For many women, pregnancy is one of the most beautiful life experiences, as well as one of the most challenging. The pregnant woman is going through a variety of changes physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. With all that happening, it’s important to be able to go to a prenatal yoga class on regular basis to help relieve stress, ease bodily tension, and prepare for labor and delivery.
Whether it is a class that is specialized for the prenatal mama or a regular yoga class, it is such a gift to be able to offer a safe haven to support her at this time in her life. So, it’s important as a yoga teacher and a yoga practitioner to have a few insights to help during this pivotal time.
As an instructor, whether you’re teaching a Prenatal yoga class or have a pregnant student in your regular yoga class, the two most important things to remember throughout pregnancy is to encourage your prenatal students to communicate with you before and after class and to listen to their own bodies and allow themselves to take necessary breaks.
As a mother who would like to continue your yoga practice or starting yoga for the first time, it’s important to know that there are ways you could be supported in any yoga class. It’s also important to have insights into what to look for in a class and how to take the best care of yourself during class.
While it may sound overwhelming for both the student and teacher, all that matters is being able to be flexible with yourself as a student embarking on this journey and on yourself as a teacher, providing a safe space for the student to explore their body, find some calm, and feel connected.
This time is a true gift that requires additional awareness and extra compassion to you both.
So, let’s break things down by each trimester!
In my 12 years of teaching yoga and 10 focusing on prenatal yoga, I’ve found that the majority of women start a regular yoga practice in their second trimester. However, there are still some who make it to their yoga mat during the first trimester.
This is a time where a lot of pregnant women may feel dizzy, nauseous, and tired.
For the teacher, it’s important to talk to these students before class to discuss their needs and answer any questions, as well as encourage child’s pose as a good resting pose, let them know you allow bathroom breaks, and remind them to drink lots of water.
For the student it’s important to know this is a time of rapid change within your body and to take care of yourself as much as possible. Allow yourself to slow down and tune into what your body is telling you during your yoga class.
Open your yoga practice to what your body needs –
Embrace hip openers –The amount of pressure baby exerts on the mother’s body starts to grow as they grow. The back, hips, and hamstrings feel the brunt of this pressure, so focusing on hip openers helps to open and relieve tension in these spaces, as well as prepare the body for labor and delivery.
Most yoga classes offer a few hip openers on a regular basis, such as Pigeon, Stacked Logs, and Frog pose, to name a few. Prenatal yoga classes usually focus on these poses.
Let go of twists –As the baby continues to grow, and the pelvic ligaments become more prone to being over-stretched to the point of tearing, it’s best to avoid twists. Another option is to offer twisting from the shoulder, such as a seated twist, where the student can sit facing forward while looking over their shoulder.
This is a time full of energy and excitement, as the dizziness, nausea, and fatigue of the first trimester have worn off for many moms-to-be and the connection between mother and baby grows with each movement the baby makes. Embrace this stage to engage in mindful poses with lots of body awareness.
For the teacher, this is a time to remind your students to listen to their bodies as well as allow them to explore their practice in ways that start to prepare their bodies for labor and delivery.
For the student, embrace your renewed energy and connection with baby. This is the perfect time to trust your body and notice how each pose makes you feel. How much tension are you holding during the poses? How much are you releasing? What is feeling good? What is not feeling good and what options do you have to modify those poses or explore a different pose?
Let yoga be your journey to what nourishes and supports you –
Be mindful of the core –It is best to avoid core exercises such as boat and any modified crunches (i.e. – crow crunches) as baby is taking up more space in the abdominal region and those poses increase the risk of abdominal separation.
Breathing exercises are important –Breathing exercises are essential to reduce stress and anxiety as well as provide a supportive option to easily turn to during labor and delivery. Whether you do short, fast breaths or slowly count to 5 with each inhale and exhale, breathing exercises are key to finding stress release in the moment and having a tool for labor and delivery.
Savasana on your side –From 20 weeks on, lying on the back can increase the risk of oxygen being cut off to the baby. Therefore, it is best for a pregnant student to rest in Savasana on their side instead of their back.
This time in pregnancy can bring more anxiety and stress to moms-to-be as they may be feeling a lack of time to prepare for babies’ arrival, as well as uncertainty as to how the delivery will go. This is also when feeling tired on a regular basis returns and feeling big and uncomfortable are at the forefront of their minds as baby is growing rapidly.
For the teacher, it is imperative to keep communication open, avoid a lot of balance poses, and encourage the use of props. Also, remember to continue to create a safe space for your pregnant student to connect to their body, their baby, their breath, and some calm and quiet within.
For the student, allow this time to let your previous prenatal yoga practices come to fruition and see your yoga mat as a place of refuge to stretch, breathe, and relax. Remember to slow down, on and off the mat in order to care for yourself and baby and trust in what your body is telling you.
Squats are your friend –Squats help open the pelvic floor and hips, increasing flexibility throughout pregnancy to allow an easier delivery.
There are a variety of squatting poses in yoga ranging from seated squats to standing squats that can be held or flowing.
This is also a great time to add in Kegel exercises which are another way to help strengthen your pelvic floor.
Props –It can be hard to use props if you’re someone who has seen them as a deterrent to your practice instead of as an aid. This is a great opportunity to change your perspective. Instead props should be viewed as helpful assistants to allow more comfort and support.
For instructors, a great way to support a student on this journey is to use props yourself when getting into and out of the poses.
Here are some techniques I’ve found useful when using props –
Blocks can be used for any pose; however, they are extremely beneficial for stepping into and out of lunges as well as supporting the head in Pigeon pose.
Bolsters are a much-needed luxury to support the back when laying down in Savasana or wrap around when doing Savasana on the side.
Chairs can be used to create more space in the spine while doing forward folds as well as provide more support when doing seated stretches.
Small rubber balls or tennis balls are wonderful to use along the back, while standing against the wall to add pressure and release tension through gentle massage.
As you can see, there are many ways to support the variety of changes taking place during pregnancy.
As an instructor, helping pregnant students find comfort by increasing your knowledge of the do’s and don’ts of teaching prenatal yoga is truly a gift. Remember, you’re providing a safe space for the mother-to-be to explore her body, find some calm, and feel connected to herself, her body, and her baby.
As a mother-to-be it’s so important to be able to know that whether you are starting a yoga practice or continuing one, you can find a safe space to relieve tightness, tension, and stress on your mat.
Flexibility with yourself as a student embarking on this journey and on yourself as a teacher sharing this journey is truly important.