Adapting classical yoga asanas for Pre-Natal Yoga

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Here we look at two classical poses and give instructions on how they can be adapted for a safe pre-natal practice.

Triangle Pose/Trikonasana
    • Begin by stepping feet a comfortable distance apart – but not too wide. Your stance will be narrower than for ‘traditional’ Trikonasana. In all pregnancy yoga postures we want to be careful not to overstretch the muscles and joints (particularly those of the pelvis) which are generally more pliant during pregnancy. The feet should be less than one of your leg’s lengths apart. A good guideline is to have the feet just wider than the width of your mat.
    • See if you can align the heel of your front foot with the inner arch of your back foot. Turn your right foot out and the back foot in slightly.
    • Inhale and raise the arms and extend them either side at shoulder height, relaxing the shoulders as you do so.

Trikonasana

    • As you exhale extend over to the right, folding at the hip, and bending your right leg as you take the back of your right hand to rest on your inner right leg, wherever feels comfortable and at the same time take your left arm into the air.

    • Inhale here and if it feels ok then you can straighten the right leg as you rotate the abdomen and chest towards the sky and carefully turn your head to look towards your left hand. If there is any dizziness or discomfort in the neck then keep the gaze on the right foot instead.

  • Stay for a couple of breaths – as long as feels comfortable, and then on an inhale come back up. Then turn the feet in the opposite direction, exhale over to the left side, and repeat as above to the left.
  • You can also then flow back and forth between each side, moving on the breath, and really allowing the pose to feel as fluid as possible. Inhale in the centre, exhale as you stretch over to the right, inhale back to centre and exhale to the left, in a continuous flow of breath and movement.
Warrior 1 /Virabhadrasana 1 using the wall and twisting variation

*  The variations of these postures are best practised against the wall during pregnancy, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.

*  Moving to a wall, stand facing the wall with the right foot about a foot and half away from the wall and the left foot a comfortable distance behind.

*  Be aware that the distance between the front and back foot should not be too long, and definitely shorter than for the classic variation of Warrior 1.

*  Take both hands to the wall, shoulder width apart and shoulder height. The arms should be straight and hands firming pressing into the wall.

*  Look down and ensure that the feet are lined up as if along either side of a tram line in terms of the width between them and have both feet facing the wall. This helps to create more space for the baby and also really makes the posture more stable. It also facilitates bringing both hips to squarely face the wall.

*  Exhale and bend the right leg. You might need to reposition your feet a little here to ensure that both arms are straight and the palms flat against the wall.

*  On an exhalation press the hands into the wall as if you want to push the wall away from you and on an inhalation soften and release the pressure. As you exhale and push the wall away you may feel the muscles of the lower abdomen engaging. Don’t worry if you can’t feel this at first as it is quite subtle.

*  If you don’t feel anything, you can try moving the hands a little further down the wall, and/or turning the hands so the fingers point to the sides. You can also try with the forearms on the wall instead of the hands and notice which muscles engage, or move the hands a little higher or lower up the wall to see what effect that has.

*  Repeat 5 times. Even if you can’t feel the lower abdominal muscles engaging, the most important thing is to connect to the breath, and the sense of pressing firmly on the exhale and releasing and letting go on the inhale.

*  To move to the next stage, which takes the upper body into a safe and open  twist, then inhale and open the left arm out to the side and back, opening through the chest and left shoulder, and looking towards your fingers, and then exhale and bring the left hand back to the wall. Repeat several times flowing on the breath.

*  Then swap sides and repeat all of the above on the other side, with the left leg in front, and then opening the right arm to the side and back when coming into the twist.
Flowing though the postures on the breath rather than holding them is very beneficial in pregnancy yoga as it really helps women to embody the breath/body connection, which is so useful in labour, and it also encourages more relaxed stretching and elongating rather than rigidly holding in a posture.

