5 Things…

5 Things I Learned About Practicing Yoga While Pregnant

Before you read any further I want you to know that what I am sharing is based on my experience and what I learned while practicing yoga during my pregnancy. At the time, I was not a trained yoga teacher, I just loved yoga. Also, when I became pregnant I already had a consistent practice established, usually attending 2-3 studio classes per week. My pregnancy was considered high risk because of my “advanced maternal age” but I had no restrictions and otherwise had a normal, healthy pregnancy. Thanks for reading! 

–Niki Sponsler

  1. Listen to your Doctor. Listen to your body. DO NOT LISTEN TO THE INTERNET!!

The internet is full of terrifying information and bad advice. Save yourself the worry and anxiety and please don’t consult your web browser with your pregnant yoga questions. I can tell you what it says. It says DO NOT lie on your back. DO NOT twist. NO core work. NO inversions. DO NOT stretch as far as you can. The list goes on and on. It says to just sit quietly on a cushion, rub your belly and chant softly (just kidding, sort of).

At the risk of sounding like a drug commercial, I’m going to say this – talk to your doctor, ask if a yoga practice is right for you. Ask your doctor if there is anything you should avoid.

When I asked my doctor about continuing my yoga practice she simply said “Do whatever you did before. Unless you can’t.” And that is just what I did. I did core work until I couldn’t. I kept twisting and then I modified when my elbow no longer reached my knee. I took savasana on my back until it wasn’t comfortable anymore and I even kept working on my headstand. And on the days that my body felt sore and I needed a little extra rest, I rested.

2.   I had to make space in my practice for my baby.

It wasn’t just me on my mat anymore, my baby was practicing with me. As my baby grew she needed more space and that meant modifying poses and using ALL the props. After I unrolled my mat I grabbed a bolster, blocks and a blanket and as soon as a pose began to feel uncomfortable I reached for a prop or modified the pose. When I needed to rest, I took a child’s pose, and when the rest of the class was playing with an arm balance I took a seat and watched.

 

Here are a few of my favorite modifications:

Child’s Pose – Rest your forehead on stacked fists or rest your head and chest on a bolster. 

Eventually, child’s pose became very uncomfortable for me. After a minute my feet would begin to go numb and I would need to lift my hips or move to table top. So make adjustments as you need to!

Chaturanga – Slide a bolster underneath your thighs. Your feet may come off the ground, but this will allow space for your belly as you lower half way down from plank to chaturanga. If you find it too distracting or annoying sliding a bolster on and off your mat for every vinyasa, you can always pause for an extra breath in plank or skip it and stay in downward facing dog.

Twist – Keep your torso upright and open your arms wide. If you notice a shift or any discomfort in your SI joint (the space across the back of your hips) you’ve twisted too far, back off a little.

Low Lunge – If you are stepping forward between your hands and need more space, lengthen your arms by placing a block under each hand. 

Chair/Forward Folds – Step your feet as wide as you need to in order to make space for your belly in chair pose or forward folds. I did come to a point where my belly was just too big to fold very far forward, so take your time as you fold and rise up slowly.    

Savasana – Set 2 blocks up in an L shape toward the back of your mat and lay the bolster on the blocks at an incline {  L\  } . From a sitting position, back your hips up to the base of the bolster and then lie back onto the bolster. Let your legs and arms rest in a comfortable position with palms facing up and feet open. For added comfort, place a folded blanket under each arm.

I’ll be completely honest though, sharing and adjusting my practice was difficult at times. Although I was doing this for both of us to stay healthy physically and emotionally, I missed practicing for just me. I missed jumping back to chaturanga, I missed playing around with arm balances, and oh how I missed a good forward fold! But, my yoga practice wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the tiny person growing and thriving inside of me.

