May '08 Pregnancy

An Update on Ashtanga While Pregnant
By Catherine Harris
I’m five and a half months pregnant. At twelve weeks, while doing a back bend demonstration for the local newspaper’s fitness section, I felt I wasn’t going to make it much longer. I suffered from a distinctly non-yogic fear that the photographer could tell that my midsection was popping out; I was nauseous and exhausted. Now I feel well and no one minds my expanded belly. Though my practice has changed, I’m not sorry at all. 

I am still practicing second series, though I modify quite a bit now. After all, my belly holds a soccer ball-sized uterus, my lungs are measurably diminished, and my heart works 30-40% harder than in my non-pregnant state pumping gallons of extra blood. While holding chaturanga for ten breaths as a substitute for nakrasana (no jarring the baby) one of my yoga sangha looked at me and said “You aren’t going to be able to do that much longer.” My belly is pretty close to touching the mat these days. My criteria for modification are: “Does it squish my belly?” and “Is it high impact?” I’m no expert. I just go with my practice and my body. 

For those who might want to know, here’s an outline of my modifications:
I don’t do twists in the standing sequence. I substitute with five breaths on each side of an appropriate lunge. 
Pasasana, I do in an open legged squat with my torso between my knees. (Its good practice for birthing.) 
I bring my leg to the outside in krounchasana instead of directly centered in its socket. 
I substitute a series based on urdva mukha svanasana for the poses from salabhasana through parsva dhanurasana. 
I am able to do ustrasana through kapotasana comfortably. 
I can’t hold my feet in supta vajransana, but I still can arch back and come up either with help or with our special board and strap arrangement our studio built for practicing solo. 
I just stretch with my leg upright and next to my torso, foot held by the opposite hand, rather than put my leg behind my head for eka pada and dwi pada. The full bind feels like it shuts off blood to my pelvic region and that seems like a wrong move. 
Likewise, tittibhasana series, I modify to include the floating tittibhasana, but no binding. I do pretend my belly is larger than it is, so I take a wide stance and wrap my arms around my shins for the standing tittibhasana B. 
I take karandavasana to folding my legs in lotus and then breathe for five breaths there instead of folding down. (No squishing the baby!) I do not do the traditional exits from pincha mayurasana or karandavasana, but instead just lower myself slowly. 
I also do the vinyasas in and out of mayurasana, but not the pose itself. 
Nakrasana, as I mentioned, I just hold the chaturanga for ten breaths. Just yesterday, vatayananasa started to block up. I’ll have to be attentive to what might need to change there. 
I skip supta urdhva pada vajrasana because I can’t figure out a variation that makes sense. 
The headstands are all still grand, but I don’t do the traditional exit, but simply set my hands and place one foot on the floor and come down into chaturanga. 
Backbends still feel great, but I have stopped doing any fancy variations. I just do three backbends and then stand up into samasttitthi and drop back three times. 

Similar to practice without pregnancy, each day is different, but on a more magnified scale. My body grows in the center and I get heavier. This morning, I had a great handstand day. I do them near the wall, just in case I fall. This saves me from worry as I practice and cultivates curiosity and humility. 

Curiosity is one of the lessons I have learned from practicing while pregnant. I have no right to judge my body for changing to nurture a living being, so I am released just to be curious. Curiosity helps me to develop non-judgmental attention. This attention helps, whether change is on such a grand level as pregnancy or on the daily level of the gradual building of the asana practice. I now practice in a world where the goals are not to arrive at some pose nirvana, but to be present with the changes, breathe, retain motion and joy. Where will I be today? What will alter? What will need to be left out to wait for my post birth return to practice? What is still possible? How do I feel? These questions are slightly different for my students, but maybe help them nurture a practice, rather than a goal. 

Even with all the alterations, I am still practicing and it feels wonderful. Last pregnancy, I had quit by this time. This morning, I rose straight up out of shirsasana lifting my head off the ground to demonstrate to a student how to balance in this pose of the finishing sequence and felt startled my thickened body could still fly. 

Catherine Harris teaches and practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Ashtanga Yoga of Albuquerque, Come visit us!

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