I have always considered yoga an important aspect that I’d like to introduce into my lifestyle. But, for about eight years, I simply had that thought. Then when I became pregnant with Rad I realized, There is no time like now to get started.
I didn’t get myself signed up for a prenatal yoga class until I was in the midst of my third trimester and even though I only did about seven weeks total, it was an important seven weeks. I saw how transformative yoga was and is for me. My back pain subsided, my mind quieted. Everyone says these things come with yoga practice and the reason they say them, is because these outcomes are true.
My current practice in our new city takes place at a local gym. Unlimited yoga classes are on offer and the yoga community is great. I have continued to enjoy attending the classes at the gym throughout my pregnancy – I have found that including yoga practice in my day-to-day is something I crave. And, because so many classes are on offer at the gym, I can generally fit in a couple each week and then lay out my mat at home on the other days. Yet, nearing the middle of my third trimester – and, I was even cautious and concerned in my second trimester – I wondered which poses I should be doing and which I shouldn’t. I was still new to the practice and didn’t necessarily know how to modify for my changing body, but I did remember how careful we were in my prenatal classes back in Ohio during my first pregnancy. (So, like the Yin class here that I tried out on a Tuesday evening during which I was lying on my back, holding poses for 10 minutes. It seemed like two prenatal no-nos at once.)
I started thinking that a prenatal class was good and necessary. I began my research to find a local studio where I could take a few classes to understand what would be good for my body and what to avoid.
While I did not end up joining a prenatal yoga class during my last trimester – I just couldn’t find a class schedule that didn’t conflict with Z’s work schedule – I did happen upon an awesome studio that I look forward to joining at some point, perhaps for some post-natal classes.
Alicia Poldino established Utah Prenatal Yoga when she herself was seeking modification guidance with her yoga practice. “I founded Utah Prenatal Yoga in order to provide expecting women in Utah with more options for high-quality yoga instruction,” Alicia explains. “When I was pregnant with my first baby in 2008 I was attending my regular (favorite!) yoga class and there came a point when I realized I needed something different. My instructor was very experienced and well-trained but didn’t really know how to help me adjust the practice in a way that was beneficial for my changing body. When I was expecting my second baby in 2011 I decided to pursue training in prenatal yoga and offer prenatal classes so that other women could benefit from classes that were specifically designed for pregnancy.”
In our Q & A, Alicia talks over the benefits of prenatal yoga, delves into which changes to the practice are important with each new trimester, and offers us some great modifications for our growing bodies and babies.
Q & A with Alicia Poldino of Utah Prenatal Yoga
Why is prenatal yoga great for expectant mothers? What are the benefits?
Prenatal yoga is a great way to prepare for birth – physically and mentally. Some of the benefits include reduced stress levels, breath awareness, building strength, connecting the mind-body relationship, preparing the pelvic floor, releasing tension in the body, targeting common discomforts related to pregnancy, and establishing a more body-positive attitude.
What is the general focus of most prenatal yoga classes? How does it differ from a regular yoga practice?
My prenatal classes focus on preparing mothers for birth through strength building and breath awareness. Pregnancy yoga is more than just restorative and stretching asana, it’s also important to prepare mothers to be strong – in their bodies and minds. A prenatal yoga class is different from the regular yoga practice because mamas need specific information and guidance about how to adjust the practice in order to keep their bodies safe and strong during the birth year. A well-trained prenatal instructor should be able to address the common conditions of pregnancy and offer a class that is appropriate for mamas in all three trimesters. Another difference is that everyone in class is experiencing pregnancy! We get to talk about and focus on birth-related topics which would be kind of weird in a regular/public class.
What is important to know or to think about in terms of yoga during each trimester? What do you as a yoga instructor focus on for the first trimester, second trimester and third trimester?
The focus throughout the entire pregnancy is on maintaining or building strength, teaching proper breathing techniques, targeting common discomforts, and modifying for pregnancy-related conditions such as round ligament pain, sciatica, indigestion, fetal positioning, instability due to hormones etc.
There are contraindications for all three trimesters and most of these can be easily addressed in a class that has mamas in every stage of pregnancy. Here are a few of the key asanas to watch our for:
First Trimester: Start to eliminate deep twisting, deep forward folds, inversions and forceful pranayama.
Second Trimester: Start to eliminate belly work, back work, closed twists, backbends and rapid transitions.
Third Trimester: Start to eliminate weight-bearing inversions, overstretching and excessive pelvic floor pressure. Some adjustments to the practice can also be made now in order to accommodate optimal fetal positioning.
Modifications for Safe Practice
What are some thoughts for modifications? Maybe you have some standard practices or thoughts on important things for mommas to think about and stay conscious of?
