Teaching yoga to pregnant yoga students
As yoga teachers, we understand that every student is different and have their own unique needs. We look out for the one with hypermobility, check in with the one who always seems to get injured in her sports practice, the guy with lower backache, there is always someone with knee issues… and we modify and share variations so they can join our classes along with everybody else.
So what about the pregnant yogini?
How do we modify for the pregnant yoga student?
The pregnant yoga students may also be the one that’s got lower backache or knee issues. But is also pregnant. Pregnancy is not a disease. It’s not an injury. It’s a natural physiological event.
Yes pregnancy can absolutely cause medical issues we need to be aware of and that might be problematic in terms of yoga. As a yoga teacher, you need to be aware of this and know when to refer. But as a normal healthy pregnancy goes – it’s natural.
Natural does not been that the pregnant yogi should continue their practise as they used to. Or if they didn’t do yoga before suddenly dive into strong hot power yoga because “yoga is supposed to be good in pregnancy”. No, as professionals we need to be educated enough to guide our pregnant students.
As yoga professionals, we need to know how pregnancy affects the body so we can modify the practice for our pregnant yogis.
The NHS guidelines suggest: “Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.” And they also say: “if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified and knows that you’re pregnant, as well as how many weeks pregnant you are.” Staying active is healthy for our physical and mental wellbeing and excellent to support someone through pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum. However, as yoga professionals, we need to know how pregnancy affects the body so we can modify the practice for our pregnant yogis. Whether in a regular class or as specialist prenatal classes.
What yoga teachers need to know about pregnant students
During pregnancy, the body changes. We can see the bump growing (as well as hips and breasts). But there are more subtle changes too: hormones amongst other things. Progesterone and relaxin levels increases making the pregnant person more flexible. The body and uterus need to grow to make space for baby/babies but the ligaments will have that quality everywhere. This means we, as yoga teachers, need to be mindful that the pregnant students do not overstretch. The instability and pain often manifest in the wrists as well as the pelvis. And pelvic girdle pain is often a complaint in prenatal yoga classes. The linea alba and abdominal separation is also something we need to be aware of.
As yoga teachers inviting pregnant yoginis to class we need to know how to support them and modify accordingly. Knowing how these hormones and the other physiological changes affect the body and our asana practice. And being able to decipher when an asana is contraindicated (will it overstretch the ligaments, potentially create instability or injury? Does this person have any “red flags” where the pose could create complications for the pregnancy?) or can we offer a modification that supports the pregnant body instead?
There is no cookie-cutter approach. Not one guideline that fits all. We are all individual. We are all unique and have our own history and experiences
There is no cookie-cutter approach. Not one guideline that fits all. We are all individual. We are all unique and have our own history and experiences. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We can not create one yoga sequence that is perfect for everyone. In a class situation, we find a middle ground. Something everyone can enjoy and learn from. Yet, we also need to be mindful of our students’ needs and especially any medical issues or complications. Pregnant or not!
A pregnant yogini who is generally fit, well and experienced in yoga will express the asana very differently to someone who has never done much exercise or stretching. We need to be aware of how to modify for all “levels” and all bodies!
This is why we need to be educated – as yoga teachers. So we can adjust and modify to the individual. It’s not enough to have vague guidelines as to “listen to the body” because of the hormones the body can easily overstretch so perhaps we need to listen to the body plus understanding the changes. Or the Facebook comment box advice of “no twists, not backbends” because actually, some twists are ok, some backbends are ok as long as you understand the why and how to approach them.
I am so passionate that we can make pregnant people feel welcome in our yoga classes or specialist prenatal yoga classes. There is enough to be anxious and stressed about. A yoga class that makes the pregnant person feel strong, aware and connected to their own body is powerful. It’s what we need during pregnancy and especially during labour, birth and the postnatal healing phase.
I invite you to learn more about the pregnant body and yoga in my pregnancy teacher training course for yoga teachers. Run over two weekends in person along with an online training portal we explore what happens in the pregnant body as well as the emotional and energetic aspect. We learn the whys so we can modify and make informed decisions with our yoga students. How we can teach specialist pregnancy yoga classes, one-to-ones or confidently invite pregnant yogis into our regular classes.