Ashtanga During Pregnancy: One Ashtangi’s Experience

[Wendy Spies practiced Ashtanga through her pregnancy - all the way to the day before the birth of a healthy baby boy, and shared some really wonderful insights with us. Wendy started practicing in 1987, and plans to start teaching yoga again in June. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thank you, Wendy, for your thorough contribution. -Ed.]

[See Wendy's follow-up article and baby's photos here (December 2007). -Ed.]

sarvangasana-while-pregnant-wendy.jpg

Wendy in Sarvangasana
April 23, 2006 (baby’s due date: May 13)

* how did you practice change as your pregnancy progressed – 1st trimester, 2nd, 3rd?

During the 1st trimester, my heart rate would accelerate, sometimes to the point that I’d get dizzy. You are carrying a lot of extra blood in your body at this point in the pregnancy, which causes these kinds of effects. All of changes also affected my respiration, which made it harder to keep the breath long, so often I’d hold poses for a longer number of breaths to compensate. My body shape also changed a lot in the first three months, so I learned to compensate in a number of asanas.

I wasn’t showing at all, and debated about whether or not to tell my teachers. One thing you learn when you get pregnant is that everyone has advice for you, which is always quite heartfelt, but often misguided. Some teachers advised me not to practice, and the yoga literature is full of contradictory advice about which poses to do or not to do. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t discussed the pregnancy with some teachers, as it caused them to back off from adjustments or look at me with disapproval, at least until they were more confident that I wasn’t going to break because I was pregnant. Lino‘s attitude was very different – he had me doing tick-tocks at this stage.

["Tick-tocks" means: going from standing going to a very quick handstand, dropping the feet over the head down into wheel, then coming back up into standing, then from standing dropping back into full wheel, then kicking the feet over the head back to a quick handstand then to standing -Ed.]

The whole advice battlefield had its biggest impact when I took a teacher’s advice to not practice during the first trimester. By my second day off, it was clear that my body wasn’t a fan of that idea at all. I started to get morning sickness, which I hadn’t had before, and generally felt pretty awful. After seeing the doctor, and getting the all clear, I resumed practicing, and started feeling better right away. The morning sickness never returned.

urdhva-dhanurasana-while-pregnant-wendy.jpg

Urdhva Dhanurasana

The only problem with asking doctors about yoga is that they all have a different idea of what yoga is and it is rare that they will understand a practice like Ashtanga. David Swenson had a great suggestion – he advised me to bring in specific photos of postures or video clips into the doctor’s office and say “can I do THAT”, not to ask the general “can I do yoga” question.

The best advice I got at this stage was from my doctor and from reading an article about Nancy Gilgoff’s comments about Ashtanga while pregnant. The doctor basically chuckled at the idea that I was heeding any advice given by non-doctors. She told me my number one job during the pregnancy was to train like I was going to run a marathon – labor was going take as much work as running 26 miles, and being in good physical shape would be crucial. The best yoga specific advice was to keep doing whatever I was comfortable doing before the pregnancy, but also listening and modifying as needed as my body changed as the baby grew.

The second trimester wasn’t dramatically different from the first, but there was definitely more compensation for my growing abdomen. Some of the twisting postures became quite difficult, and I started to make simple adjustments to postures like Utthita Trikonasana by widening my stance. By the end of the second trimester, Anne had me modifying Marichasana C & D by twisting in the opposite direction, which kept my belly from interfering, but kept the basic structure of the asana intact.

The third trimester was a different story altogether. Padmasana was now completely gone (which was a bit shocking, because I had heard that pregnancy opened the hips – it does, but in an unpredictable way). My vinyasas now involved stepping back and forward – no jumping at all. My shoulders and arms got stronger because of the extra weight, but that also caused my shoulders to get much tighter.

Betty Lai has a detailed article about practicing while pregnant on Ashtanga.com. I practiced with Jois during his world tour this year, a few weeks before giving birth. What I found interesting was that he adjusted and modified many postures that I was doing which differed from the advice given in the article. So, again, what is appropriate for one person is not for another and teachers’ advice changes with time and experience as well.

sirsasana-while-pregnant-wendy.jpg

Sirsasana

* later on did the baby react to certain postures? which ones?

In general, the baby loved practicing. Like any kid, he was huge fan of the big movements, especially inversions. The first time anyone saw the baby move was in the end of second trimester when Philippe strolled by while I was in Sirsasana, and saw some movement in my belly that definitely wasn’t bandhas! Through most of the pregnancy, though, the baby wasn’t reacting to postures, and was calm throughout practice. But in the last two weeks, I was feeling movement in almost every posture, which was probably a combination of the asana and the natural movement of the baby moving into “launch” position.

* what was hardest about practicing pregnant?

The difficult things for me were: not practicing too hard and calmly letting postures go. Also, getting used to people staring and not minding that almost everyone is more concerned about your baby than they are about you (while they might not make that explicit or ever admit even to themselves).

