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Pregnancy Modifications for Experienced Students

By Tim Miller

I am six weeks pregnant and am a serious yoga student. How should I modify my practice during the first, second, and third trimesters? It seems like all the prenatal yoga information is geared to beginners.
—MaryRose Wild, Plymouth, MA

Tim Miller's reply:

During pregnancy it is most important to listen closely to your intuition whenever something in the practice doesn't feel right. But an experienced practitioner can do a pretty normal practice for the first three months. In the vinyasa sequence, some women prefer stepping instead of jumping back into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) to reduce the risk of miscarriage. Since nausea is common during the first trimester, it may be helpful to practice in a well-ventilated room.

During the second trimester your growing belly will require modifying some poses. Use common sense and avoid putting undue pressure on the abdomen in poses like Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Janu Sirsasana C, Marichyasana B and D, and Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose). You may also choose to reduce the amount of vinyasa if generating heat in the body makes you uncomfortable.

When practicing Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), separate the legs to accommodate the belly. In a twist like Marichyasana III (Marichi's Pose), brace an arm against the knee and place the other hand on the floor, rather than binding the pose.

The third trimester will require you to continue to adapt and even omit certain postures. As the blessed event approaches, focus on poses like Prasarita Padottanasana (Intense Spread Leg Stretch), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), and Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide Angle Pose) to open the groins in preparation for delivery. Standing poses like Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), and Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) can help relieve back pain. And a simple inversion such as Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall-Pose) can help to relieve swollen ankles.

I know a woman who did hour-long Headstands into her ninth month of pregnancy and another who was doing Viparita Chakrasana (Handstand to Backbend and back again) up until the end, but they are the exception to the rule. For most women the last trimester is a time to take it easy. So you may want to join a prenatal class for that very reason, even if you feel physically capable of doing more.

Through each trimester the most important thing is to tune in to what your body is telling you and alter your practice accordingly. During and after your pregnancy, try not to be attached to your previous abilities. Your body will go through enormous changes, which as a man I can only try to empathize with. Someone once suggested that I try practicing with a watermelon strapped to my belly, but thus far I haven't.

Tim Miller has been a student of Ashtanga Yoga for over twenty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Tim has a thorough knowledge of this ancient system, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. For information about his workshops and retreats in the United States and abroad visit his Web site, www.ashtangayogacenter.com.



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Reader Comments

Mia

Here is a more comprehensive outline of ashtanga postures to avoid during each trimester. Inversions, laying on your back and extreme twists are just some of the asanas that are not recommended: http://www.ashtanga.com/html/pregnancy.html

Beth

Sadly, I haven't practiced regularly since my first baby was born. But now, in my 7th month with the second baby, headstand for a few minutes is the only thing that relieves back pain. And it does a fabulous job at it.

kc

swollen ankles is a late pregnancy issue, therefore vitparita kurani doesn't really apply, since it cannot be done in the third trimester
it is better to do a side-lying pose with one leg elevated at a time

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