We get lots of questions from pregnant students about what kind of yoga practice is appropriate during pregnancy. The truth is that many changes occur in the body during pregnancy, and the most appropriate yoga practice is a specialized, or at least modified one. In most 200 Hour Teacher Training programs, trainees get an hour or two of instruction about how to modify for pregnancy. But if you don't practice teaching pregnant students regularly, it's easy to forget the do's and don'ts.
In my Prenatal Yoga classes, I don’t teach traditional Sun Salutations. I've found that they can be frustrating for many pregnant women and even if they aren't, by observation, Sun Salutes may not be the healthiest practice as the belly grows. If I’m going a Sun Salute sort of route with class, I’ll do a modified version that doesn't require so much up and down off the floor. I’ve found this to be more accessible and it’s fun for me as a teacher to get creative.
Here are some of the key things that led me to the conclusion that Sun Salutations may not be the best practice for pregnant women, and a few ideas as alternatives.
Forward Fold Pregnant women most likely need a wider stance to accommodate their bellies. I often cue to take the feet a little wider and to take the hands to the thighs/legs or blocks. In general, based on body proportions, a pregnant woman needs more space in this pose.
Lunge If the next step is into a lunge, again, there may be lack of space. This usually manifests as the femur rolling out to the side and the whole of the foot not really making contact with the ground. This creates instability from the foot through the ankle, knee and into the hip and pelvis.
Sometimes this can be avoided by using a block at the inner edge of the front foot - it provides more space. But the woman would still need to get her hands to the ground to move her front leg back to continue with the Sun Salutation, so then that space created by the block is no longer helpful. It can be difficult for a pregnant woman to get her knee forward to Lunge from Downward Facing Dog as well.
To bypass the Lunge issue, perhaps moving from Forward Fold and tip-toeing back to Downward Facing Dog would be a nice transition.
If you’re wanting to include lunging in the practice, maybe do it not as part of the Sun Salutation. A more appropriate Lunge might be stepping back from standing, rather than moving into a Lunge from the Forward Fold. More than likely, a pregnant woman would be able to do this with better integrity.
Plank For pregnant women, Plank can often be too much work in the abdomen.
A knees-down version of Plank might be cautiously attempted, but if you see any compensation like the lower legs and feet lifting off the mat, or the shoulders hunching, even the knees-down version may be too much. In this case, Table Top position, which is weight bearing on the arms, might be the appropriate variation of Plank during pregnancy.
However, if knees-down Plank is not too much and does appear to be appropriate, a woman could do mini-pushups here. Again, watch for compensation patterns.
Prone Positions For a pregnant woman, laying on her belly is not optimal and likely, not comfortable.
For an Upward Facing Dog modification, I have seen women use a bolster under the upper thighs with some success; however, I would carefully watch any compensation patterns in lowering down. I have seen a woman try to do this out of determination, yet her pelvis tipped in a way that compromised her SI joints. Those ligamentous structures are there for stability so it's best to not overuse them - the SI joints will need to continue to support her body for the rest of her life.
A similar action in the spine (to what is created by Cobra or Updog) could be gained through Table Top into Cat/Cow or kneeling and bringing the hands to the hips while reaching the chest up toward the ceiling.
Pregnant Students in a Regular Yoga Class I do want to recognize here that if you’re teaching a regular (non-Prenatal) public class, there’s only so much differentiated instruction you can give. It might be best to talk to your pregnant student(s) before or after class about some considerations for their practice.
You could also recommend a different class or a private session. Or you might even change the lesson plan so that you don’t have to give as much differentiated instruction, like perhaps including some of the modifications described above.
It can actually be quite freeing to let go of what we planned to teach and create a new ad hoc customized lesson for the students who are present. From my experience, I find this stimulates my creativity and growth as an effective teacher.
Please post a comment if you have any questions about teaching yoga for pregnant students. Or if you're interested in information in our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training Program, click here.
Happy Teaching! Stacy