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How to Solve Common Prenatal Yoga Woes


For years, as a yoga instructor (and prenatal yoga instructor), I looked forward to the day I could experience a prenatal yoga practice in my own body and in the classes I teach, including barre and cycling, I figured yoga would be the easiest to navigate and modify.

I was shocked to find out how wrong I was. Weeks before I was ready to share the news with my manager, let alone my students, I started to dread my classes and started taking fewer yoga classes. I wasn't ready for a strictly prenatal class, but the up and down motions in my vinyasa flow classes led to bouts of nausea and, from the beginning, I didn't feel comfortable lying prone on my belly (even though, according to my doctor, it was still completely safe). (Related: Exercising While Pregnant: How Much Is Too Much?)

That being said, I do still believe yoga is a healthy and productive prenatal exercise option and instructors do tailor prenatal-specific classes for the requests, ailments, and trimesters of the students in attendance. But if you can't (or don't want to!) leave your regular class behind for a few months, most women can continue to take all-levels classes as long as they listen to their bodies and modify as needed. Here are a few hurdles that I've experienced or that I've heard from students and friends with great modifications that will help you continue to roll out your mat for weeks to come.

For dizziness, nausea or lightheadedness

My worst bouts of nausea have come during yoga and this was my biggest hurdle when teaching as an undercover pregnant instructor but, as a student, know that you can always discreetly let your instructor know about any health concerns so they can expect or even suggest modifications throughout class. Sometimes prenatal instructors hear the big news before women's mothers get the word!

To avoid dizziness and nausea, practice half forward fold instead of full forward fold. Rather than letting blood rush to the head, keep back parallel to the mat and land finger tips on shins, knees or two blocks placed under shoulders. If dizziness leads to a loss in balance during one-legged postures, place your mat closer to a wall. You may find you don't use the wall, but just knowing it's within reach gives some peace of mind.

For carpal tunnel

A few good friends have experienced carpal tunnel during pregnancy—it makes sense due to a combination of fluid retention and the hormone relaxin. Relaxin loosens up joints for labor, but is released throughout the body (not just in the pelvis) months before delivery. In fact, pregnant women can expect the effects of relaxin to show up at about six weeks along and stick around for months after baby is born (even longer for mothers who breastfeed).

Don't mistake your newfound joint instability for flexibility, and make sure not to stretch any further than you could before you were expecting (this is not the time to finally get into the splits!).

For carpal tunnel (or any added wrist discomfort) in downward-facing dog, fold a small towel and place it under just the bottom half of your palm. Continue to press into both hands, including fingers, and if that doesn't do the trick, try forearm down dog (also called dolphin pose) instead. For dolphin, simply rest forearms to the mat with elbows and wrists shoulder-distance apart.

When lying face-down feels uncomfortable

Some of the best prenatal advice I've ever received is to listen to my body. Even non-yoga or fitness instructors know their own bodies well enough to know when something just feels wrong. For me, this was lying on my belly, pretty much right away. Every medical professional would say that it was fine at that point and I wasn't even afraid of crushing the baby that early on, it just didn't feel right.

Most prone, or face-down, poses are backbends, so when the rest of the class goes to their bellies, go to your back and practice bridge pose, a safe and healthy backbend for pregnant women in all trimesters. Place feet flat on the mat, hip width apart, and lift hips into the air. For added pelvic floor strength, hold a block between the knees and for something more restorative (or if your ribs or lungs need a little room to breathe), place the block under the hips instead. And yes, it's safe to be on your back for the few seconds it takes to transition in and out of this pose.

For twists

Instructors panic when it's time to twist and they have a pregnant lady in their regular non-prenatal class—twisting compresses the belly, supposedly a no-no during pregnancy. Before I was pregnant, I planned a class full of twisting for digestion and stress relief and one women was seven months pregnant—less-experienced me would have been totally stressed, but I know now that a little twisting is safe and even recommended. A pregnant women still has to turn and reach for something or look over her shoulder (think about driving!), so minor twists are actually very functional.

But, while the rest of class tries to wring their spines out like washcloths, take a very modified twist. I'm talking twist about one-quarter to one-third the distance you're used to and back off if you feel any sharp feelings. If the class is supine on their backs, stay seated.

When dealing with low energy

Sometimes, the difference is as simple as a drop in energy. These days, I notice my energy levels rise and fall like the ocean tide and I know I'm not alone. On top of hormonal shifts, an increase in blood flow causes changes in blood pressure for most pregnant women and many experience trouble sleeping. A few months back, I barely skipped a vinyasa flow or the option to take a challenging pose in class. Now, I find that I sometimes 'skip' half of class.

When you opt out of a pose, try child's pose instead or head to final resting a bit early. For child's pose, start on hands and knees, take knees about mat-width distance with big toes close, and sink hips toward heels. As your baby grows, you might find a blanket under the chest and head makes this pose more comfortable. Instead of doing corpse pose on your back, you can always rest on your side with a blanket between your knees or, depending on the props available in your class, create an incline for your back.

I've recently dropped into a few prenatal yoga classes, but now that the news is out at work, I've been happily modifying my practice so I can continue to attend my regular yoga classes, stress-free. (See also: Top Moves to Get Your After-Baby Body, Fast!)