17 April, 2016
Before falling pregnant, you might never have dreamed of stepping foot inside a yoga studio full of lycra-clad deep-breathing hippies. However there’s something about the journey of pregnancy and motherhood that can kick-start a quest for greater wellbeing and vitality in our bodies. Naturally we want to start feeling the best we’ve ever felt, and for the first time in our lives it’s not just about us, but about our growing baby as well.
In the West, yoga is being marketed as hot pink Lulu Lemon leggings, eerie flexibility and hot bods on Instagram – so, about as far away from the experience of pregnancy as one might imagine!
Of course, when you dig a little deeper there is much more to this ancient practice that what we are being peddled in the glossy images on social media. The word ‘yoga’ means ‘to yoke’ together. When we practise the many various rituals of Hatha Yoga, we are able to experience this ‘yoking’ of our physical bodies with the more subtle experience of mind and soul – and for most of us this feels pretty delicious.
A full Hatha Yoga practice includes asana (the physical part, the ‘shapes’ or poses we arrange the body in), pranayama (controlled breathing techniques), and very importantly, meditation (deep rest/stress release).
Unless you were practising yoga prior to conceiving and have a regular (daily/weekly) practice, unfortunately a lot of the currently trending yoga styles are probably not your best port of call for prenatal yoga. Speaking from experience, during the first 6 – 8 weeks of intolerable nausea the last thing I felt like doing was going in to a hot room and getting my flow on.
If you are pregnant and curious about starting a yoga practice, one of the best things you can do is find an experienced prenatal teacher, close to you, who can tailor specific practices suitable to your lifestyle, body and constitution.
But finding said teacher may not always be easy! So, in this post, I have put together a short sequence of asanas that I believe are quintessential shapes for prenatal yoga and safe for you to practise at home, independently.
Like other forms of movement, always listen carefully to what your body is telling you. If something creates pain or discomfort in the body, stop immediately and consider an adjustment or whether using a prop (such as a bolster, block or strap) might help.
1. Supported Childs Pose (Balasana)
From a kneeling position on your mat, keep the toes together and draw the knees wide, almost to the edges of the mat. Walk you hands out in front of you bringing your chest down to the mat or bolster (from 3rd trimester, this will be most comfortable with a bolster or pillow) Reach your arms out long while drawing your tail bone back towards your heals and, if you like, gently rock your hips from side to side – giving the lower back and gentle massage. You can also roll your forehead from side to side on the mat/bolster massaging the third eye centre (space between the eyebrows), which is very relaxing.
Start your pranayama practice by extending your natural inhale and exhale breath to count of four inhale, then count of four exhale. Take 20 rounds of this breath before moving out of the shape.
2. Cat/Cow Vinyasa (Marjaiasana/Bitilasana)
From a table top position on hands and knees, continuing your count of four breath:
Inhale to come forward, rolling the shoulders back and slightly lifting the chin, allow the pelvis to tip forward, lifting the sitting bones up and the heart centre forward; then
Exhaling, slowly move back to cat, mindfully drawing the baby towards your spine as you arch up through the scapular and shoulders, tucking the tailbone and allowing the head and neck to hang heavy.
Continue this ‘vinyasa’ flow between cow and cat for several transitions.
You can close your eyes to draw your practice internal and enhance your moving meditation.
3. Modified Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Ensuring your wrist is directly under your shoulder, gently lift up to this side plank variation. Come to kneeling on one knee (the lower part of the leg can shoot out behind you for added balance) and extend the opposite leg along the length of the mat, grounding that foot flat. Opposite arm should extend straight up in line with the grounding arm and you can either look up or down at the mat, depending on what’s most comfortable for your neck.
Hold for several breaths and complete on opposite side.
4. Cow Facing Pose (Ghomukasana)
I cannot recommend this pose enough for my pregnant clients; it is a fabulous, gentle hip opener. As our pregnancies develop the pelvis continues to open in preparation for childbirth and the muscles around the hip and buttock can get tighter and tighter and tighter. This shape is the perfect tonic to help alleviate that tension.
From a four point position on the mat, crisscross your legs drawing one knee forward and tucking the opposite knee in tight behind it, allowing each leg to extend in opposite directions on the mat. Draw the sitting bones back to a seated position between the feet. However, if you notice you are too tight and the knees are up very high, you may prefer to sit back on a brick/bolster or pillow for added support.
Hold this shape for 2 – 3 minutes on each side continuing your relaxing count-of-four breath. To come out, gently bring the hands down on the mat and extend the legs behind you to your four point position, before completing the opposite side.
5. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
From a seated position, draw the soles of the feet together so you create a wide diamond shape with the legs (the feet can be quite far away from the groin for more comfort). Roll forward onto the sitting bones, placing your hands in a cage around your toes and draw your face forward to a comfortable degree (everyone will be different when it comes to how comfortable they feel coming forward – remember the key to prenatal yoga is deep relaxation and gentle mobility, not pushing/striving/strengthening – we can get back to that in good time! – so just observe the mind cautiously here).
Hold for several rounds of breath.
6. Supported Rest (Shavasana)
Every woman will feel differently about when it is no longer comfortable to lie on her back. For most, once we’re into the third trimester the weight of the baby compressing in to our spine and diaphragm will be intolerable.
I recommend practising shavasana on a bolster, which is propped up by a second bolster/pillow (as per image) with a third pillow/bolster under the knees. You can definitely achieve this with the pillows you have around the house.
I recommend to all my clients to invest in one bolster (which is great for postnatal recovery also). You can achieve support, as depicted in the image, by using a bolster in tandem with regular pillows also.
Hold shavasana for as long as you have time to! 5 – 10 minutes is optimum. Release the count-of-four breath and just come back to your natural, gentle, inhale/exhale rhythm. Observe the mind here and when it wanders off, gently draw your awareness back in to your breath, body and love for your new baby :)
This is a short sequence that might take 20 – 25 minutes to complete, which is great if you are a busy mum to other kids. My ideas here in no way should replace the advice of your health care professional if you are facing specific issues with your body – always consult with your GP, Physio therapist or Midwife first.
If you wish to explore how a yoga practice could further inspire and support your pregnancy and motherhood journey, please touch base with me to chat about my coaching services – firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021 195 0220.