Note: any tips in this article are meant for established ashtanga practitioners ONLY...
‘Do what feels right’.. Like I knew what felt right. When I found out I’m pregnant I needed clear guidance, ‘do that’, ‘never do that’ and maybe (maybe!) ‘experiment with that’. But every website I went to, every book I got my hands on, said all the same, ‘do what feels good’. Sure, there was some general guidance, like skip twists, allow space for your belly in forward bends, but how about backbends? Or headstands? Or a ‘simple’ navasana?
It was a hell to figure it all out. I found few blogs, but very little for ashtanga practitioners, which was one of the reasons I thought of writing down my own experiences. Who knows, maybe somewhere there, there is another mama who has no clue how to feel what is right for her..
So here is how it went..
First three months no ashtanga yoga. Kind of.. I must say at first I wanted to stick to the golden rule to avoid the practice during that period in order not to give a higher chance for a miscarriage.. but no practice was driving me crazy. Me and my surroundings, as naturally I shared this lovely feeling with people around me. I decided to cheat on a rule a bit. My first goal was to keep a routine of 1-1,5 hour of yoga a day, for two reasons:
I had to stop being annoyed and stop annoying others (didn’t know how long they would tolerate it), and
I didn’t want to lose the rhythm and find myself 9 months later again at the very first struggles of setting up my practice – finding the time for it.
So I tried yin classes and hatha restorative – nice, safe and with plenty modifications for pregnancy. But being used to ashtanga it quickly became, how should I say it.. boooooring. I went to a yin yang class, but felt like squatting and doing badha konasana most of the time, as there was not so many alternatives for asanas where you use your core. And let’s be honest, it’s just not that. Finally I just switched to home practice with sun salutations, and some meditation instead, counting every single day to the moment I pass that magic 14th week and can finally go back to the Mysore room.
Looking back at that time, I do think it was the right decision for me to slow down. If I would have followed the ‘do what feels right’ rule, I would probably risk my little girl. Simply because I didn’t feel much different then compared to non-pregnant self. The knowledge of my own body, I should say, my pregnant body, came to me during the 9 months. If tomorrow I happen to be pregnant again, I may decide differently for the first three months.
After the first 14 weeks passed I felt like a small kid during Xmas time – I could go back to the Mysore room! My teachers knew already that I was pregnant, I got some good tips for modifications in the poses, but most of all I felt their huge support and I trusted them 100%. I think my main discovery was that I can do so much more than I thought I would be able. If you follow the general guidance on the websites or in the books, when you are pregnant you best stay in badha konasana for an hour. Turns out I hardly skipped a pose in the Primary series.
In few points:
Twists were out, all of them. But I did not just skip them, I found modifications. For Trikonasana B I would just repeat Trikonasana A, simply because that side stretch felt like heaven. For Parshvakonasana B I got a modification with again a great side stretch – open to the same side as with Parshvakonasana A, but your hand on the floor is on the inside of your knee, and the other arm is reaching up towards the ceiling instead of in front of you. You should have seen Lino Miele’s face when he saw me in this pose – he run directly to my teacher to check ‘what is this?’, only to learn that my belly, although small (in 7th month), is still there, so I have to adjust ;)
Jumping through, back and all sorts of jumping – out. You just don’t want to risk it.
Deep forward bends like supta kurmasana also had to go. At the beginning simply for safety reasons, later on trust me – your belly would stop you itself.
Forward bends like Paschimottanasana, Janu Sirsasana etc. I kept on doing till the end by adjusting the space for my growing belly. It goes very natural here. Maybe worth to mention, I didn’t do any of the forward bends during my first three months of pregnancy. Before I got pregnant I attended a fertility workshop focused on yoga and Chinese medicine where I learned that you may cause a miscarriage by deep forward bends at the very beginning. Simply because your body doesn’t recognize the embryo yet as something that will grow into a baby, rather it sees it as a blockage. So the same way that you stimulate getting rid of the toxins in your body when in forward bends, you could risk getting rid of the embryo at this stage.