* did some postures get easier?

I am “blessed” with very tight hips relative to other parts of my practice. All of the postures that depend on open hips got easier for me, but I was still careful to maintain integrity in the poses. So, asanas like Supta Kurmasana, Baddha Konasana, Upavistha Konasana, and Janu Sirsasana C got slightly easier. It didn’t happen nearly as quickly as I expected, these postures really only came very, very late in the pregnancy and have luckily stuck around afterwards (for now). One of the things people warned me about was the relaxin (a hormone released during pregnancy) allowing postures to become much easier and that causing the integrity of the joints and your strength to dissipate. However, for me, that wasn’t really the case. Due to the extra weight I became very strong and less flexible in many ways due to this strength. Also, because I was practicing every day, the shifting of weight in my body did not lead to problems with balance like it might have otherwise. However, after delivery, the dramatic weight shift did cause my balance to become greatly compromised. I am still trying to regain my Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.

* how did it affect your breath?

The breathing was very hard because of my greater lung capacity and volume of blood. You actually breathe in a fundamentally different way when pregnant. My lung capacity grew significantly very early on and the breath became much shallower. I had always had a fairly slow practice until I got pregnant, then I needed to either hold postures for about 10 breaths to maintain the same pace as before, or I would practice very quickly like Pattabhi Jois does in lead classes.

a few days before giving birth (!)

* do you think it had an effect on delivery?

Yoga definitely had an effect on my labor and delivery. Specifically, it gave me a greater ability to control and use the muscles necessary for the final stages of labor (mula bandha more than anything else) and it also helped me deal with the pain through breath and meditation. To contrast my labor with that of my sister, her first child was a relatively speedy delivery of 12 hours and she didn’t practice at all. I was blessed with an even quicker 2.5 hour active labor (45 minutes of which was me waiting at 10 cms for my sister to get from the airport to the hospital so she could make it for the delivery). And much to my relief August (my son) measured a 9 on the APGAR.

* when do you plan to start practicing again? or what is your
post-birth practice now like?

At 4 weeks I did my first practice. I waited until the bleeding had completely stopped. The doctor said that wasn’t necessary, but it was the best compromise I could make given all the conflicting advice. My doctor said I can do whatever I like as long as the bleeding doesn’t increase. I have learned, as I believe all new mothers do, the pregnancy advice pales in comparison to post pregnancy advice! When interacting with everyone from Aunts to complete strangers, be prepared to perfect that nod and smile and then listen to yourself because you know what is best.

My post pregnancy practice has been better in many ways. I have a much greater appreciation for the practice itself. I am just thrilled when everything lines up correctly and I can sneak in some yoga. With those dramatic changes – the weight gain, muscles and ligaments shifting, and entire lifestyle shifts – having a baby is a big lesson in not wanting postures, but just being happy with what you have. As a teacher it also gave me an even greater appreciation for injuries and limitations of others, and how our bodies and our minds change as we get older. Yoga teaches us to not be attached to our physical self or to the practice – there is nothing like pregnancy, delivery and nursing to further reinforce that dissociation!

wendy-and-baby.jpg

Mom and baby

* what one thing would you advise for pregnant yogis?

Listen to yourself, you are your own best teacher and most importantly don’t be afraid to practice! By practicing, I sometimes felt like I was choosing myself over my baby. But now, after the labor, and seeing how healthy August is, I know that my practice was for both of us.

32 Comments »

  1. Linda said,

    September 20, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Hi there!

    Thank you so much for writing out your experiences with ashtanga while pregnant. As I’m sure you know, there is really very little info out there, and much of it contradictory.

    I’m 8 weeks pregnant and have nausea on and off all day. Right now I find that keeping to my practice eliminates it the next day, but then doing the practice in a room full of 50 profusely sweaty bodies brings it back! It’s hard to choose which way to go some days…Whoa!

    Thanks again for this great post.
    LP

  2. Sara said,

    October 18, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Hey, this is amazing to see you posing backband while pregnant! I used to be able to do it and also back walkover but haven’t done it in 10 years. As I am 31 years old, Is there any way I can return to my previous shape and being able to do backbends again and also in pregnancies? I would love to hear your tips if its a possiblity!

  3. MV said,

    November 16, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    It was so wonderful to read about your experience practicing ashtanga while pregnant. I too practiced throughout my pregnancy- guided by the idea that if something didn’t feel right I didn’t do it. Needless to say I was practicing handstands up until the day my son was born. It was incredible to continue my practice while pregnant…… feeling the changes in my body through the postures was fascinating—- as was figuring out how the postures felt the best, and worked for my growing belly. I firmly believe that my ashtanga practice aided in my labor and delivery process, and I pushed my son out in 5 minutes. It was great advice to think of labor as running a marathon, and that physical training is so important. For those women who are newly pregnant– keep practicing. You will be so happy that you did!
    Thanks for such a great summary of your experience!

