** This post has been edited and updated on 4 February 2019 **
A personal story
I wanted to share my experiences and views on yoga during pregnancy (particularly Hot Yoga) since I’ve been through two pregnancies while keeping up a fairly strong yoga practice.
I had been practicing yoga for about 15 years and doing Hot Yoga for probably the last 2-3 years before I became pregnant with my second child. I did Hatha and Vinyasa yoga throughout the whole of my first pregnancy (with modifications) and doing Hot Yoga, Yin, Vinyasa and Prenatal Yoga during my current pregnancy (including completing a 200 Hour Teacher Training in Mindful Hot Yoga).
I am passionate about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy and feel that having that yoga practice helped me to stay fit and strong during pregnancy (to carry my growing belly) and helped with some of those pregnancy related ailments such as squished ribs, heart burn, neck pain, varicose veins. Yoga also definitely helped during the birth allowing me to stay with my breath and have the strength to have an active labour. I had an 8 hour labour with Nina and only used a TENS machine for pain relief. The midwives commented that I was very focussed! I would absolutely recommend doing yoga of some sort for as much of the pregnancy as you can!
When I found out I was pregnant the second time I was already doing a lot of Hot Yoga at Grass Roots Yoga studio – probably 3-4 times a week. I had actually already signed up to teacher training! I ended up not doing much Hot Yoga at all in the first trimester as I felt so sick and was being cautious. By about 14 weeks though I went back to normal practice and I completed intensive teacher training during the second trimester. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that intensiveness for everyone – I think if it had been my first pregnancy or if I was fairly new to Hot Yoga I probably would have been more cautious but I really felt that I knew my body and knew what it felt like to be pregnant and so went for it.
At the time of writing I’m now 37 weeks pregnant and very much looking forward to putting my yoga practice into use for the birth of my second child – you can see my Birth Story and my article on the Benefits of Mindfulness and Yoga on Birth too. I’m confident that the Pranayama and Mindfulness techniques I have made a regular part of my daily life, and the strength that I have gained through yoga during the pregnancy, will stand me in good stead for a smooth birth again (or at least to remain calm if things don’t go as planned!).
Hot or Not?
There are many different schools of thought on whether Hot Yoga is ok during pregnancy. Googling ‘hot yoga while pregnant’ will bring up a lot of the scare stories too!
Quite a few experts advise not to practice Hot Yoga in the first trimester, most say don’t take up Hot Yoga if you didn’t already have quite a strong practice before you became pregnant (this is true of any exercise really unless you are doing something pregnancy specific such as prenatal yoga or aqua aerobics).
In all cases you would generally need to modify the sequence for pregnancy and this is where it is important to have a teacher that know the contraindications and can give you variations for pregnancy.
Through my own practice and teacher training I have created my top tips below on practicing Hot Yoga while pregnant:
- You know know your body – if you have been going to Hot Yoga classes for a number of months and feel comfortable in the room and you are feeling well in the pregnancy then give it a go – but it’s not the time for pushing yourself – if you feel dizzy lie down or go into child’s pose and if you have concerns then stop and maybe go for a non heated or prenatal class instead.
- Be well hydrated before class and sip water whenever you need during class.
- Have a banana or other snack in your bag to eat straight after. Even having a piece of fruit half an hour to an hour before class is good as you do get very faint when pregnant and hungry!
- Don’t push yourself 100% in every pose. Again – this is a time for respecting your body and learning when to slow down. A great time to practice mindfulness!
- Place yourself next to the door or find out where other cooler spots are in the studio, Believe me it’s a degree or two cooler next to the door and great with those teachers that open it now and again.
- Be mindful that you have the hormone Relaxin rushing through your body (particularly as you get later in the pregnancy) which means you may be more flexible but this can actually be dangerous as you can lose stability in your joints and ligaments. Don’t go further in backbends, forward bends etc than you would have done pre-pregnancy.
- Don’t do any closed twists, even in the first trimester when you don’t have a belly yet. So Parivrtta Banarasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Parivrtta Utkatasana should all be done open (twisting away from the knee) or without placing the hands at heart centre and twisting deeply.
- Once your belly pops out you can do cat/cow with variations lifting arms and legs instead of the prone back bends (Bhujangasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana etc).
- After about 30 weeks don’t lie on your back for too long, you can take Savasana lying on your left side. Note: This is also the best sleeping position as it relieves pressure from the weight of the baby on your Vena Cava (main vein that carries blood from your lower body back to your heart) and also encourages the baby into the optimal position for birth (head down, spine towards your belly button and bottom on the maternal left).
- With Pavana Muktasana on the back you should bring your knee out to the side rather than compressing the belly against the thigh.
- In forward bends, such as Padangusthasana, take the legs apart to allow for the belly. For seated forward folds (ie. Janushirasana) you can forward fold more in the centre, to side of leg (same in pigeon)
- Finally, ALWAYS tell your teacher that you are pregnant and if they don’t feel comfortable having you in the class after an open discussion please respect that decision and look for another class.
If you find Hot Yoga while pregnant isn’t for you try a non-heated class or go to a specific prenatal class. You can do those classes in the first trimester as well and it’s really good to do some exercise even if you are feeling sick as a dog!
In summary one of my teachers, Sarah Powers says, “In the end, as is always advised for anyone, strain should never be endured. This is a time of learning to respect and honor your body in its amazingly mysterious wisdom, of making space in your body and in your life for this new addition. I know of no better way to enhance these feminine insights than by continuing a devoted yoga and meditation practice throughout one’s pregnancy.”