Why I Don't Recommend Sun Salutes During Pregnancy

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.

prenatal warrior 1Forward 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.

Stacy 2013 Happy Teaching! Stacy


What I Learned in the 40 Day Challenge

This week we’re wrapping up our 4th Annual 40 Day Challenge, and it's been a profound experience for me this year because it’s the first time that I participated in the Challenge as a student. As of this morning I met the goal of attending 30 classes in 40 days.


This happened after one of Cony's Vinyasa classes!

So much learning and growing has occurred that in the interest of space, I'll just list it out in bullet points:

  • increased strength
  • increased endurance
  • letting go of what the teacher thinks and what the students think
  • back pain is almost completely gone
  • body is ready to go to bed earlier
  • quality of sleep is better
  • recognized the effects of dehydration, motivated to hydrate better
  • even with my busy schedule, I can make time for yoga classes
  • better connection with our TYR community
  • became comfortable being led through practice, which led to…
  • looking forward to being led through practice (letting go of control)
  • realization that I love all the different types of classes equally
  • lots of inspiration for my teaching
  • more awareness, patience, and understanding with my husband and young children

The 40 Day Challenge has been a huge reminder of why I started practicing yoga to begin with, and why I decided to become a yoga teacher.

I love how you can’t help but be present in yoga. There’s so much focus on breathing, movement, and alignment, that you automatically become fully present. You can’t help but let go of the fast pace of life, you can’t help but let go of your “to do” list, you can’t help but let go of whatever stress has been weighing you down.

After yoga class, everything seems right with the world. Everything feels possible. Everything makes feels figure-out-able.

When we wrap up the Challenge on Friday night, I can’t wait to hear how it went for all the other participants, what benefits they feel they’ve gained from the experience. Regardless of whether each person completed the 30 classes or not, they’ve undoubtedly been successful in practicing more yoga than usual. And I’m pretty certain that’s translated into some observable changes in their lives.

If you need some change in your life, know that you can commit to your own personal yoga challenge any day you choose. Pick a day, maybe the first of the month, or maybe tomorrow if you feel a sense of urgency, and begin. Try to practice every day for a month, or set a target number of classes you want to complete in a month. If you need some accountability to keep you on track, just send me a note. I’d be more than happy to check in on you and see how your personal yoga challenge is going.

Zelinda 2013XO, Zelinda