  4. Tracy said,

    February 2, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    I’d like to know more about your breath. Did you practice ouija breathing not only in your practice but during labor as well? Or did you practice other breathing techniques like Lamaze during labor?

    Thank you for all the information you have offered up in this article! It has been incredibly helpful to me.

  5. D Celeste said,

    July 12, 2007 at 6:49 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am now about a month and a half from my due date and have also been practicing yoga throughout my pregnancy. I am also a yoga teacher who has been practicing throughout my pregnancy, and have had an incredible response from students and other teachers, many in a state of awe mixed with serious concern. One thing I noticed that differs from your experience, however, is that the morning sickness was not helped by practicing, in fact, I was surprised that breathing practices and asanas did nothing. I had terrible morning sickness and had to keep my practices in the evenings so that I wouldn’t be concerned about being sick on others around me, and there were many days that I couldn’t practice at all! In the final trimester, when the sickness finally came to a close (yes it took that long) I have resumed morning practicing and feel fantastic.

    The thing that I have found to be so interesting is that my inversions have been just as stable as before my pregnancy– including and especially handstands. The yoga literature tends to advise against balancing poses that may put you at risk of falling during pregnancy, but these poses seem to feel better than any other as you also noted. I realize that people new to yoga may not be advised to practice advanced postures in the same way, but I find it troubling that the poses that I feel are possibly the most beneficial to the pregnancy, strength building, and the baby, are ill-advised. How many yoga teachers need to have babies before pregnancy is no longer something people will be afraid of in the yoga community?

    I’m so glad to hear your story, it is helpful to know that my body can truly lead the way with what is best before, during, and even after pregnancy!

  6. Dawn said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Great information! I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga for about 5 years now, but when I found out about my pregnancy, I realized how little I knew about the combination. I was so scared that I gave it up altogether for the more gentle versions of yoga, which left me unfulfilled every night. In my 6th month now, I’ve learned a great deal more about Ashtanga during pregnancy and plan on going back to my first Ashtanga class tomorrow night since I found out I was pregnant. Your advice, “most importantly don’t be afraid to practice!”, is what hit me – just listen to your body.

    I miss my headstands!

    Thanks again

  7. Heather said,

    September 20, 2007 at 8:02 am

    HI Wendy..
    Your post was so insprational and you look absolutely beautiful and so powerful in your poses while full of baby!
    I am wondering what you think of my situation.
    I am 35 and used to practice Ashtanga though it has been 3 years since I practiced at atll really. I want very much to get back into it and went to class yesterday where my instructor told me tha if I was trying to get pregnant I should not practice Ashtanga as I would possibly be practicing in my first trimester without knowing it. I would love to hear your thoughts.
    I am healthy and acitve, on my feet all day and a runner.
    Thanks so much for your input and ideas.
    Namaste

  8. Heather L said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Hi,
    It is great reading your posting on pregnancy. I have been practicing ashtanga everyday for five years. I tried to practice through two pregnancies and miscarried them both. I didn’t do any belly downs or twists. I definitely took down the level at which I was practicing but it apparently didn’t matter. I think that it is hard to know if it was the practice or not. There are plenty of women who miscarry who do not practice ashtanga. I am pregnant again and I didn’t practice for the first trimester. Non attachment has been a big lesson for me. I am practicing again. My body doesn’t love not practicing. I feel as though every time I practice I lose another pose. Pattabhi Jois says not to practice through the first trimester. For me weather that was it or not I will never know. But things are going well this time around. I am not comfortable in inversions but I have no problem with tic tocs and backbending.

    namaste

  9. AshtangaNews » Yoga in Early Motherhood: A Follow Up to Ashtanga During Pregnancy - Ashtanga Yoga Matters (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois) said,

    December 8, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    [...] [More than a year ago, Wendy Spies practiced Ashtanga through her pregnancy and wrote about it in Ashtanga During Pregnancy: One Ashtangi’s Experience. This article became our most read, with almost 14,000 views as of December 2007. She also posted a video on YouTube.com, 9 Months Pregnant Backbends, which has had almost 70,000 views. This is a follow up more than year later, answering some of the questions you’ve asked in the comments sections. -Ed.] [...]

  10. Tilu Mahajan said,

    December 25, 2007 at 8:55 am

    hi,
    i had dnc in oct ,and now i m may get pregnant .
    I m not conform but i don`t want any risk .
    pls can u tell me is pranayaam is good in days?
    thanks
    Tilu

  11. Sandra said,

    March 6, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    you are an inspiration! may I add a link to this post for my students? I want to show them the benefits of regular daily practice (many of them only come once per week and don’t follow my recommendations to practice on their own the other five days…)
    namaste!