It is very important that the stances in all standing postures for pregnancy yoga are kept shorter to prevent overextending in the muscles, ligaments and joints, especially those in the inner groins, hips and pelvis. The pregnancy hormones of elastin and relaxin can mean that the joints and ligaments become looser and more elastic and pliable during pregnancy so it is important to make women aware of this and to encourage them to work safely and conservatively and not to over-stretch in any posture. If muscles and ligaments are over-stretched during pregnancy it will take much longer for everything to knit back into place post-natally, and can also have a destabilising effect on the pelvis during pregnancy.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Warrior II as a freestanding posture in the middle of the room is best avoided in general for pregnancy yoga as it can provoke and aggravate Pelvic Girdle Pain (which is quite common during pregnancy) as it is an asymmetrical posture that can destabilise the SI Joints.

Within specific pregnancy yoga classes, we modify many classical yoga poses, and also compliment these with many movements, poses and exercises that are specifically designed for women during pregnancy, with a focus on keeping women ailment free during their pregnancy and to help with common conditions.

For those women who have had a regular and consistent yoga practice prior to becoming pregnant, it is also possible to continue with your practice and to attend non-pregnancy yoga classes, especially during the second trimester when you have more energy, but there are some guidelines that you should be aware of, and things that you should specifically avoid doing, and I will talk more about these in a future article.

In the meantime, if you are pregnant and attending a non-pregnancy yoga class you should always tell the teacher before class, so that he/she can advise you on which poses to avoid or modify.

If you are newly pregnant and would like more advise on how to continue with and adapt your existing yoga practice, then I am always available for 1-2-1 sessions to help with this.

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017

Posture of the month: CROW POSE (BAKASANA)

Bakasana is often the first arm balance that people learn. It’s a great feeling once we get lift off in this pose, but it can take a leap of faith the first time, a willingness to trust ourselves and overcome our fear of falling.

Bakasana is often the first arm balance that people learn. It’s a great feeling once we get lift off in this pose, but it can take a leap of faith the first time, a willingness to trust ourselves and overcome our fear of falling.

Preparatory poses

Plank pose and Vasisthasana are useful for building some upper body strength.

Cat Pose, Child’s Pose and Garland Pose (Malasana), are useful for allowing the spine to gently round

Baddha Konasana and Malasana are also useful for opening the inner groins and hips prior to performing Bakasana.

How to Perform
  • From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), inhale and raise the arms up and exhale and fold forward, bending the knees as much as you need to, placing the hands flat on the floor shoulder width apart, and about 10 inches (25 centimetres) in front of the feet, with the middle finger pointing forward and the other fingers spreading out from there.
  • With the feet close together, come on to tip toes, begin to bend the legs, widening the knees whilst keeping the bottom lifting high.
  • Begin to bend the elbows a little, lift the heels higher off the floor, and shift your weight forward into the hands to bring the knees on the upper arms as close to the arm pits as possible.
  • Strongly press the knees in against the upper arms, engage through your abdominal muscles, and trust in the support of your arms. Once the weight is in the hands, lift the feet fully off the floor, and straighten the arms as much as possible, pushing the floor away.
  • Keep the feet together and active, pressing through the ball joints of the big toes, and draw them into towards your buttocks. Keep the bottom high and allow the spine to round upwards.
  • Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, engaging mula bandha and keeping the head up and the gaze on the tip of the nose to help with your balance.
  • To exit the pose, either carefully lower the feet back to the floor and inhale to come back to standing, or lightly step or jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana and continue via your Vinyasa flow into your next pose.
  • In the second series ashtanga sequence, Bakasana may also be jumped into directly from Downward Facing Dog, although this take a great amount of control and lift through the bandhas, and therefore many years of practice for most people.
  • Bakasana can also be entered from Three Point Headstand, but that’s a story for another day . . .