Asanas with strong bandhas were tricky. Some of them I kept on doing till the end, like Utthita Hasta Padangushthasana. I used to get support here, and if I didn’t, I would bend my knee towards end of my pregnancy, but in general it worked all fine. Poses like Kukkutasana or Utplutih were a no-go. And then Navasana or Uttana Padasana I adjusted by keeping one foot on the ground somewhere around 5th month being pregnant.
Hip openers – loved it! Especially Baddha Konasana and Upavishtha Konasana. I stayed in those poses for 15, sometimes 20 breaths. A lot of prenatal yoga is about opening the hips to prepare for delivery, so I thought why not to incorporate it in my daily practice a bit more as well ;)
For poses when you lay on your back, like Supta Padangushthasana and everybody’s favorite – Savasana, you need to be careful when your belly becomes bigger. Something I was told, rather than feeling it myself. It’s due to increased pressure that a growing baby and uterus have on the vein delivering blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to mother, placenta and child (Inferior Vena Cava vein). For Savasana I started quickly laying on my side, same as it was recommended for me as a sleeping position. I did not modify Supta Padangushthasana, at least in my case the few breaths you take when lying down here were too short to feel negative impact, but if I did feel dizzy or numb, I would have stopped this pose.
And then the magic backbends – something that gives me so much energy even on the most difficult days. I asked my teacher about it, there was simply too much confusing info on the web or in the books. She said, guess what, ‘if it feels right, it’s ok’ ;-) I don’t know if it was because it came from my teacher or because I was already pregnant for a while, but I tried backbends and it did feel right indeed. So I thought I would try drop backs as well, and it was also fine. And when I was down, it simply became natural to go up again. I did drop back till the day before my delivery. Instead of using my core to go down or up, I used my hips. Sure, you cheat a bit, you cannot completely turn off the core, but you can minimize it to the level when you don’t feel any pressure on your belly. It felt right physically, and mentally. I could enjoy the familiar energy boost after the drop backs, and it somehow made me feel more confident in the whole process of being pregnant, proving again that pregnancy is not a state blocking you from anything but rather enabling the areas in your body and mind that you didn’t know about their existence before.
When I came to inversions in the finishing sequence I took it one by one. I read that some women simply do not feel comfortable in those poses anymore, but that there is no risk to your baby or that it would change the position last minute just because you practiced headstands every day. I started with doing the full finishing sequence except Shirshasana B (too much core), adjusting it on the go with growing belly. Pindasana was the first to go, Urdhva Padmasana was the second. I stopped Halasana and Karna Pidasana as well, but only in the last month. The two inversions which I kept till a day before my delivery were Salamba Sarvangasana (sometimes a bit shorter than 10 breathes though), and Shirshasana A (no change here).
I also added some special pregnancy poses. My Singaporean friend, who by a coincident was pregnant at the same time as I was (her daughter is one day younger than Lily ;), told me to clean the floor squatting, cause squatting is good for you to prepare for delivery. Well, cleaning floors is not my thing, but squatting is very much ok. I added it at the end of finishing sequence, just after Shirshasana. One day my teacher came to me seeing me in a squat, nicely asking to keep ‘it’ in till the end of the class ;) in all fairness I was 9 months pregnant, close to my due date, so it must have been looking ‘interesting’ ;)
One other addition I made was exercising pelvic floor muscles (Kegels) when in Padmasana. My teacher said it was important to be able to practice control other this part of your body, and to be able to release when I have to release. I heard about this exercise from friends already. Frankly, you can practice it anywhere, but you simply forget. Or at least I did. Hence I added it to my daily practice instead. I have to say that even today, when Lily is almost two years old, I catch myself during the practice practicing Kegels in Padmasana ;)
So yeah, do what feels right..
Keep listening to your body and follow what it tells you. You know it all, and I believe that as long as you don't experiment with adding new practices which may be challenging and which you have never tried before, you should be just fine. At the end of this journey you will only find out that it is just the beginning of a world with totally new discoveries, and your practice will get a completely new 'face' ;)