The following article gives some recommendations for the practice Ashtanga Yoga during Pregnancy, from our friend Mae Yoshikawa.
Practicing Yoga while Pregnant is a very individual process, and Ashtanga Yoga Victoria is not making recommendations, but rather providing information for your review based on the experiences of some leading Ashtanga Yoga teachers worldwide.
If you are pregnant and practicing yoga during pregnancy, please be sure to consult your physician or health care provider, and practice under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher in order to develop a suitable practice for you.
ASHTANGA YOGA DURING PREGNANCY: MAE YOSHIKAWA
The following is a basic guide for Ashtanga Yoga during pregnancy. These
guidelines are based on what I learned from Sharath, as I spent two
months during my second trimester in Mysore, as well as my own
From my second trimester all the way up to the final month, I maintained a regular practice, and I enjoyed the kind of internal awareness, deep breathing, and steady flow of energy that yoga practice provided for my baby and me.
In the final month, I felt so large (!!) that there were less and less poses that I could do comfortably.
Still, I liked to do some form of a modified practice as it gave me a deep sense of peace and increased energy. Bonding for mother and child begins in the womb.
I liked to tell my baby “Ok, we’re going to do some yoga now” before I started; it always created a sense of cooperation and togetherness.
If you have been practicing Ashtanga prior to pregnancy, it’s likely
that most of these points about yoga during pregnancy will apply to you.
However, yoga during pregnancy should not cause any discomfort, please make sure to follow your own instincts.
Pregnancy is usually accompanied by heightened sensitivity as well as an increased sense of internal awareness. As a yoga practitioner, I enjoyed this primal intuition very much. Make sure you listen to that internal wisdom, and be careful not to push yourself.
1. Take rest from all asana practice during your first trimester. It is a
very sensitive time for you and your baby. Your body is going through
deep changes to adjust to the new life inside, and make a “home” for him
2. After 15-16 weeks, your placenta will be complete and you’ll be entering the second trimester, a much more stable period for your body and mind. At this time, it is a good idea to resume your practice slowly, at a pace that is right for you.
I recommend simply starting with slow & gentle repetitions of Surya Namaskara for the first few days. As you grow comfortable practicing with your changing body and with the new life inside you, continue with the standing sequence, and gradually work towards half primary.
By this time you would’ve taken a couple months off, so start slow and easy, and don’t be too ambitious. When it begins to feel good to work up a light sweat and stretch your body, you can return to a full primary practice.
(If you have not been practicing Ashtanga regularly prior to pregnancy, Surya Namaskara and some standing poses combined with a few pregnancy-sequence poses may be enough for you.)
3. You will find that your Uddiyana Bandha will temporarily “disappear”
during pregnancy. Your lower abdomen is stretching and is now home to
your baby – do not be engage this area to tighten or to lock. You want
to make sure to give plenty of room for this new life.
Do not jump-back or jump-through; walk step by step instead. When you do forward bends (sitting or standing), do not tuck your belly in, simply let it be as it is, and gently stretch your lower back.
Let your head drop and use the weight of your head to get into the pose. As your belly grows in size, your back will be more rounded in a forward bend.
Eventually you will need to separate your feet hip-width apart so your belly can fit in between when you do forward bends. Seated poses in particular (Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana onwards) will be more comfortable as you take a wider stance.
4. Make sure to keep practicing Mula Bandha when you practice yoga during pregnancy. It is very important to keep the pelvic floor muscles in shape during pregnancy as well as after birth.
5. Do not do any twisting postures. Trikonasana B, Parsvakonasana B, Marichasana C&D are all asana that should be skipped altogether.
I also skipped the second phase of Bhujapidasana (if I put my head down, I felt I could not get back up without tightening the belly).
Kurmasana & Supta Kurmasana I would do very lightly, and only while the size of my growing belly allowed me to.
Garbapindasana I was able to take lightly, but chose not to roll back & forth on my increasingly sensitive tailbone, sacrum, and backbone. From Kukkutasana I would continue again.
6. Poses that are especially good during pregnancy are: Janusirsasana A, B, C (keeping aware of Mula Bandha); Poses that stretch the inner thighs such as Baddha Konasana, Upavistha Konasana, Supta Konasana.
Poses that open the sacrum and spine, such as Urdva Danurasana (back bending). As your belly grows, it’s a good idea to stay away from drop-backs, to protect your abdominal muscles.
7. As your belly grows and you gain weight, skip poses such as
Setubandasana, Matsyasana, Ubaya Padangushtasana that put too much
pressure on the head and neck.
8. I have heard both good & bad about inversions (like sirsasana = headstand). Some women find it comfortable, while others say it’s too much pressure on the stomach and internal organs.
Personally, I was not too comfortable being upside down with all the extra weight, so I shortened my finishing sequence overall, only staying in each pose for five breaths or so. Karnapidasana & Pindasana in particular, I felt like my stomach was being squished and could not keep it for long. Yoga Mudrasana also, I did lightly so as not to put extra pressure on the baby.
Padmasana I would do fully, with deep breaths and engaging Mula Bandha; Uth Pluthi must be skipped because it requires you to tighten the abdomen.
9. During pregnancy, your body prepares for birth by releasing a series of hormones that act to soften your body.
Practicing yoga during pregnancy you will feel it in your joints and ligaments in particular, and it’s VERY IMPORTANT that you are cautious not to over-stretch at this time.
10. If you are not a regular practitioner, or you’re otherwise worried, it’s best that you find a good teacher that you can trust to guide you in your practice of yoga during pregnancy.
You really don’t need any adjustments during pregnancy, but if you do have someone adjust you, supported adjustments are ok (as in Utitha Hasta Padangushtasana, Urdva Danurasana, etc.), but pressured adjustments (pressing down in forward bends, etc.) are not necessary. Also, in the Ashtanga tradition, no new poses should be introduced during pregnancy.
11. Be especially aware of your deep and even breathing. It holds the key to deep relaxation and mental focus. This practice will help you most during labor.
12. After birth, make sure you let your body get plenty of rest. Prioritize your time with your new baby; it is the most special time for bonding.
Generally, it is recommended that you resume practice three months after birth. If you are an experienced practitioner, you may slowly resume your practice 4-6wks after birth (if you had a fully natural birth).
It is imperative that you remember your pelvic region is still loose, and nursing hormones still keep you very soft and open.
Be very careful not to push yourself or overstretch. You may not feel the consequences immediately because of the hormones that are running through your body, but it could have lasting effects.
For more information on Mae Yoshikawa, and to see some stunning photos of her, please view her personal website: Mae Is.