Whether you are an expectant mother yourself or a yoga teacher wanting to best support your prenatal students – this article is for you.
Practicing yin has been such a gift to my yoga practice and life in general. However, when I became pregnant with my first, I quickly learned that in order to safely continue, I needed to shift my approach to the practice a bit during that 9 months of my life.
Of course, our intention is what ultimately will drive us in our lives on and off the mat. During pregnancy, it’s important as a practitioner to consider what you are hoping to achieve or experience through your yin practice.
Of note… Many healthcare professionals will recommend yoga to expectant mothers. This is a wonderful thing! Oftentimes, though, there aren’t a lot of offerings for prenatal-specific classes. This leads to pregnant women joining in on classes for the general public – which is absolutely fine! But should be done so with caution. The tricky part about this is that it may be the first time a woman has ever tried yoga. And there is much to modify or adjust from the rest of the class when you are expecting. I, for example, will do a similar posture but not the same posture as other students when I am expecting (see below). If you are not experienced in yoga, body awareness and feeling the freedom to modify – this can quickly lead to an unsafe environment for a pregnant mama.
Preventing injury is a large part of why our intention matters. When it comes to practicing prenatal yoga, my personal intention is…
Connect with and hold physical, mental and emotional space for myself and baby.
Note that it is not to deepen further than I ever have or to create a fancy shape. We will discuss various changes in the physical body below, but for now – please note that the goal of prenatal yin (and yoga in general) is not to push past our boundaries.
Set an intention that supports your unique journey with pregnancy.
Perhaps you are struggling with fears based on past infertility, previous pregnancies or deliveries, dealing with prenatal depression or even general disconnect. Or on the flip side, maybe you feel overjoyed and filled with excitement, eagerness and anticipation. The intention you set may change from one practice to the next, as pregnancy and the emotions/challenges associated come in waves of various heights and depths. Take time to scan your needs for the moment you’re in and the feelings you are currently sitting with.
A note to instructors: I’ve personally felt variations of both of these emotional extremes with my pregnancies. So it’s important for me as a teacher to expecting students, to allow for them to set intentions for what will nourish them most as a unique individual. This is a critical element for creating a safe space for your students. Allow for them to feel what they need to feel without any agenda from you.
Changes to the Body
There is much to say in the realm of physical changes to the body during pregnancy. Aside from the general shape of the body shifting, internally there is a lot of adjustment as well.
Here are some of the key points to keep in mind before entering a yoga practice as a pregnant practitioner…
- Lengthening Ligaments
- The round ligaments of the stomach, back and hips are stretching more than ever before with the help of growing physical weight and the hormone relaxin.
- Rising Hormone Levels
- hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin): Produced only during pregnancy through the placenta. This is the hormone is often what helps detect pregnancy in an at-home test and it is likely a contributor to the morning sickness many experience in the first trimester (and even beyond).
- hPL (human placental lactogen): Again, this hormone is pregnancy specific and produced by the placenta to provide nutrients to the baby in-utero. It helps to stimulate the milk glands for breastfeeding postpartum (notice the “lacto” element of the name).
- Estrogen: This is actually a group of hormones normally made by the ovaries (during pregnancy the placenta produces additional estrogen) that helps all of the female sex traits properly function and support the pregnancy within a woman’s body.
- Progesterone: Made by the ovaries and placenta, this hormone supports the thickening of the uterine walls so as to provide a safe implantation site for the fertilized egg, which is critical for healthy development in early pregnancy.
- Relaxin: Also produced by the ovaries and placenta, this hormone (as mentioned above) aids in lengthening the ligaments for the belly, back and hips. It also helps to soften and widen the cervix in preparation for delivery. This hormone can dramatically impact our deep tissues (the ones we apply pressure to in yin) and can lead to over-stretching the body.
- Sensitivity in the Pelvic Floor and Lower Back
- The added weight, changing ligaments and shifting hormones all play a role in making these areas more sensitive.
- Crowded Organs / Shallowed Breathing Patterns
- Because of the growing baby, much of the abdominal and chest cavity is changing. As you can see in the picture – the uterus grows up to the size of a watermelon! This means that the stomach will be more sensitive to heartburn and nausea, the bladder will feel more pressure at all times and the lungs will be able to expand less during pregnancy.
- Increased Blood Volume
- During pregnancy, total blood volume increases anywhere between 20-100% above pre-pregnancy levels. This can lead to feeling more overheated, fatigued and likely to experience dizzy spells.
- Use Props! Although it applies to in any yoga practice, props can be especially helpful in yin – especially when expecting. Grab one (or two) of anything that’s available. I’m including some affiliate links to products I prefer below if you need some guidance.
- Utilize props to uplift, support and help with space for baby.
- Props help you hold the static postures without applying too much stress on the tissues of the body that are extra sensitive in pregnancy.
- Adjust Hold Times. Pressure and your pain sensors will feel different during pregnancy. Because of all of the hormonal activity, it may be less obvious when you are going too far. So having some general guidelines on depth will help prevent overdoing it.
- Aim for about 1-3 minutes maximum per posture (or side of the posture if it has two sides). The longer holds of yin in pregnancy can lead to tears and unhealthy stress on the joints, ligaments and fascia that can often be prevented by shorter hold times. If you come out of a pose earlier than everyone else, take a quiet moment to practice deep breathing, reciting your mantra and meditating.
- Flexibility should be approached very mindfully when pregnant. In general, I recommend students not go deeper than they could go pre-pregnancy. To be on the safe side, I even often practice about 30% less depth than I was able to achieve prior to pregnancy.
- Ask for Options. My favorite kind of teachers and the type of instructor I aim to be, is one who is aware that all bodies are different. Pregnant or not, we all have various asymmetries, lengths of limbs, internal conditions, etc. It’s important that teachers are well-prepared to adjust their plan for everyBODY without judgement.
- Ask your instructor for alternatives or options if you ever feel too much in a pose, don’t have space for baby or aren’t sure if something is safe. If the teacher doesn’t know what to tell you, find someone more knowledgable to attend class with.
For more specifics on practicing yin during the various trimesters, click the images below.
Friends! I hope this has been helpful information. I’m eager to hear your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to comment below and I’ll be sure to respond.
Looking for a prenatal yin yoga practice? Check out a full sequence detailed out here or participate in a prenatal yin class with me via Youtube below.
Want to learn more instructor-specific information? Check out this webinar!
TEACHING METHODOLOGY: Prenatal Yin
In this workshop, we will discuss general guidelines for practicing yin while pregnant, what to educate yourself on and ask your expecting students, contraindications to consider for pregnant students… and much more!
Thank you once again Nancy for such beautiful resources, information, and sequencing. I am a long time follower (both as student and teacher) and have loved shifting my practice with your advice now that I am expecting. I am especially working with very tender and sore stomach ligaments in the beginning of my pregnancy. Take care and thank you again!
Vanessa! Thank you for sharing this and leaving a comment. Such a joy to know that my website has served you well through the years and also in this season of your life. Congrats on your pregnancy! Take care of those tender spots and give yourself an extra dose of love whenever you can.
Thank you so much for this post Nancy and for your Prenatal Yin video on Youtube. It’s been so useful for my class prep, I am a yoga teacher based in Perth, Australia and a 3rd trimester pregnant lady has just started attending my weekly Yin yoga class. I wish I’d discovered Yin before my own pregnancy! I did however come to it soon after and attending my weekly Yin class as a new mother was a life saving experience! All the best, Olivia
I’m so happy to share and love getting comments like this that affirm that people enjoy everything. It’s so encouraging especially to help other teachers – and women! Best wishes to you and your students in Australia.