Take the intimidation factor out of prenatal yoga

Written by Kari Kwinn on . Posted in Practice

marmapoints treeTree pose. Spend time connecting with baby in all poses. Photo credit: Pure Presence PhotographyAs a yoga teacher, whenever I saw a pregnant woman enter my class, I would stop breathing and start panicking. To relieve my terror, I took an 85 hour training this winter to become a registered prenatal yoga teacher.

Do you have similar feelings? Yoga is wonderful for pregnant woman, and yoga is terrible for pregnant women. It is possible to both recognize incredible benefits and nasty injuries from a misguided yoga class or overzealous practice. As teachers with pregnant students in class, our instinct is to immediately recoil because we realize the potential, times two.

Thoughts for pregnant students:

1. Tell your teacher. Many women keep their pregnancies secret until the second trimester, but your yoga teacher needs to know so he or she can suggest either modifications or a more appropriate class.


2. Do 80 percent. What did you do before you got pregnant? Did you practice asana three days a week? Check with your care provider and consider scaling back on the intensity of your practice. I'm not recommending cookie-asana on the couch, but I also wouldn't recommend adding intensity to your asana unless it was advised by your care provider. And do drop me a line if your care provider suggests going to your edge while pregnant.

3. Forget about the stretching. Pregnancy is hard work, but birth is too. While you might have the notion you must stretch and "open your hips" in order to give birth, I encourage you to think about the lower body strength that might help if you choose to labor in a standing or kneeling position.

With proper alignment, warrior poses, chair, malasana and even goddess can help you prepare for the next great adventure. Please work with an instructor trained in proper alignment to keep yourself safe and consider attending a prenatal class to learn about specific contraindications with these types of poses, particularly after 32 weeks.

4. Meditate like it is going out of style (which it isn't). After labor comes motherhood! What a wonderful time to make space in your life for a meditation practice at home or with a class. Meditate on the connection between you and your baby or the absolute miracle that your body is designed to create another whole and perfect human being. Use meditation to envision your fears evaporating.

marmapoints twistAvoid deep twists. Open the twist in a lunge, cow face, lord of the fishes instead of turning toward the leg. Photo credit: Pure Presence Photography 5. Try prenatal. Seriously. Even if you have a Manitou Incline habit and routinely run six miles to and from work each day, try a prenatal class. This journey you're on is more than a physical test, and yoga can help you prepare with more than just asana.

Tips for teachers:

1. Hands on, hands off. Did you know that many pregnant women have their bellies touched by absolute strangers in the grocery store, bank line, crosswalks, you name it, and they're not always a fan? Be respectful of your students space and ask before touching their bellies, but don't ignore them if you offer physical assists in class! This is not the time to help someone deeper into a posture, but it is a wonderful time for a gentle neck, shoulder or foot rub.

2. All pregnancies are different. Even if you practiced asana while pregnant, or have seventeen friends who did, honor that each woman has a unique experience with each pregnancy. Don't assume something will feel good or be possible for a student. Forget about trimesters. Each day is different. Know your student may feel nauseous or fabulous, tired or heartburn-y, beautiful or sensitive about how her body has changed. Meet each student where she is each day.

3. Learn your modifications. Don't rely on your student by asking, "Do you know how to modify my class for your body today?" Unless you teach the same class every time, or your student is also a teacher, how would she know? If you don't know how to safely modify your class for pregnant women, you need to limit class participants to those you can safely teach or get prenatal training.

4. Respect her privacy and protect yourself. Do you know that cardinal rule that says never ask a woman if she is or isn’t pregnant? Well, get ready to break it. Start asking. Many women don't know they should tell their yoga teacher and keep this status to themselves until the twelfth week of pregnancy. Yes, it is awkward and uncomfortable, but if you suspect someone is pregnant, you need to ask them. Try this: "Hey Betsy! Haven't seen you in awhile. Any new injuries, conditions, pregnancies I need to know about?"

I know, it is still awkward.

marmapoints lungeHands inside the front foot in low lunge. Use a block to avoid compressing the belly. Photo credit: Pure Presence PhotographyPlease also note, if she is discreet in telling you about her pregnancy, she is entrusting you into a small circle of folks who know. Ask before you announce her pregnancy in class, and re-confirm the pregnancy when you see her the next time.

5. Thanks for coming, see you again next year! There are some classes that are just inappropriate for pregnant women. Don't feel like you're being unfair or cruel to a woman for denying her access to your class. You’re doing her a favor if you believe you cannot appropriately modify your class for her needs. This is delicate, especially in a time when so many women's rights are in question. But if you teach a heated class, an acro yoga or yin class or are a new teacher, you must make a difficult decision with each person. Recommend other classes she could take and invite her back when she is ready to resume your class.

Prenatal Classes:

Kari Kwinn, ERYT, RPYT: 5:15 p.m. Mondays, cambio. Yoga; cambioyoga.com

Marie-Louise See, RN, LMT, CYT: Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Westside Yoga; ombabyom.org

Kari Kwinn, ERYT, RPYT: 5:30 p.m. Thursdays, Baby Cotton Bottoms in Old Colorado City; babycottonbottoms.com

I invite yoga teachers to attend my prenatal classes with advance notice of at least seven days.
headshot tiny2Kari Kwinn, ERYT, RPYT, teaches yoga at cambio yoga in Colorado Springs. She remembers first saluting the sun while ankle-deep in crabgrass outside of her kindergarten classroom. Originally from Fort Collins, she came to Colorado Springs for college and received a BA in anthropology from Colorado College, and a Masters of Nonprofit Management from Regis University. When the bears came in September of 2008 she realized it was time to  start following her own north star. While she thinks bipedalism is grand, she hopes to reintroduce people to all eight limbs of yoga to help them better navigate the sticky web of life.


+1 #1 Marie-Louise 2012-05-15 23:16
great article Kari.

thank you for mentioning my classes,let's keep working together.

I wonder if the hot yoga studio's warn women that it is dangerous to do hot yoga even in first trimester by putting up a small sign .

great article ,are you going to send it to Yoga journal ?



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