Pregnancy and Ashtanga Yoga
I have not yet been pregnant nor taught pregnant students.
The following guidelines have been compiled from various practioners who have been
pregnant, Guruji, senior Ashtanga teachers, and an Ashtanga-practicing OB/GYN:
- CHECK WITH YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER - Tell your midwife or
doctor you are practicing yoga. You will probably be given the thumbs-up. However,
if you have high blood pressure or other complications in your pregnancy, it is extremely
important to check first before continuing a yoga practice.
- WARNING SIGNALS - During pregnancy, all of your body's systems
are working harder. Listen to any signals your body gives that tell you to slow down or
stop. Let your body be your guide, not your ego. Shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea,
and pain are some of the messages your body may give you to slow down, modify a pose, or
stop. It takes strength to surrender to these messages. Honor your pregnancy by changing
your yoga practice as needed to accommodate your growing belly.
- WATER AND HEAT - Do not get hydrated. Make sure to drink
enough before and after, and, if need be, during. Sweat and heat are integral parts
of Astanga yoga. Your muscles need heat in order to stretch safely. During pregnancy, it
is okay to feel warm and to sweat while practicing, however, especially in the first
trimester, it is very important not to let your body reach and remain at 102 degrees or
above for any sustained length of time. If you have any doubts, stop and rest.
Let your body's signals guide you, if you feel short of breath, dizzy or nauseous,
then you may be too warm. A yoga studio can get very hot. Sip water during a hot practice,
slow your pace, or leave the room briefly to cool down. After every practice, drink plenty
of water to ensure proper hydration.
- EATING AND PRACTICING - Use common sense, if you need to eat
at regular intervals to feel good, then plan to eat something light an hour or so before
you practice. Afterwards, replenish your body with nutritious food.
- It's more important than ever to focus on breathing and
relaxing while practicing, and being in the moment.
When to Practice
- Guruji sometimes says not to parctice during the first
- For ashtangis with an established strong practice, you should
be able to practice during the 1st trimester, and thoughout your pregnancy. You may
find it hard in the first trimester due to nausea and tiredness.
- You should not start Ashtanga yoga nor try anything new while
pregnant, but especially not in the first trimester.
- Particularly during the first trimester, be careful with the
intensity. Back off from working everything too hard as you are susceptible to
miscarriage in the first trimester.
- For second trimester, you will find yourself the most able as
you are used to the baby more and have more energy.
- You may practice up through the 6th month. Use your judgment
- Of course, it's not the time to think about advancing your
practice/postures or trying anything new, just keep moving and be meditative.
- After delivery, cease practice for 3 months.
General Practice Guidelines
- Practice in a well-ventilated room to help avoid nausea
- No deep twists
- No laying on the belly
- No heels pressing into the navel or abdominal area
- If at any time you begin to bleed, stop practicing and call
your midwife or doctor immediately.
- Keep breathing - never hold your breath during a pose (which
you shouldn't do anyway.)
- Mula bandha lends itself well to pregnancy (and especially
- Uddiyana Bandha is hard to find with a pregnant belly, but as
long as you can find it, use it. Otherwise, concentrate on lifting mula bandha.
Because mula bandha in its full expression initiates uddiyana bandha to a small degree,
you will not lose uddiyana bandha completely.
Specific asana guidelines
Sun salutations and standing postures:
- As you progress in your pregnancy, you may cut back to 3 and 3
- It may be advisable to step back rather than jump back.
- Forward bending (in sun salutations and standing postures)
You don't have to keep your feet together. Allow your feet to spread wider as your
pregnancy progresses. Pivot from your hips as you bend forward, keeping your spine
long. Bend only as far as your belly will allow. You can stop at ninety degrees or
wherever it is comfortable. You don't have to fold flat to benefit from forward
- If you feel dizziness after a forward bending posture, back
off. Rather than touch your toes, or the floor or whatever, back it off at least
50%. If you normally touch your toes, then just fold forward enought to touch you
shins, etc. Once you find a point that you can practice at without symptoms, then
just like usual, play that new edge. Do not, do not, DO NOT push through the
dizziness. Your body's response to a sudden deficit of blood flow to the brain is to
1) shunt blood flow from everything else (including the placenta) to the brain and heart
and 2) go to ground (pass out). Once your body is horizontal, the blood flows
readily back to the brain and all is well, provided you didn't keel over in headstand or
prasarita and domino a whole classroom of students or fall on your abdomen.
- Ardha Baddha Padma Padmotanasana - half bound lotus forward
bend - replace with tree posture (foot on inside of thigh, palms in namaste, and no
- In the first trimester, avoid pelvis opening actions like
virabhadrasana II until the movement of the fetus. Don't let the perineum expand.
Work on creating a quiet containment in and up by cultivating mild mula banda and lift pit
of abdomen up (not back towards spine). After movement of fetus, you can can re-introduce
vira II and other pelvis expanding poses.
Sitting Postures - As you get further along, when the
practice starts to feel too vigorous, you may skip vinyasa between sides and just do them
between postures. Always make sure knees are not above hips. Use a block or
pad if necessary.
- Paschimattanasana - allow your legs to spread apart as it
- Ardha baddha padma paschimattanasana - half bound lotus
forward bend (compacts the internal organs too much) - OMIT
- Janu sirsasana C - OMIT
- Marichasana B - OMIT
- Marichyasana C - OMIT
- Marichyasana D - OMIT
- No arm balances (bhujipidasana, exits from utkatasana, supta
- Especially in the 3rd trimester, focus on opening hips and
pelvis (baddha konasana, upavista konasana) which make childbirth easier
- Backbending - it has happened that this will stretch your abs
to the point of no return during pregnancy and you will never regain your abdominal
strength. That said, people have also done it without adverse effect.
- Yoga mudra - be sure heels to don't press into abdomen.
Instead of lotus or half lotus, regular cross-legged position is better
- Inverted postures - (headstands, handstands, shoulder stands,
forearm stands). You can continue as long as it feels good to go upside down and you can
comfortably do it, (and as long as you do not have high blood pressure or retinal problems
of the eye.) Inverted postures can be very beneficial during pregnancy. They induce
mental relaxation, they allow gravity to drain the lower body and thus relieve swelling,
tightness, or fatigue in the feet and legs, and they may even help turn a breech baby
prior to engagement. You don't have to get completely upside down to experience
these benefits. Inverted postures will not instantly or automatically turn a head-down
baby breech. Whether or not to practice inversions at all or during the last weeks of
pregnancy is something only you can decide for yourself. If you are very worried about
possible contraindications, perhaps you should stop doing them until you consult your
midwife or doctor. You may use the wall as your center of gravity is changed during
- Headstand - According to Nancy Gilgoff, Guruji used to say
that pregnant women shouldn't do headstand at all, until Joanne Darby from Montreal
insisted on doing one-hour headstands in Mysore throughout her entire pregnancy.
After she had a healthy one-hour delivery, Guruji changed his stance to say, "It's up
to the individual woman."
- Supine postures - Pregnant women are generally told not to lie
on their backs after the first trimester in order to prevent vena cava syndrome (a
lowering of blood pressure due to the baby pressing on the vena cava). Use common
sense and listen to your body. If you feel lightheaded, or your feet or legs start to
tingle or "fall alseep", then your body is sending you a clear message that it's
time to get off your back. During savasana, you may find it more comfortable to lie on
your side as you near the end of pregnancy.
For additional resources, see
Betty Lai's article: