When the practice changes
I always tell students to watch how their body is feeling on any given day and adapt their asana practice to these changes. Ease off. Modify. Adapt. You know: cliché yoga teacher chat. As I write this, I'm almost six months pregnant with my first baby. Amidst all of the excitement and changes that are associated with this period of life, it's been fascinating to practice yoga. I am, in general, a pretty private person and have intentionally shared nothing online related to my pregnancy. I have no plan to ever post sonogram, "bump," or baby pictures to social media, so don't hold your breath for those. ;-) However, as a teacher, I felt compelled to write a relatively personal blog post about my experiences practising yoga while pregnant, in hopes that it may offer a perspective that is useful for a few people out there.
I have read and heard accounts from yoga teachers who talked about how their practice didn't change that much throughout their pregnancy. That hasn't been my experience, and I thought adding a different perspective to the conversation might be helpful.
For nearly 15 years, I relished my very strong, very consistent asana practice. Until I got pregnant, I think the longest period of time I spent "off the mat" was about two weeks. I've been blissfully fortunate that I have never had a serious injury that kept me off the mat. However, as soon as I saw that positive home pregnancy test, something shifted and my asana practice changed. Although I was lucky to not experience morning sickness, I took on board the traditional advice of abstaining from dynamic asana in my first trimester. I did some pranayama, a very tiny bit of very very gentle, close-to-the-ground hatha yoga at home, ate a lot of salty carbs, and took many, many naps. On reflection, it wasn't a bad couple of months at all. ;-)
As soon as I passed that 12 week mark, I was eager to start moving more. I took on board the basic list of "pregnancy do's and don't" for modifying a dynamic vinyasa practice: no jumping in sun salutations or vinyasas, no "closed" twists, and no intense core work. I also retired my beloved handstands. I never had a press handstand in my asana repertoire, so handstands always involved some sort of a hop for me. Although it had been a few years since I had fallen out of a handstand, I can remember those falls very vividly. It just seemed like an unnecessary risk that I was unwilling to take. (For the record, I miss handstands, but not as much as I thought I might.) For the time being, I'm still practising other inversions, including sirsasana and pincha mayurasana, but I am well aware that at some point those inversions will probably also be retired until after the baby arrives.
Not happening right now.
Beyond these black and white modification and variations, it has been interesting to observe the nuanced ways my asana practice, and my body, change every day. My practice keeps getting slower, and slower, and slower. It's also getting simpler and simpler. I often practice standing poses by doing, for instance, the right side of Trikonasana, pivoting through a wide-legged stance, and then doing the left side. No fancy sequencing or choreography necessary. This gives me a chance to land in a posture, assess how it feels that day, and then make little changes based on what I notice in that moment. I'm less drawn to the strongly dynamic aspects of ashtanga-based practice. I haven't done many Sun Salutation Bs. Since the rest of my practice has changed, I have found that I don't need so much fire to warm up my body for the asanas I am practising. It's been nice to rediscover lunge-based salutations that I hadn't been regularly practising the past few years. Arm balances, which were a staple of my practice before I got pregnant, have pretty much been voted off the island for now, with the exception of Pincha Mayurasana which continues to feel strong, stable, and fun. I almost never work up a sweat in my practice right now, but it still feels strong and I can tap into the "slow burn" when I want it.
I'm not worried about "getting my mojo back" after the baby arrives. Bodies have a remarkable ability to remember skills and techniques. If I learned how to do Galavasana once, I can learn it again. More importantly, I suspect that my ability to do certain postures will feel like it matters a whole lot less to me in a few months.
On the flip side, I felt the effects of Relaxin pretty early on in my pregnancy. (Relaxin is a hormone produced during pregnancy that increases the flexibility of many joints, particularly in the pelvis, by softening the ligaments.) I am already pretty flexible in that area, so when I noticed an increase in flexibility, I began to step away from that edge and work towards stability in those joints rather than hyper-mobility.
Because I feel a need for space in my practice right now, I'm attending very few group public classes as a student. I've been to one public class in almost 6 months, and instead I'm prioritising time on my own in my home practice. Beyond a self-led home practice, my biggest salvation has been Jason Crandell's online classes with Yogaglo. His classes allow me to feel strong and grounded, and the simplicity of this sequencing feels great to me right now. I've still not made it to a pregnancy yoga class, but I keep promising myself I'll go at some point. TBC.
One of the reasons I felt compelled to write this blog is that I think there is pressure on pregnant women in 2018 to just "keep on keeping on" the way they always have. Maybe we think it's a sign of weakness to change or modify our activities. I've been extraordinarily lucky and felt, by and large, great throughout my pregnancy thus far; even so, I felt it was right to respond to the massive shift that was occurring in my physical body (hello, I'm cooking a human!). I'm fairly bull-headed and stubborn by nature, and if you had asked me a few years ago, I probably would have thought that I could just push through the challenges of pregnancy without any real noticeable shift in my approach to asana. I was wrong. I'm glad I was wrong. I'm grateful that a few more years of living and practising have led me to land where I am now. Asana practice has always felt like a mirror of my life, in one way or another. My entire life is being turned upside down. A lifetime of expectations, rules and routines that I have established are being jostled about as I prepare for the arrival of this baby. It only seems right, therefore, that my asana practice is also in a period of transition.
All of this is to say: You Do You. I know women who have carried on with an incredibly strong asana practice throughout their pregnancies. I know other women who have stepped off their mat completely during that time. I respect both choices, and everything in between, as valid and right for different individuals. I hope that my perspective might allow a few other women to feel like it's also a valid choice to continue to practice, but to soften the approach considerably. The greatest thing I've gleaned from my yoga practice over the last 15 years is a heightened sense of self-knowledge and self-awareness, which enables me to feel more self-confident in my decisions. For me, it has been invaluable to continue a practice that grounds me and provides continuity and familiarity in a period of great change. On the inside, asana holds the same purpose for me as it always has. It just looks pretty damn different from the outside at the moment.
I am REALLY curious to see how the practice will change after the baby arrives. If I can find 4 minutes in between nappy changes to write a follow-up blog in a few months, I'll let you know how post-natal yoga is shaping up for me.