At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve just started maternity leave and the busyness that usually gives my world structure has subsided. Everyone keeps telling me that the most important thing I can do is rest, which I’m sure is true. But given that I have a little set of feet presssing into my diaphragm, neither sitting nor lying for any length of time are very appealing… Thankfully, I still have yoga. I thought I’d share a little about how my yoga practice has been shaped by and shaped my experience of pregnancy in the hope it might help others, pregnant or not.
Yoga in the first trimester
I was lucky not to be too sick in my first trimester, but I felt lousy for weeks. I was plagued by nausea which refused to limit itself to any particular time of day. ‘Morning’ sickness is a lie. Much of the time I felt bone tired and a bit pathetic. Needless to say, my yoga practice changed a lot. When I managed to do a stronger asana practice I would feel much better for it. However, most days the best I could manage was a bit of cat-cow and some rolling from side to side.
Pranayama was my friend though – practising ujaayi breath and alternate nostril breathing (without breath retention) helped to keep me calm and centred. I can’t recommend it enough. Being able to focus on my breath also saved me during some tricky work calls when all I wanted to do was lie down with my iced water and dry crackers to hand.
Yoga in the second trimester
From about week 10 of my pregnancy, I started to feel much better. I had more energy, my body felt like mine again and the nausea subsided. I know I’m lucky in that and for many, symptoms last much longer and are far more severe than mine were. You have my utmost sympathy and respect!
But by week 11 or so, I was mostly back to doing my own vinyasa yoga practice, which just a few adaptations. As I didn’t have much of a bump until my third trimester, I felt quite unrestricted and it was great to feel strong and mobile again. I tried some free pregnancy yoga classes on Youtube, but found them a bit dull. I wasn’t ready to give up a stronger physical practice, so and I got frustrated with feeling the classes were so limited in scope. I ended up subscribing to an online service purely for a brilliant online pregnancy yoga series from Lauren Eckstrom. This gave me the physical challenge I was looking for while also having some gentler classes and pregnancy-specific yoga nidra classes thrown into the mix.
Yoga in the third trimester
In my third trimester, I started to miss the connection to others of being part of a class. I couldn’t find any pregnancy yoga classes near where I live in Beeston, Nottingham (maybe something I can rectify in the future!) but I stumbled across some live online Triyoga classes led by an absolute guru of pregancy yoga, Lolly Stirk. Since the 70s, Lolly has championed women’s rights to free movement and choice in their births. She founded the Active Birth Movement which shaped medical practice through the 80s and 90s. The depth of her knowledge shines through in her classes, which combine community, gentle movement and breathing. At 36 weeks pregnant, when my midwife told me that she couldn’t find the baby’s head (!) and wasn’t sure whether they were breech, Lolly asked me what I could feel. She then reassured me, “Have the scan to be sure, but your baby is head down, your baby is fine.” She was right.
Lolly has taught me a way of practising yoga that will never leave me. It’s about repetitive, and almost hypnotic movements, tuning in to the natural rhythms of the body and working with the breath. I begin most classes feeling a little agitated and impatient, then at a certain point, my mind settles and I’m just there, in my body. I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for birth.
3 things that yoga in pregnancy has taught me
I’m a big believer in taking all the learning you can from an experience. Pregnancy has been a steep learning curve for me. The things I am hoping will stick are:
- Whatever else is going on, you can always come back to your breath. Focusing on my breath has anchored me through the sicky days, the energetic days and the anxious days.
- You practise yoga in a different body each time. For years, I’ve enjoyed yoga’s ability to help me tune into changes in my body. But pregnancy brings such accelerated transformation that every time I practise, something tangible has changed. I love taking time to notice, accept and appreciate it.
- Being able to ‘do’ a posture matters less than you think. I’ve surprised myself by not really caring when I lost the ability to do certain yoga postures. Yoga has helped me to stay mobile enough to pick things up off the floor, tie my own shoelaces and get myself off the sofa. But when child’s pose got too restricted, I just grabbed a bolster. When handstands no longer felt like sweet relief, I stopped doing them. When savasana on my back made me feel like I was suffocating, I lay on my side instead. And do you know what, it was fine.
Most of all, yoga in pregnancy has been a lesson in impermanence and non-attachment. It’s been an invitation to dive deeper into an awareness that transcends the physical postures and to see that they never really mattered anyway. That said, I still defy anyone to focus on much at all when you’re literally being kicked in the ribs from the inside. Maybe there’s a lesson somewhere in that too?!