My Journey Through Pregnancy with Yoga
Pregnancy can be a real rollercoaster. The hormones, the emotions, the physical changes, the anticipation, the hopes and fears, the discomfort or pain, the excitement, the wonder and the awe. It can be all this. And more. Or different. We are all so beautifully unique. But regardless of who you are and your experience, it is, without a doubt, one of the biggest and best adventures of a lifetime. An an everyday miracle.
Because of the rollercoaster nature of the experience, I was very grateful for the support, grounding, spaciousness and strength I draw from my yoga practice. Without it, I don’t know where my body and my mind might have ended up!
The style of yoga I drew on the most during pregnancy was Poppy Perinatal Yoga (and it now forms an invaluable part of my ongoing postpartum recovery). This style has been developed by Forrest Yoga Guardian, Catherine Allen, with the aim of helping pregnant people prepare emotionally and physically for birth. This has certainly been true for me.
To give you the full story I didn’t practice much yoga asana (postures) at all during the first trimester due to constant nausea and extreme fatigue. All I could muster on the good days was deep breaths, Alternate Nostril Breathing, some gentle Seated Side Bends and Yoga Nidra (which would inevitably lead into a long afternoon nap - oh those were the days!). Fortunately for me the nausea did pass in the second trimester and I started stepping back on my mat more regularly again. I am grateful to say that my asana practice continued to support me right up until the day I went into labour, which was two weeks after my due date!
Reflecting back now, there are five main ways in which yoga supported me emotionally and physically during this time. It helped me to:
Connect to my intuition
Here’s a little more about each of these.
Every time I practice yoga, I set an intention for the practice. Something specific that is relevant to what’s going on in my life. Something to focus on throughout that practice, which I carry with me into the rest of the day. During pregnancy I most often practiced with the intent to breathe into baby and heart, and connect the love from my heart to my baby. I found this so nourishing and relaxing (I still feel warm fuzzies when I remember how it felt to carry Elise and connect with her in utero). Other go-to intents included focusing on a particular area of the body (most often an area of discomfort that I wanted to explore), releasing resistance, feeling fear in my body, and practicing in a struggle-free way.
Working with an intention in this way enabled me to approach my journey through pregnancy with more awareness and presence. It reminded me that I could choose what to focus on. When the anxiety or discomfort arose, I could acknowledge it was there and explore it, without letting it consume me entirely. It helped me to be intentional about building trust and confidence in myself, my body and my baby.
This not to say that I floated through pregnancy in a fluffy pink cloud of love, hope and clear intents. Don’t get me wrong, I could find myself in a downward spiral of worries and fears, or aches and pains, like the best of them! But I found that the practice of working with an intention, enabled me to recognise when my mind was spiralling. Giving me the opportunity to stop and make an internal shift, or seek help to do so.
As with any big transition or change, it can be really easy to lose your footing. To become a bit destabilised. Or start mind spiralling (as mentioned above). As well as setting intentions, some of the basic moves of my practice really helped me to stay firmly connected to my body and to a sense of connection with the earth. To reality. To what was really happening right now (rather than the stories my mind was inventing). The three basic moves that enabled me to feel most grounded during pregnancy were: a deep, expansive Ujjayi Breath combined with Active Hands and Active Feet.
By the end of the second trimester my bump was blossoming and, internally, everything was beginning to feel a bit more tight and compressed. As the baby starts to take up more space, it compresses your organs and this can lead to some common symptoms, such as shortness of the breath, heartburn, tingling/numbness in hands and arms. You don’t want any of these, but you certainly don’t want to lose your ability to take a deep breath, at a time when breathing deeply is more crucial than ever.
The Poppy Perinatal Yoga poses and sequences are designed to create internal spaciousness. One of the key focuses is on learning to breathe by expanding the entire ribcage thoroughly to make more room for internal organs and baby. In my opinion, learning to breathe in this way is the greatest gift ever. An essential tool for life not just pregnancy!
I also have some favourite poses that I still include in almost every practice to help open up my chest and shoulders and create space for deeper, more nourishing breaths. These include Chest Opener on the Wall, Shoulder Shrugs, Turbo Puppy, Birdwing, to name a few.
Build strength and softness:
Obviously it’s important during pregnancy to rest and relax, but it is equally as important to build strength. You need to be strong for the intensity and challenge of childbirth and new parenthood! I think this is something that can be easily forgotten.
One of the things I’ve always loved about my asana practice is the challenge. It reminds me again and again of how strong I really am (even when my mind is having a hard time believing it). I certainly didn’t want to lose this sense of strength and power during pregnancy. I’m grateful that the poses and sequencing of Poppy Perinatal Yoga allowed me to safely maintain strength in my pregnant body. Some of the poses are challenging - but what a great opportunity to practice softening when faced with intensity, rather than tensing up and hardening against it. Another essential tool to take into labour - and into life itself!
Connect to my intuition:
I found that people are keen to share their experience or give you advice when you’re pregnant. This is generally well-intentioned and some of it might work for you. But here’s the thing, it is based on their experience. Not yours. And we’re all so uniquely different. Sometimes the advice I got was to “do what’s right for you”. This is why it is SO important to actually know what’s right for you. Something which hasn’t always been the case for me.
Before coming to yoga, I often struggled to make a decision. I was so focused on gaining approval and accommodating to suit other people, that I was confused about what I really wanted and what was right for me. Yoga has helped me to rehabilitate my intuition. It’s given me a way to tune out the outside noise and tune in to what feels right to me. I now know that when something isn’t quite right, my jaw clenches, I feel tight in my chest, and queasy in my stomach. When a decision feels right, I feel an overall sense of lightness, my solar plexus feels brighter and more open. Everyday I step on my mat is an opportunity to check-in on my intuition, notice sensations in the body and develop that strong.
So there you have it. My story of how yoga supported me through pregnancy. I decided to share it, certainly not to brag or boast about my practice, and definitely not to make anyone feel guilty or bad [or insert your own negative self-talk here] for not practicing. Simply to share my thoughts on yoga and pregnancy, and hopefully to open out the discussion to others. I’d love to hear what your experience has been of yoga and pregnancy. Please get in touch or comment below.
Thanks for reading!
For more information on Poppy Perinatal Yoga check out their website.
You can practice Poppy Perinatal Yoga online with the founder, Cat Allen, at Mat2Mat.
As from April 2019, I will be available for private yoga classes to support you through your pregnancy. For more details or to book a class, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org