While it is important to note that a person going through a normal pregnancy is not ill, there are some practices that should be left out during gestation and the immediate post-partum period.
If you are in the early days of pregnancy and still attending regular yoga classes, approach your yoga teacher before class and let them know that you are pregnant. If you are reserved about your pregnancy, prefer not to be singled out or don’t want special or exclusive treatment, wait until week 14 and sign up for a prenatal yoga course – which I recommend, as yoga teachers in this speciality are usually trained to accompany women at this particular stage.
If you have a home practice or do not attend a prenatal yoga class, be careful with certain postures and practices.
What are the yoga practices to avoid during pregnancy and why?
Poses such as Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana) and Revolved Extended Side Angle (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana) can reduce blood flow to the uterus, restrict space for the growing baby, create tension in the abdominal muscles and pull on the ligaments. Alternatively, you can do open twists and get the same benefits: improving spinal mobility and massaging the internal organs without compromising the baby’s space.
Asanas that require lying on the stomach, unless they are well propped up with firm pillows and blocks, put pressure on the abdomen as do closed twists. Poses such as Bow pose (Dhanurasana), Cobra pose (Bhujangansa) or Locust pose (Salabhasana) not only put the weight of the body on the belly, but can also cause or aggravate lower back pain by intensifying the compression of the spine.
Intense core strengthening poses or front extensions
Poses such as Boat (Navasana), plank, Four-Limbed Staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), crunches or sit-ups, which require strong engagement of the trunk muscles, or asanas such as Camel (Ustrasana) and Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), which create a significant amount of stretching of the superficial abdominal muscles, can increase the risk of displacement or separation of the Rectus abdominis, known as diastasis recti.
To develop and maintain muscle tone in the trunk, choose asanas like Bird Dog, Hovering Cat or pelvic tilts in all fours or against the wall.
To open the chest, adopt a Reclined Butterfly pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) – only if comfortable –or Cow Face (Gomukhasana) with arms only.
Asanas such as Wide-legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana) or Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana) put a lot of stress on the pubic symphysis, a thick, fibrous cartilage that joins the two pubic bones. These poses are therefore not recommended as they can lead to pubic symphysis dysfunction (PSD) or pelvic girdle pain (PGP). Keep the distance between your feet narrower in every posture, especially if there is already discomfort in the pelvic region.
Poses that destabilise the pelvis
During pregnancy the body releases a hormone called relaxin which allows the ligaments to become lax to enable the baby to pass through the pelvic outlet at the end of the gestation period. Uneven distribution of body weight on one hip in poses such as One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) or very deep lunges may lead to PSD or PGP.
Try to keep your hips parallel, distribute your body weight evenly and be mindful when moving from one position to another (lying down to sitting, sitting to standing, getting out of bed or out of the car, etc.) to maintain pelvic stability.
Inversions or complex balancing poses
As the baby grows the body’s centre of gravity shifts, so the there is a greater risk of falling. Positioning the head below heart level can also cause dizziness. Alternatively, choose Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) or Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) if you do not suffer from light-headedness.
As “cool” as the Instagram photo of the pregnant woman performing an inversion is, be absolutely aware of the risks involved in these poses.
Complex Pranayama practices
Complex Pranayama practices: any breathing technique that requires forceful pumping of the stomach, such as Bastrika and Kapalabhati, or those that use breath retention are not recommended. See which ones are safe to practice here.
From week 28 onwards, it is not advisable to lie on your back. The weight of the belly presses on the vena cava, one of the main blood (and therefore oxygen) supply for the baby, interrupting its flow.
If you suffer from haemorrhoids, prolapse or incontinence, have varicose veins, a weak pelvic floor, suffer from PGP, feel uncomfortable (this goes for all postures!), your breathing is restricted or your baby is breech, deep squats are not beneficial for you.
As a general rule, listen to what your body and your baby are telling you (just pay attention!).