This idea that women should stop their practice when they become pregnant is pervasive… It’s also complete BS.
The excitement of being pregnant quickly became fear as the list of “all the things you can’t-do because you’re pregnant” began to get really, really long. According to a family doctor, I went to see, this list also included my daily Ashtanga practice. Fearful that continuing my practice would result in another miscarriage, I stopped.
I remember the first day I met with my midwife. When I told her I had stopped practicing yoga on the advice of a doctor, she did a full-on facepalm. She was mortified for me that an actual medical professional had suggested that I stop doing yoga. I had a normal, low-risk pregnancy, and let’s be real, it’s not like I was suggesting I go skydiving, take up football, or UFC fighting. I was talking about doing YOGA. Which is, in reality, perhaps one of the most appropriate forms of physical activity to do while pregnant.
Sadly this idea that I and every other pregnant woman should stop our practice when we become pregnant is pervasive. It’s exacerbated by the culture of fear that exists around pregnancy and birth. It’s perpetuated by unsolicited advice from family, friends, and random people on the street. Who are all total experts on pregnancy by the way. It’s also complete BS.
Normal, healthy pregnant women can, and DO practice ashtanga!
Yes, the culture of fear and uncertainty around pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) exists. But that fear doesn’t need to run the show.
It seems like there are so many “rules” about being pregnant. So many conflicting opinions and idea’s about how women ought to experience their pregnancy. Right from the list of foods you should stay away from, to the types of physical activity you shouldn’t be doing. It’s exhausting, and hard to decipher what’s fact from fiction, especially when it’s your first pregnancy.
The reality is, that no one other than your direct prenatal care provider, and yourself are equipped to tell you what to do throughout your pregnancy. No one else truly understands how you’re feeling on a day to day basis, or are fully and completely aware of any risk factors unique to your pregnancy. Yes, the culture of fear and uncertainty around pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) exists. But that fear doesn’t need to run the show.
To all my mama’s to be out there, who are feeling stuck, fearful and unsure about your practice – we’ve got you covered.
Here are a few things that helped me practice throughout my pregnancy:
1. Understand that practicing Ashtanga in your 1st trimester is NOT going to increase your risk for a miscarriage
According to midwife Safire Naranjo, practicing Ashtanga in the first trimester will NOT put you at increased risk for miscarrying.
I think this is one of the biggest reasons women abstain from practice during their first trimester – the fear of miscarriage. The fear is very real, and as someone who has experienced a miscarriage, I can tell you it was one of the biggest reasons I was afraid to practice ashtanga during the first part of my pregnancy. The unfortunate reality is that miscarriages are common. They happen. However, according to midwife Safire Naranjo, practicing Ashtanga in the first trimester will NOT put you at increased risk for miscarrying. If a pregnancy is going to be viable, no yoga practice is going to suddenly provoke it. Similarly, if a miscarriage is going to happen (typically as a result of a chromosomal abnormality), not practicing ashtanga isn’t going to stop it.
If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by pregnancy fear and anxiety, that’s ok. My best advice is to honor those feelings. Allow them to be there, and acknowledge that they are normal, human emotions. You are going through a major transition, and those feelings are completely valid. This practice actually helped me to cope with, and observe my anxiety around pregnancy from a place of equanimity. Try doing a slow, modified practice if it makes you feel better. If you’re finding that your feelings are worsening as you move through the vinyasa, try just doing a seated meditation practice. For me, the practice of showing up each day, and noticing my breath, my body, and feelings were so important.
2. Trust yourself, your teacher & your prenatal care provider
There was something incredibly empowering about having autonomy over my practice, and my body, given all the changes I was going through.
I remember the day I showed up for practice, pregnant, and ready to get back into things. I asked David what I should, and shouldn’t do and he said, “Do whatever you want.” I was taken aback, but as I began to go through my practice, I began to discover what I could and could not do. There was something incredibly empowering about having autonomy over my practice, and my body, given all the changes I was going through.
We hold so much wisdom in our bodies. Far more than we can possibly fathom. And pregnancy is a beautiful time to tap into that wisdom. So often as women we allow fear to cloud our intuitive nature. We listen to the horror stories told by other women and allow those stories to shape our experience. The best advice I was given throughout this pregnancy was from my midwife, “if it feels good, DO IT!” Trust that your body will tell you if something isn’t right, and when it does, back off. Your teacher can give you some suggestions such as having your feet wider in sun salutations, and forward folds, but you are the only one who knows how each pose feels in your body.
3. Show up each day and honor your body
My edge has shifted dramatically from my pre-pregnancy body, and learning to be ok with that has been more challenging than any advanced posture I can think of.
Practicing while being pregnant has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. And not because my body is filled with relaxin, and I’m able to pretzel myself into advanced asanas. Quite the opposite actually. It’s been more about noticing how I feel in each pose and honoring those feelings in each posture. My edge has shifted dramatically from my pre-pregnancy body, and learning to be ok with that has been more challenging than any advanced posture I can think of. This practice is about much more than twisting yourself into advanced asana, and pregnancy has really helped to highlight that.
Some days I show up on my mat, and I totally rock my whole practice. Press up into a headstand. Do all my backbends. I feel like a million dollars. Other days I don’t feel so great. Those are the days, that for me, are the most important. I notice how I feel, and I let my body be my guide. Some days, I may just do sun salutations. Others I’ll get through all of standing. Sometimes, I just do a seated meditation in the Mysore room, surrounded by the energy of all the other practitioners. I’ve come to learn that showing up is far more important than what your practice actually looks like.
4. It’s ok not to practice if it doesn’t feel right
It doesn’t make you any less of a woman, or practitioner because you physically can’t-do the practice anymore.
On the flip side, you don’t need to be an ashtanga hero. This practice isn’t going anywhere. If it doesn’t feel right in your body to practice – that’s ok too. Many women have uncomfortable symptoms like constant nausea, heartburn, dizziness, or feel generally unwell for much of their pregnancy. If that’s the case for you, it’s absolutely ok to back off. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman, or practitioner because you physically can’t-do the practice anymore. If you’re still wanting to do some form of practice, I would suggest seated or walking meditation.
Despite what some people say, it is completely OK to practice ashtanga while you’re pregnant. If you show up, tap into the wisdom your body, and dwell deeply in each moment on your mat, it may just be one of the most beautiful things you do during your pregnancy.