3.   I was stronger and more able than I thought.

During all three of my pregnancies I encountered people who believe pregnant women are delicate. I was not delicate. I found it very frustrating when people would fuss over me lifting something or bending over. I knew what I was capable of as far as everyday tasks and chores, but this was my first pregnancy practicing yoga, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Nearly every time I went to a yoga class someone would ask me, “How long are you going to keep doing yoga?” I would always reply with “As long as I can!” I just assumed that as the baby grew I eventually wouldn’t have the strength to support myself in poses. I was completely wrong. 

As my baby and I grew, I became stronger. Not only was I stronger, my balance improved and so did my capacity for breathing. I became so aware of my ever-changing body because every time I stepped on my mat something felt different, but I was determined to keep up my practice and practice safely. I learned to take my time and I learned to breathe deeply. My body needed the oxygen and I had to move with intention, otherwise I would feel light-headed. My mind, body and breath had forged such a strong connection and I was able to hold poses and balance with strength and with full awareness like never before. 

As my pregnancy neared the end I was able to fully support every pound I gained and then some. And when the baby was taking up every possible inch of my torso, I had the space to take full, clear breaths. I can’t tell you how amazing it was that I was able to roll into my final weeks of pregnancy and still feel good!

4.  My yoga practice gave me everything I asked of it.

We all have our reasons for practicing yoga or wanting to begin a practice. Strength, flexibility, balance, stress relief, etc. Pre-pregnancy I practiced for exercise and because yoga made me feel clear, light and rejuvenated. During my pregnancy my intentions shifted and I needed more from my practice. I practiced for strength. I practiced to keep the excess swelling away. I practiced to quiet the endless stream of “what if’s” in my mind. I practiced so I could fully be there for my family during all the changes. And I practiced because I needed to be able to handle whatever was thrown at me with grace. Every hour spent on my mat was a practice in mindfulness and practice for the unknown that lay ahead of me. 

Post pregnancy I had the strength and stamina I needed to tote around a baby carrier during the day and endure the nights with little sleep. I was able to navigate through challenging moments much easier and I was able to be more present in each amazing moment and appreciate every second of our new family dynamic.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t this stoic pillar of strength and serenity throughout my pregnancy and after. I cried… a lot! I was a mess of hormones and uncertainty. But if there is such a thing as crying gracefully I feel like I managed it. I learned that by acknowledging my reason (or lack of reason) for crying put my family at ease. If I was crying because I was sad, I said it out loud. If I was crying because the poor cat on TV was out in the snow and had no one to love it, I said it out loud. It made me feel better, it made my family feel better, and we could laugh together about most of it, usually while I was still crying!

5.   A few suggestions…

  • Before coming to a class do a little research and ask questions, especially if you are new to yoga. A class may say all levels welcome but it may not always be the best fit. If you don’t have prior yoga experience look for a prenatal class or a gentle style yoga class.
  • If you are attending a yoga class let the instructor know you are pregnant, please.   They want all of their students to practice safely and if they are aware of your pregnancy they can offer modifications or let you know what to expect and what you may want to skip.
  • Let yourself sweat. Yoga is challenging! Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge because you are pregnant! But I will ask you to respect the limits of your body. Be aware and know the difference between the good, muscle building burn and the painful, something doesn’t feel right burn.
  • Get your feet and legs in the air! Legs up the wall was a pose I did everyday. Sometimes several times a day! Grab a pillow or two, slide it under your hips and prop your legs up on a wall. I felt the effects instantly and if I could stay there for 10 minutes I felt completely refreshed, like I just had a nap.

If you are pregnant and reading this, I understand how exciting and scary being pregnant can be. The rules are constantly changing! I had 13 years between my first pregnancy and my third. Wow, how things had changed! But so had I. Practicing yoga not only improved my pregnancy, it continues to improve my life everyday. 

~❤️🙏🏼 Niki 

Feel free to reach out to me! If I can answer your questions, I most definitely will! I am easy to find on Facebook and Instagram or email me at nikisponsler@gmail.com.   

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