomen and high energy routines such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa sun salutation series should be avoided due to the physical demands that your body is under in these first few months. With regards to backbends, ensure that you don’t go into anything deeply, use bolsters, ties and avoid any pose that over-stretches the abdominal muscles.
Finally remember that at this point your body is doing an amazing job of taking 2 beautiful cells and creating a little human being and although what’s going on in there is tiny, the process is incredible and nerve racking. So listen to your own instincts and what’s good for you and your baby, whilst discovering the immense power and beauty in your body.
Most woman agree that the second trimester is when they feel at their best, if you have suffered from morning sickness then hopefully this is starting to subside, you finally start to see your little bump growing and your energy levels should be back on the rise again It is also now that you will start to notice your body really change, your breasts will have got larger, the round ligaments in the stomach are stretched and the pelvis is relaxing. With all this action going on in front this is the time that you may start to notice little niggles as your back tries to adapt to the extra weight and keep your body balanced. The focus in months four to through to six for me was to embrace my returning energy levels, although modifying my practice to feel more refreshed rather than overdo it and feel tired. I also wanted to ensure that my changing body didn’t put too much strain on my back and to incorporate poses that would build lower back strength.
Poses to do and to avoid in the second trimester;
Standing strength poses have always been some of my favourite to practice, especially since I’ve been pregnant. Warrior I & II make me really feel strong in my body and mind and what its capable of, by engaging your pelvis and aligning your hips and breathing into these poses, you build strength in your legs, your back and your core, but also your mind. Balance poses such as tree pose and half moon are great for encouraging circulation in the legs, especially wonderful if you have swelling in your feet or ankles, as I said earlier though it is important to listen to your body and make modifications as needed, so use a chair or do the poses up against a wall if feeling unbalanced. I found that by the fifth month that heart and hip openers were also amazingly beneficial. Reverse prayer pose relieved tension from my upper back that was building from a combination of worries at the time, but also the weight of my swelling breasts. Hip openers started to feel wonderful, the bound angle pose not only opens up your hips, but also stretches your groin, inner thighs and knees, it’s also said to help ease birth and is a lovely pose for really relaxing into and placing a hand on your baby. A note to remember is that the hormone “relaxin” is flooding your body getting your pelvis ready for opening up to help your baby into the world so you are more flexible than usual, so you need to reign yourself back a little and not go deeper than you would usually into poses to prevent any injury or strains.
As your baby grows, so does your belly which means your abdominal muscles are starting to get stretched taut, so poses such as boat pose, or any poses which involve raising both legs off the floor should be avoided to prevent the muscles separating or tearing. After week 20 you shouldn’t lie on flat on your back on the floor for an extended amount of time as the weight of the baby and the larger uterus puts too much pressure on the vena cava. Ensure all twists are open with no restriction on your bump or lungs, modifications can include keeping your legs open in wide legged seating position rather than crossing them over each other. Finally don’t practice any restrictive pranayama that involves retention of the breath since it will effect oxygen levels to you and your baby, practice instead some beautiful full belly breaths.
Finally this trimester is perfect for turning your practice inwards as you will be starting to feel your baby’s movements, yoga is a wonderful time to focus on how your baby responds to you, your movements and how you are emotionally.
By this trimester you are now very aware that you have a little human inside you, you will feel (and sometimes see) every wiggle, kick and turn. Your baby is incredibly responsive now to outside stimuli’s and also your mood. This little person is now dramatically affecting the way your body functions, with sudden onsets of “oops” moments, when your baby moves onto your bladder and also finding yourself breathless from the limited amount of room for your lungs, you may also have heartburn, feel unstable and have the pregnancy swagger (waddle) as everything slows down to prepare for the birth of your baby. You may feel heavy, tired and clumsy, these are all natures ways of getting us to take it easy, rest and start to store energy for delivery and care of your newborn, however coupled with anxiety, mums-to-be can find these last few months a very stressful time, so right there is your focus for your yoga practice for the last trimester; to listen to your mind and body, be caring, gentle and nurture it.
For me personally this has been my favourite time of the pregnancy, I have trusted my instincts and let my baby and body guide me, not putting any pressure on myself and just letting go. My yoga practice has become quieter, more peaceful and connected. I have allowed myself to just be present in the moment with the beautiful life inside me, feeling blessed for the time I share my body with him, as the days get closer to him arriving earth side I am increasingly grateful for being able to connect with him through my yoga.
For these final few months practice becomes more about opening up and connecting to the breath, exploring poses that find inner strength, calmness and focus, all which will aid connection to your baby, but will also help you to prepare for birth.
Poses to do and avoid in the third trimester;
As space in your body has become constricted concentrate on opening up, the cat / cow pose is not only perfect for opening your pelvis and hips and helping your baby get into optimal position for birth, but the slow steady inhalation and exhalation with the transition of the poses aid relaxation and relieve any tension. Another pose perfect for birth preparation is Melasana, the hip opening squat as it releases tension throughout the hips, lower back and pelvis, you can also practice your pelvic floor exercises in this position and your ujjayi breath to help you breathe fully and calmly, sending your breath to your pelvis helping it to open up and create space for your babies arrival, if you don’t feel comfortable or feel off balance in this pose then you can use props to hold yourself up.
Don’t feel that you can’t do more challenging poses in this trimester, just ensure that you don’t compromise your breathe, joints or balance and come out the the pose gently and remember to take a rest in wide legged child’s pose whenever you need to. As with the second trimester don’t lie flat on your back, put any strain on your abdominal muscles or over stretch.
Finally by practicing a combination of modified asanas, breathing and relaxation you will build confidence and calmness for the approaching birth of your baby. Remember that for all the bad days when you feel cumbersome, unwell or anxious that this time you are sharing with your baby is unique and precious and you will never have it again, so whether you choose to do flowing sun salutations or sit in calm meditation you are doing it together and every moment of it strengthens your bond and nourishes you both.
At the end of each yoga practice I like to take a moment where I visualise the most beautiful golden ball of light and energy that grows brighter and stronger inside me that makes every cell in my body radiate love and light, this feeling makes my soul smile, as this ball of light is our baby.
A study funded by the charity Tommy’s found that Yoga is not only great for strengthening the body physically, but it also relaxes and calms the mind and reduces the risk of stress during pregnancy, which has been linked with premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems in young children and even teenagers.
Some excellent instructors for pre natal yoga on-line:
Instructors / Classes based in the Midlands / Shropshire:
Instructors / Classes based in the UK: