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


Yoga: Should You Do Your Own Thing?

I’m digging deep in my yoga practice these days. And it’s not just about the yoga poses or becoming stronger or more flexible. I’m digging deep in self-study, or svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is a favorite of mine, but I must say, the self study of getting back into public yoga classes after years of personal practice is pretty challenging (and interesting) work.

Since the start of the 40 Day Challenge on February 1st, I’ve attended 8 classes (compare that to the 8 public classes I attended in the whole of 2014!) with a total of 5 different teachers.

A lot of *stuff* has come up for me in these classes and I’ve been trying to sort it out in the back of my head, both in and out of class, these last few days. I think writing this post will help me sort my thoughts out a little bit more.

Here are some of the questions that have come up for me:

Should I do only what the teacher teaches? My personal practice is completely tailored to my needs. Which is great, but there’s so much more available in yoga. Some of the poses teachers have taught in my classes these past few days have been totally awesome - I’m inspired by all the new tips and tricks I’m learning for how to address the issues in my body. On the other hand, some of the poses have had a really unsettling effect, which brings me to…

What if the practice doesn’t feel right for my body? I’m really torn on this one, which is interesting because when I’m the teacher I always encourage my students to do what feels right for their body. But now that I’m the student my perspective is a little different.

Now I think that sometimes it’s a good idea to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Even if you’re skeptical at first, you just might find lots of awesome outside your comfort zone. Just be open, be patient, breathe, and give your body a fair chance to try the new thing.

But if you’re open and patient, if you breathe and give yourself some time, and you still don’t like the new thing, then it’s time to let it go and either find a version that works better for you (your teacher will be happy to help) or just take a break.

Wow, it sounds pretty simple now that I’ve organized my thoughts in writing, but let me tell you, in the middle of a class when I’m trying something new that doesn’t feel quite right for my body, my mind has a medium-sized freak out.

Full Yoga Class

Will I make the teacher uncomfortable if I do my own thing? Years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, I taught yoga at the Dell Fitness Center. One day a new lady came to class and when I was teaching a wide legged forward fold, she took it a step further, rested her head on the floor between her feet, and brought her legs straight up toward the ceiling until she was in headstand.

At that time, it kind of freaked me out. Why was she not following my instructions? Why was she showing off? Was my class not good enough for her?

But now I realize that when people know their bodies and their bodies’ needs, they modify. Maybe this woman was tired and needed to raise her energy, maybe she had a big meeting in the afternoon and really needed to focus her mind. Who knows?

My point is, the teacher might be uncomfortable if you do your own thing, but it’s really none of your business. It’s the teacher’s business. Let them do the work to figure out why it bothers them.

And so my learning here is, after I’m patient and try out what the teacher teaches, if it still doesn’t feel right for me, I’m going to do my own thing to find what best serves me. And I’m not going to worry about the teacher.

I am getting so much more out of rejoining public yoga classes than I expected. I’m remembering the magic that happens in led yoga classes and why I wanted to become a yoga teacher to begin with. It’s a whole new cycle and new level of learning, now with the benefit of a few years of teaching experience.

Yoga is so much more than just the poses. It’s not just about how far you can stretch or how strong you are or how well you balance. It’s also a study about what’s going on in your body and in your mind and in your heart, and it’s a practice in managing your reactions to everything that comes up when you’re on your mat.

Man, I love yoga!