Benefits
  • Strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders and abdominal muscles
  • Quietens and focuses the mind
  • Helps to face and conquer the fear of falling forward, which can help build confidence and courage in other areas of our lives
  • Helps to build the strength and focus required for more challenging arm balancing poses
Modifications
  • To begin with, do not try to straighten the arms but keep the elbows bent as you learn to balance.
  • Practice transferring the weight back and forth from toes to hands, without actually taking the feet off the floor.
  • If you are worried about falling, place a large cushion in front of your hands to relieve the fear.
  • If it’s difficult to get lift off, try taking a block under the feet to give yourself a little extra help
Contraindications
  • Not suitable for those with current wrist injuries
  • Those with a current shoulder injury shoulder injury should also proceed with caution
  • Not suitable during pregnancy

Pregnancy Yoga

Our pregnancy yoga teacher Sarah Burgess explains what pregnant women can expect to gain from yoga in each of the three trimesters of pregnancy.

In the First Trimester *, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To rest, relax and slow down
  • Specific postures can help the foetus to implant
  • Using positive mantras can help relieve anxiety regarding possible miscarriage
  • Deep relaxation and pranayama can be very beneficial in helping women to relax their bodies and minds, and in stabilising hormonal fluctuations and mood swings
  • It can provide physical and emotional support in adapting to all of the changes occurring in their bodies and in their lives
  • It can help women to self-nurture during this very important early stage of pregnancy when they will often feel exhausted and also possibly very nauseous
  • It can help women to create both physical and mental space for baby

In the Second Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To build strength and flexibility in their bodies
  • To both tone and develop elasticity in their pelvic floor
  • To become more in touch with their bodies and to make friends with their pelvis
  • Pranayama exercises help women to begin connecting with and working with their breath and to expand their breathing capacity. This is beneficial for both the mother and baby, and also is very calming for the mind and the body
  • To relieve a number of common ailments associated with pregnancy such a Pelvic Girdle Pain, SI Joint Pain, swollen ankles, sore wrists and insomnia
  • Regularly attending a pre-natal yoga class can help women to form new friendships and find a support group with other expectant mothers
  • Yoga helps women to begin connecting with their babies through the breath, sound, touch, thought and intention and it also gives them some valuable down-time to do this
  • It can help women to feel nurtured and can engender more self-nurture
  • It can help women to positively and effectively respond to postural changes as the increased size of their babies increases the curve of their lumbar spine
  • Yoga at this stage continues to help women to better cope with any anxieties they are experiencing about their pregnancy, the birth and all of the changes that lie ahead.

In the Third Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • It continues to help alleviate common ailments which may well have become more pronounced as the pregnancy progresses, particularly lower back ache, PGP, indigestion and heartburn and difficulty sleeping
  • To learn breathing and sound techniques which can be very valuable during labour and birth, and which during pregnancy help women to connect with and bond with their babies
  • To learn deep relaxation techniques which can also be very useful during labour and birth, and can particularly help women prepare for the potential challenges involved in a hospital birth (e.g. lots of people, noise, bright lights, stressed midwives)
  • Learning labour circuits and birthing postures can be very useful for the birth
  • The use of positive mantras can help to reduce women’s anxieties around the birth
  • To make more physical space for the growing baby and to create more space for the woman to breath, with a particular focus on breathing into the back body, side ribs and chest
  • Breathing and posture work can encourage letting go and releasing, which is very important in preparation for labour
  • Yoga can help to encourage optimal foetal positioning (so that the baby is positioned in the best possible place in the pelvis when a woman goes into labour)
  • Yoga can give women some much needed time for themselves as the practical preparations for the arrival of baby increase, as perhaps do the last minute demands of the workplace before women go on maternity leave

* N.B. It is worth noting that whilst women are generally advised to rest and not attend yoga classes during their first trimester there are a number of gentle practices and relaxation exercises that are safe and beneficial to do at home during this time.

Sarah will cover these in a future article. She is also available for 1-2-1 sessions either at the studio or at your home if you would like advise or guidance on simple, safe yoga practices for the first trimester.

 

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017