Pregnancy is a time of immense change and wonder. As the physical body stretches and expands, preparing for the arrival of your soon-to-be baby, your monkey mind might wander around how pregnancy will affect your practice. We believe pregnancy should never warrant a pause in practice or evoke a feeling of limitation. In fact, quite the opposite. Pregnancy is a time for the body and the practice to (quite literally) grow.
One of the first and most important benefits of a prenatal yoga practice is learning how to deeply breathe and intentionally relax, which will be helpful as you face the physical demands of labor, birth, and new motherhood. There are plenty of pranayama techniques that are safe for expecting mothers and create space and lightness for the baby-to-be.
“Sitali,” which means “cool,” is a yogic breathing method that reduces the fire energy principle called “pitta” which is associated with catabolic processes in the body. It quite literally soothes the nervous system and cools the body down. To practice Sitali breathing, purse the lips into a tiny “o” shape while keeping the tongue afloat inside the mouth, away from the gums or roof. From there, slowly sip in air through the mouth to feel the cooled air enter it and travel to the lungs. To exhale, place the tip of the tongue softly against the roof of the mouth and let the air out even more slowly than it was inhaled. The air will also exit the nose, allowing even more heat to leave the body. This breathing method can be very helpful for women who are pregnant in warmer climates or seasons and is useful on and off the mat to stay cool.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Breathing through alternating nostrils helps to balances the hemispheres of the brain, creating a sense of harmony and ease, bringing with it a sense of mental and emotional balance. This can be particularly helpful when the monkey mind begins to wander and worry. In just a few repeated steps, the effects of this balance can be felt almost immediately:
- While propped up in a comfortable seated position, using the right thumb, gently close the right nostril, inhale slowly through the left nostril, then, once all the air is sipped in, close off the left nostril with the ring fingertip. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
- With the right nostril still open from its exhalation, inhale into it slowly, then close it off with the thumb. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the left nostril.
- Repeat this pattern five to ten times before easing back into regular breathing.
Ujjayi breath isn’t just for warriors. It’s also a healthy way for prenatal yogis to create energy and feel powerful in their pregnancy. Sometimes, a hearty dose of prana is just what the doctor ordered. To engage in ujjayi breathing, inhale and exhale deeply through the nose with the mouth gently closed, creating a hissing sound as the air is sipped in. Upon an exhalation of the same measure, the mouth remains closed and the throat constricted, exuding an oceanic sound. This rhythmic breathing mimics the sound and feeling of waves crashing upon the shore and is sure to elevate the mood and energy levels of pregnant yogis.
Breathing aside, a few of the other poses that are a safe and nourishing way to grow your prenatal yoga practice are those designed to stretch the hips and back, which should alleviate some of the lower back or pelvic pain many women complain of during pregnancy.
Squat variations will help strengthen the legs, ankles and feet, which will eventually bear the brunt of the body’s weight as it increases throughout pregnancy.
Safe, supported reclining postures will offer restoration and a chance to open the hips even more deeply.
Spinal openers like seated or table top cat cow tilts offer movement and blood flow to the entire back, not to mention a delightful dose of prana energy.
These are just a handful of the asanas that might be safely practiced by women looking to grow their practices during and after pregnancy. Each prenatal experience is unique and its corresponding practice should be one that leaves the yogi feeling energetic, restored and, most importantly, present.
A yoga practice is just that – a practice. And there is always room for growth within it. Experiencing the reviving dynamics of prenatal yoga is an opportunity to grow your own practice as a yogi and a vessel of life.