There are several positions and yoga practices strictly contraindicated for pregnant women. There are also asanas and techniques which are not strictly forbidden, but not really recommended, and therefore we try to avoid them in a Yoga practice during pregnancy, just in case…
Contradictions are always depending on a few factors: stage of pregnancy, individual woman, other medical condition during or from before the pregnancy, level of a yoga practice, etc.
As yoga teachers we have a choice to prepare programs either for different stages of pregnancy, or to exclude all of the contraindicated positions and prepare universal class for all stages of pregnancy. Yes it is possible, and it is very practical as you don’t need to remember who is in which stage of pregnancy as everything is safe for everybody!
It is important to understand that as yoga teachers we need to inform, warn and educate, but the final decision of HOW TO PRACTICE YOGA DURING PREGNANCY belongs to a pregnant woman. We need to honour this. For many women with a strong yoga practice (Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hot Yoga) it feels good – at least at the beginning of pregnancy – to continue their practice, and it is usually fine with small adjustments to do it. As pregnancy progresses they might get ready to join a prenatal yoga class or at least shift to a gentler yoga practice. It all depends on a woman, her practice and how she feels during pregnancy.
not recommended from the moment of conception, unless we perform “fake” twist (twist to the opposite side) or natural range of motion, deep twists compress and constrict the uterus and the baby. Nature regulates it in its way – twisting usually doesn’t feel comfortable (if possible at all!) especially during late phases of pregnancy
Lying on the abdomen/ prone positions
From the beginning of the second trimester lying on the belly doesn’t feel comfortable. Although it might be still comfortable for women in their first trimester yoga teacher should avoid offering this option as not the best for prenatal yoga anyway. We can easily replace slight backbends from prone to sitting, standing or supported, soothing will be missed in the practice, yet we avoid pressing abdomen. Many women complain about pressure in the abdominal region from early weeks of pregnancy.
Abdominal strengtheners such as crunches, sit-ups, or flexion of abs, etc. are not recommended in any phase of pregnancy. There are different opinions about this point, yet in prenatal yoga we recommend to focus on strengthening core in a different way. “Opposite limbs extension”, standing postures, working with Transversus Abdominis without any pressure on the uterus, etc. would be the choice of prenatal yoga teacher.
During pregnancy the belly is stretched by definition, and so we don’t want to over stretched the abdominals. Postures like wheel or even camel are considered unsafe and too strong, especially that many women in prenatal yoga classes are also beginners! We want to make sure that there is no heavy load on the lumbar spine, and since abdominal muscles cannot easily oppose this move we replace deep backbends with their gentler versions, just nicely stretching chest, gently relax iliopsoas, and are safe for the spine, pelvis and the baby.
Jumping, jerky movements
Jumping and rapid movements can cause the shock for the body, heavy load on the joins (already in challenge!), and make a student unstable and prone to injury. There is no need to jump back to chaturanga during pregnancy, especially that a woman can hit the belly collapsing onto the ground.
Holding breath is contraindicated for each stage of pregnancy. Any pranayama with retention of the breath shouldn’t be performed. Holding the breath increases pressure on the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, and can cause discomfort including dizziness, etc. Also Ujjayi is not recommended during pregnancy as it is a strong and heating breath, as well as it can lower the blood pressure causing the feeling of light-headed or dizzy.
Nauli kriya, Uddiyana bandha
First contraindication comes from the fact that both techniques require the breath retention. Strong contraction of belly is not recommended as well, so we find the unsafe for prenatal yoga practice.
The hormone of “stretch” – RELAXIN begins being produced at conception. As the ligaments, tendons and muscles soften in preparation to birth many women experience more flexibility than from before the pregnancy. This causes natural risk of overstretching during a yoga practice. We recommend that women do not stretch to their maximum, or even reduce their limits to 80-85 % of their flexibility from before the pregnancy. Injury during pregnancy is the least which we need!
The root lock can be practiced throughout almost all stages of pregnancy, because it helps to prepare pelvic floor muscles for healthy pregnancy, deliver and post partum recovery. It is believed that the risk of tearing during the labor decreases thanks to practice. Mulabandha keeps the pelvic floor strong and controlled, helping to support the baby’s weight, especially ion the late stages of pregnancy.
Between weeks 38 and 42 we shouldn’t practice and teach it anymore as it is time to let go of any tension in cervix and leave preparation to birth to the Nature. The cervix needs to soften and open before pregnancy, so mulabandha would disturb in this process.
There are many different opinions about Inversions during pregnancy. Some doctors say it should never be done while you are pregnant, other finds even benefits of inversions. The big part of experts believe that even if a woman performs inversions it should be, only until the end of the second trimester. There, was a discussion on the risk of turning a baby into the breech position due to inverting the mum’s body, but some doctors didn’t accept this argument either. I always repeat that while bringing legs up agains the wall, or make semi-inversion like Downward Dog or forward fold seem to be totally fine and beneficial, pure inversions make no bigger sense during pregnancy (neither for a baby, nor Mum- to-be), cause we make inversions in Yoga mostly for total body control and balance, using all the core muscles and strength, while during pregnancy you cannot build your own inversions as the balance is temporarily changed, and you cannot work with your core muscles either. I replace inversions with semi inversions and use other benefits of inversions offering different positions instead. In this way everything is safe and there is no injury, neither need for struggling. The risk of falling during performing inversions is for me the most important argument not to teach them at all, and replace them with stable and mild asanas.
Lying on the left side
To avoid the pressure on Vena Cava we switch Savasana into the left side (Baby Krishna pose). Lying flat on the back is also not recommended and usually not comfortable, therefore we lift the chest (or hips) up, to avoid the pressure on Vena Cava.
Pain defined as “round ligament pain” usually occurs during the second trimester as the baby grows up and the uterus and the belly need to “grow” (stretch) as well.
Some women experience the spasm or cramps of round ligament. Warm bath can help, as well as lying on the left side with pillow underneath the belly, pelvic circles or cat & cow stretches, reduce standing / walking might help.
The irritation of the sciatic nerve is quite common during pregnancy. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve begins in the root of the spinal cord (lower back), and extends through the buttocks to the lower limbs. At pregnancy the weight of the uterus presses on the sciatic nerve, and that’s the cause of troubles. Symptoms of sciatic nerve irritation are lower back pain (shooting, pinching, burning), going down to your knee on the back side of the leg. It is usually folding forward that aggravates the pain, so in Yoga we recommend to avoid it. But when you perform the forward bend gently and with modification (bent knees, props, straight back and not going all the way down) it should be fine, or even better. Be careful also in positions tilting the pelvis. We always try to encourage students with sciatic problem to explore the body and positions – so that she knows which asanas to avoid, which ones to modify, etc.
Overheating the body during pregnancy is not allowed (jacuzzi, hot tubes, etc.). Yoga practice in heated room is considered unsafe. Also fast-pace practice is not recommended, but if you prepare quite dynamic session remind your students to drink a lot of water (against dehydration)! Balances are great, but during the pregnancy we need to exclude the risk of fall and injury. Balances can be performed only in a safe environment, and with the support of the wall, partner or props. Arm balances are almost impossible in a late pregnancy, and can be quite risky for the wrists. Yet yoga books for prenatal yoga are full of advanced asanas (which tells that all is possible, not all i recommended though!).