You're sitting in front of your yoga class getting ready to start class and you notice a pregnant women enter and sit down on her mat. What do you do? Freeze?
You aren't alone in the yoga teaching world of being uncomfortable, to say the least, in teaching pregnant women. It's a topic not covered much in yoga teacher trainings and there seems to be a pervasive fear of providing ill-advice that might cause harm to their baby.
Until a year ago, I was pretty much in the same boat as you—nervous about teaching pregnant women. However after going through a training to teach prenatal with my teacher Shiva Rea, I not only lost my fear and apprehension of having a pregnant student in class, but I also have come to completely love teaching prenatal classes. It's a time when you as a yoga teacher have a unique opportunity to truly support a woman going through a huge life-change, reminding her physically, emotionally and mentally to create space.
Plus, teaching pregnant students is incredibly inspiring because they are strong and committed to feeling good in their bodies especially since their actions completely effect another person—their baby. Becoming a mother is a huge transformation, and their yoga practice can be one of their greatest assets throughout labor.
Though teaching prenatal might not be on your radar, I wanted to pass along some pointers to the teachers out there who do have a secret fear of pregnant women entering their class. And know that if you're truly uncomfortable, discuss your issues with your studio so that the front desk knows how to direct a pregnant woman seeking knowledgeable instruction.
1. Pregnancy is not the time to initiate a hard-core yoga practice. If a woman didn't already practice pre-pregnancy or has not practiced for a long time, then their best option is entering into prenatal yoga practice.
2. If consistent practitioners become pregnant, it is advisable for them to begin adding in or shifting over to prenatal classes during the late 2nd trimester or beginning of their 3rd trimester. This will provide them with necessary elements taught in prenatal which prepares their body for birth and beyond, and are not taught as part of a regular class.
3. It's important to know that a regular vinyasa class does not and cannot take the place of prenatal. As stated in the previous point, different things are taught in each. Don't be afraid that you'll lose your students should they transition to a prenatal practice because they always graduate and love returning back to their spot in your class once the baby is here and life stabilizes. So now that we've got this covered, here are my:
1. Heat is ill-advised during all phases of pregnancy, so suggest to those who are into a heated practice to shift to one that's not.
2. Stay away from twists. Though there is some level of twisting that can be done, it's best to just not go there if you've not gone through a prenatal training. Twisting in the abdomen compresses and wrings out that region which clearly doesn't make any sense to do during pregnancy.
3. During the first trimester, chill out on hardcore inversions (ie handstand, headstand, etc.) even if the practitioner has a consistent practice. The first trimester is the time for the baby to really settle into the body so turning it upside down isn't the best time to do that. Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose-see pic) is a really great alternative to offer.
4. Skip the core work. Since the belly needs to expand, it's not advisable at any point in the pregnancy to work on building abs. Suggest to your pregnant students to rock in a flow like Cat & Cow.
5. Keep the breath steady. Heat-building pranayama (breathing) practices and any other practice involving fast inhaling or exhaling like Kapalbhati is not the way to cool. Nadi Shodhana (channel cleaning breath) is the perfect middle road to calm the mind, settle your student's energy and help her to be present to her practice.
6. Start making space. Though pregnant practitioners may feel comfortable lying on their stomachs very early on in the pregnancy, it's best to get them into the practice of creating space for the belly. An easy way to do this through a vinyasa is to keep their toes tucked under when doing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Upward-facing Dog.