It’s common that most mamas wouldn’t know what to do in a regular class, and just as common that the instructor doesn’t know how to help them! Many times the well-meaning advice of “as long as you feel comfortable” is given. Although it is somewhat true, it isn’t the best way to help an expecting mother adjust her practice in a safe and effective way. If an expecting mother wants to attend a regular/mixed class she has a responsibility to know what type of asana to avoid and how to modify the practice in a way that is appropriate for pregnancy. There is often too much reliance on the instructor to know what to do and if the instructor has only had an hour or two of prenatal instruction during basic training it’s not enough to truly be helpful.
Here are a few ideas for how to modify the practice:
Both of these mamas are in the final weeks of pregnancy. Lunge is a great pose to practice in all three trimesters: it builds strength, opens the hips and lengthens the hamstrings. This photo shows the mamas practicing two modifications for lunge. The mama on the left is using taller blocks to avoid sinking in to the hips, to keep her back body full, create more space in the low belly and to eliminate rounding in the upper back. The mama on the right has taken the additional modification of lowering her back knee. This can be helpful when stability becomes challenged and it still allows for the other benefits of the lunge pose.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
The mama on the left is using a taller block to create more space so that she can find the full expression of the pose and still maintain alignment and comfort. The mama on the right is using a block for space and height, she is choosing to look down and to keep her top arm on her hip for a more approachable version. Notice that she has also narrowed her stance to address the instability that she’s experiencing due to her high level of relaxin hormone. Using blocks is also helping these ladies to keep from over-stretching the belly (aka backbending).
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Balance can be greatly affected during pregnancy. In this photo the mamas are showing two options for modifying the tree pose. On the left, you can see that she has placed her lifted leg below the knee. On the right, you can see that she has taken a “kickstand” option, keeping her knee and foot in the open position and placing her toes to the mat to create more stability.
More Thoughts on Modifications
I would encourage any expecting mother to seek out a good prenatal yoga class. The benefits of working with an instructor who is a registered prenatal yoga teacher (RPYT) extend beyond knowing how to modify poses. A RPYT has nearly 100 hours of pregnancy-specific yoga training in addition to their basic yoga training. Classes are tailored for pregnancy so it doesn’t feel like a regular class that has lots of modifications. If a mama wants to continue with her regular class, attending some prenatal classes can help her learn how to adjust the practice, what contraindications to watch for and how to know when she should modify poses. Additionally, it’s a great way to connect with other women going through a similar experience – a safe place to ask pregnancy-related questions, providing a setting that is held especially for women to explore and experience the many changes that come with carrying a baby and preparing for motherhood.
When do you suggest a mom start back up with yoga post-baby?
I love this question! It really depends on how the birth went. For my public postnatal/Mommy and Me class I prefer that mamas have been cleared by their provider to return to exercise. I never turn anyone away if they want to come before that – sometimes it’s important to get out of the house and do something that is uplifting and nurturing. And six weeks can feel like forever if you haven’t talked to other adults! I make sure that the practice is adjusted to keep them safe.
I strongly encourage mamas to start the healing practice right away – there are a lot of things that can be done to start repairing the body from birth that won’t cause any damage in the first six weeks. In fact, some of the practices can actually help avoid further damage to the abdominal tissue and the pelvic floor when done under the guidance of a trained professional or reliable resource.
I offer in-home sessions for new moms that want to get a head-start on healing and repairing after birth. Bringing the practice to the home allows mamas and babes to honor those first few weeks of staying-in and limiting exposure with the added benefit of having an experienced guide for the early healing period. More about that here.
After teaching prenatal yoga for several years, the demand for postnatal classes inspired me to offer public and private instruction for the postpartum period. As the popularity of these classes increased it became apparent that Utah needed more trained prenatal yoga teachers. I applied to open a Registered Prenatal Yoga School through the Yoga Alliance and started offering teacher trainings in the fall of 2015.
I love working with women and seeing the incredible transformations that take place as they prepare to become mothers and blossom into their new roles. It keeps me connected to the gift of life and continually grounds me in gratitude and awe of my own experience.
More about what Utah Prenatal Yoga has to offer can be found here.
Thank you Alicia!
Such an amazing post offering a wealth of sound advice for mommas looking to add an important level to their pre and post-natal care. I look forward to joining the studio soon. After reading over the post, my convictions on having sound guidance have been reinforced. Even if you will continue with your regular classes, as Alicia suggested, a couple of prenatal sessions to understand the important modifications is a worthy decision for any momma. I also love that Alicia offers in-home sessions for new moms. What a brilliant, convenient and caring option.
Visit Alicia’s blog often for more informative and thoughtful posts like her recent piece on how to safely do the Cat-Cow pose. I do this pose all of the time, so it was important (and surprising to me) to read these modifications. Often touted as a great exercise for pregnant women, Alicia offers necessary improvements to make it safe for pregnant bodies.
I wish you all the best is tracking down an amazing prenatal yoga class. I can’t stress enough how amazing a yoga practice is for anybody, especially a changing momma body.
Rad’s Daily Down Dog