Pregnancy is a time of great change for women. It is a time of excitement and maybe nervousness too. In your capacity as a pre-natal yoga teacher it is important to hold space for both excitement and nerves, attending to your students’ physical and emotional needs as you guide them safely through their pre-natal yoga practice.
Some women are introduced to yoga for the first time when they become pregnant. In addition to navigating the physical and emotional changes that come with pregnancy they will also be learning what yoga is all about. Others will have an established practice, which they will be seeking to modify. The challenge for the second group might be in accepting the need to slow down – pregnancy is not a time for trying that new inversion!
It is important to remember that we all have different ideas about pregnancy and as teachers we need to accommodate all of them. Empower your students by providing them with information, but ultimately it is important not to impose your beliefs on them. Be respectful of the advice they receive from their medical team.
Here are 9 tips for teaching pre-natal yoga
1. One of the biggest benefits of a pre-natal yoga practice is its focus on the breath. During labour breathing can release endorphins and oxytocin, which help to provide natural pain relief;
2. Yoga gives women some great tools for coping with stress (breath is key here too). As stress can negatively impact the health of an unborn baby, it is important to focus on relaxation and breathing techniques that help your students to cope with the stresses of pregnancy and daily life;
3. Relaxin is a hormone released during pregnancy. Its job is to help loosen the ligaments in the pelvis to make delivery easier, but relaxin doesn’t discriminate; the entire body is affected causing a woman’s joints to become unstable. It is important, therefore, to focus on strength-building exercises and safe alignment. Make sure your students know not to push past their pre-pregnancy levels of flexibility;
4. After about week 14, women should avoid lying on their backs for extended periods due to ‘vena cava syndrome’. This occurs when the weight of the growing uterus compresses the vein that returns de-oxygenated blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. A restriction of blood flow can cause women to feel faint, dizzy and anxious. This means savasana should be taken lying on the left side (the vein is on the right side).
5. Once baby is showing it is no longer protected by the pelvis. This means no closed twists because they compress the abdomen. Instead, encourage your students to take gentle ‘open’ twists (twisting away from the leg, rather than towards), which focus on movement of the body above the bra strap line.
6. Chest and shoulder openers can be great for opening the lungs and improving posture (good posture is especially important once baby arrives and women are breastfeeding and carrying baby around) but backbends should generally be gentle and supported (leave the exploration of wheel until post-pregnancy!)
7. Hip openers like baddha konasana, upavista konasana and half pigeon can be great for opening the pelvis in preparation for birth (just remember that relaxin is working its magic and your students should remember that their joints are weaker)
8. Avoid strong ab work.
9. Have fun! This time is full of changes, challenges and excitements, and it is fleeting, so encourage your students to enjoy it!
Shades of Yoga is a yoga teacher training company running year-round yoga teacher training courses in Bali and Costa Rica.