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Tools for Teaching Prenatal Yoga: The First Trimester

If you teach yoga regularly, you will have a pregnant student in your class at some point. Learn what to do to encourage a healthy first trimester.

By Brenda Plakans

Contraindicated Poses

Pregnant women should avoid most inversions because you don't want to encourage circulation away from the uterus. And because of the low blood pressure pregnant women usually experience, inversions can cause dizziness. The one exception, however, is Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), which is fine for short periods of time. Because of the physical demands during the first trimester, these women should not do high-energy sequences such as intense vinyasa series and Sun Salutations with jump-backs. Avoid teaching them most backbends (although Setu Bandha Sarvangasana [Bridge Pose] is OK) because these stretch the abdominal muscles too much.

Side-lying Savasana

A vital part of a prenatal routine is relaxation. "One thing I want every pregnant woman to do is lie down every day for 20 minutes in side-lying Savasana (Corpse Pose)," says Lasater. "Rest deeply every day. Labor is the metabolic equivalent of swimming nine miles, so a mother needs to learn how to rest and listen to her body."

Lay the pregnant student on her left side for Corpse Pose at the end of class (all side-lying poses should be on the left side, to avoid pressure on the vena cava vein, which moves blood from the lower part of the body—the uterus—to the heart). Arrange blankets and bolsters under her right knee, belly (if she is starting to show), right arm, and head so all parts of the body are supported. If she begins a habit of recuperating after physical activity now, she will fine-tune her ability to relax on cue, which is a crucial part of labor and delivery.

Building Strength, Encouraging Rest

During the first trimester, the sensations of pregnancy are still new, so a student might be tempted overdo a sequence. Encourage your students to practice with a new awareness of the baby inside and of her body's need for rest. Your job as a yoga teacher is to help your pregnant students learn to appreciate the benefits of a gentler, more introspective yoga practice.

Here, in summary, are some important things to remember when teaching a woman in her first trimester:

  • Practice basic poses with a few modifications. Build strength and encourage flexibility with familiar poses, but make props available in case the student feels unbalanced or tired.
  • Avoid inversions, closed twists, and backbends. The student shouldn't do anything that might compress the uterus or overstretch the abdominal muscles.
  • Encourage a long relaxation at the end of class. This is a perfect time for the student to practice focused breathing and clearing the mind.
  • Remember, a pregnant woman is not sick or injured. Help her discover the strength and power in her body. While you need to modify some poses, she is still a strong, capable student and does not need to be fussed over constantly. Give her some options and let her do the practice in a way that feels good to her. She is the only one who really can feel what is going on in her body, and she needs to learn to trust her own instincts. With a little encouragement and a lot of practice, yoga will become a crucial tool for her birthing experience.

Brenda K. Plakans, mother of three-year-old Eamonn and six-month-old Alec, lives and teaches yoga in Beloit, Wisconsin. She also maintains the blog Grounding Thru the Sit Bones.



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Reader Comments

Zoe

Regarding the recommendation to avoid inversions: I don't think the the body's circulatory system is so fragile that being upside down would markedly change the blood flow to or from the uterus. During my pregnancy I modified as needed for the size of my belly and level of energy, but I found inversions (especially shoulderstand) to be quite comfortable and therapeutic.

Maia

@alan:If a pregnant woman wants to do a class that is focused on her and her baby she should go to a specific pre natal class, not a general yoga class. The article focuses on incorporating a pregnant student into an open class without making it a pregnancy yoga class as, most likely, other 20 people in the class won't be pregnant. I am a student, yoga teacher and an expecting mother and found the tips in the article very helpful (although I wouldn't take on a student who was less than 12 weeks pregnant and most specialist prenatal classes woudnt either, you should be after your first all-clear scan in order to participate). X

Emily

One of the most important considerations was not in this article - diastasis recti. This is separation of the abdominal muscles. I disagree with Tory who said its best not to do core work. A strong core is essential for a successful birth and recovery. However, you must be educated about how to work your core safely. There are specific ways to work the muscles that are used to push the baby out. There are also specific exercises that should be avoided. Do your research to help your students be safe and strong for the labor ahead.

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