Tools for Teaching Prenatal Yoga: The Second Trimester
The second trimester was my favorite for both my pregnancies. My energy level was back up after the wooziness of the first trimester, so I could exercise regularly; I had a "bump," so I got all the positive attention of being pregnant without being too clumsy (yet). As a yoga teacher, it was frustrating not to be able to do all the poses, but it was an opportunity to deepen my own understanding of yoga by doing more supported poses and pPranayama.
Being pregnant is almost a yoga practice in itself. You have to practice vairagya (nonattachment) for nine months with so many things: fitted clothes, favorite foods, intense physical activity. You also become aware of your responsibility to the person growing inside of you, which requires a sense of selflessness. Instead of focusing primarily on the physical, many yoginis find their practice becomes more internal as the pregnancy progresses.
Debra Flashenberg, director of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City, says, "Often, the hardest thing for experienced practitioners is accepting and surrendering. They could have been practicing for years and years, and their egos are very much involved in their practice. They have to let go of something they've strived for and might be very proud of and accept that it's not just about them anymore."
An instructor has to teach prenatal students to get all the benefits of a pose through modification, and how to move from a physical practice to one that is calmer and more introspective.
Physiology of Months Four Through Six
By the fourth month, the pregnancy has become visible. The belly begins to stretch as the baby grows, and the breasts become fuller as the apparatus for nursing develops. The round ligaments of the belly are stretched, and the joints of the pelvis loosen to allow for this additional bulk. All of this new weight on the front of the torso puts a strain on the back as the muscles work to keep the body balanced.
In a healthy pregnancy, the blood pressure is lowered by hormones to accommodate the extra fluids that supply the placenta. This low pressure can cause dizziness, headaches, and mild swelling in the hands and feet. Combined with extra weight gain (10 to 15 pounds during this trimester), this slowed circulation is the cause of varicose veins and cramping in the legs.
Flashenberg advises that teaching to this trimester is about alleviating discomfort. She says, "I start the class by checking in with the students and sharing what their aches and pains are that day. Generally I hear requests for hip opening and chest opening, and [questions] about lower back pain. Or I hear from someone having neck or sleep issues. I can work the class around this, and the students will leave feeling more refreshed and more comfortable."
Modifying Poses to Accommodate the Growing Belly
Despite the discomfort, a second trimester student probably has her energy back and can build her strength, as well as trying to relieve soreness.
"As long as a teacher understands the anatomical and physiological changes of the pregnant body, and what's safe and not safe, you can really teach a well-rounded class," says Flashenberg. "I don't have a problem with asking these students to hold a pose for a few breaths, feeling the sensation and breathing into it. As long as you watch the students and listen to their breathing, it's okay to challenge them in a safe manner."
Standing poses (Utthita Trikonasana [Extended Triangle Pose], Utthita Parsvakonasana [Extended Side Angle Pose], Virabhadrasana I and II [Warrior I and II Poses], Utkatasana [Chair Pose]) and balance poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), and Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose) are great for building strength in the legs and increasing circulation to prevent swelling in the feet and ankles—but have students do them at the wall or with a chair, in case they feel unbalanced.
Make sure you know what muscles are working and how to protect them. "Wide-legged standing poses, like Virabhadrasana II, put a lot of strain on the pelvic floor, and it's already strained," says Judith Hanson Lasater, yoga teacher, physical therapist, and author of Yoga for Pregnancy. She instructs pregnant students to modify the pose by sitting in a chair and putting their legs out in Warrior II, so their front thighs are completely supported by the chair. This adjustment allows for hip opening and some weight bearing, but it takes the pressure off the pelvic muscles.
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