  12. wendy spies said,

    April 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Hi Everyone -

    I am so glad you are getting value out of the article. I appreciate your also sharing your own experiences with the practice – as we all know, it is different for everyone! Share this with whomever you choose. If you have any questions just let me know. Thank you all for your comments!

    Namaste!
    wendy

  13. Rizza said,

    May 15, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    It is nice to read your experience on the things you’ve done on your pregnancy period because some pregnant women didn’t know how to do that. It is right to do the ashtanga yoga for the pregnant women because it will help the pregnant women to cultivate the mind of the new life growing inside the womb of the mother while preparing the body for delivery.
    Thank you for the thought you’ve shared to the public especially for the pregnant women.

  14. Mary Broidy said,

    May 16, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Hi, Wendy
    I was wondering how old you were when you were pregnant with August? I am wondering if age matters. I am going to be 43 and am 6-weeks pregnant from In-Vitro Fertilization. I have been practicing Yoga 7 years and Ashtanga nearly 6 as well as teach it…Your article was helpful as well as the others I have found…Also did you practice Navasana? Also I heard it was bad to practice Uddiyana Bandha? Did you practice it?
    Thank you so much,
    Om, shanti, shanti, shanti, Om
    Mary

  15. Mary Broidy said,

    May 16, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Hi, Wendy
    I was wondering how old you were when you were pregnant with August? I am wondering if age matters. I am going to be 43 and am 6-weeks pregnant from In-Vitro Fertilization. I have been practicing Yoga 7 years and Ashtanga nearly 6 as well as teach it…Your article was helpful as well as the others I have found…Also did you practice Navasana? Also I heard it was bad to practice Uddiyana Bandha? Did you practice it?
    Thank you so much,
    Om, shanti, shanti, shanti, Om
    Mary

  16. wendy spies said,

    June 2, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Hi Mary -

    Sorry I just saw your comment! Yes, you are correct, I was a little younger when having August – 31 years old. I am sure it does matter. I definitely practiced navasana and would say of all postures, that probably (for me) was one of the better when preparing for childbirth. I did practice mula and uddiyana bandha as much as I possibly could (that is the Ashtanga style uddiyana, not Iyengar style!), that in my humble opinion when one needs to train when preparing for the marathon of child delivery! Why I say navasana is so important is that for me it is one of those postures where the banhas really have to be engaged. I also found shoulderstand a posture that really kept my bandhas honest! I hope this helps!

    wendy

    so how is it going? how are you feeling now? what did you choose to practice and not? i would love to hear your story if you are willing to share it with us!

  17. Polina said,

    June 29, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    WOWOWOW! What a great story, thank you so much for sharing! I loved it and it is so inspiring and its just so great that you decided to do those things! I am so glad and I hope that my next pregnancy I will continue my ashtanga practice the way that you did! Thanks for the inspiration and I hope to contact you when I have questions and or conserns! Thanks again and lots and lots of love, happines, and peace, Namaste.
    Polina

  18. Cally said,

    July 2, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Hi,

    I’m 2 months pregnant and doing Ashtanga. In my first pregnancy I gave up all exercise and felt very ill throughout. Constant nausea and sickness right to the end combined with lack of activity meant I gained half my body weight again. I also had a relative murdered in this time and I think i wasn’t totally with t mentally. My labour was relatively ok as I have practised martial arts for years and i found pushing baby out very easy. The labour was very painful though. I felt exhausted afterwards and so annoyed at being so incapacitated by my weight. I used to be such a fit person. Anyway, I misscarried last year (I wasn’t doing yoga at the time) and decided afterwards that I need to be as healthy as possible. So I have practised Ashtanga regularly since then (I have done it on and off for 5 years, also with Hatha for the previous 5). I lost most of the excess weight from pregnancy 1 and am relatively fit right now. The nausea has started a bit but I feel great after yoga. For the first month I didn’t know I was pregnant anyway and I find I am so much more balanced after practise. I haven’t discussed it with the teacher yet – I will do, but I feel that I want to stay fitter this time as a newborn and a toddler will require a fit mum. I think baby likes me practising and I am listening to my body all the time. Thanks for you inspiration. Could you tell me when (if ever) you stopped lying on your belly in any pose?
    I find backbends so wonderful for my breathing, like I’m releasing all this pent up anger and frustration. The first time my nausea was so bad i would have done anything to relieve it. if Ashtanga does that then I’m gonna keep going

  19. wendy said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Cally -

    I am on my second child now and long story short, it is very different this time! Lots of sickness and total lack of stability in my hips. I stopped doing on the belly stuff pretty quickly, but not sure if you need to. I was told by a doctor that you don’t want to lie on your back, but that on your belly was fine as long as you were comfortable (and that is pretty variable for all of us!). I do wish there was more ‘research’ in this though… my western data driven mind wants to know the ‘right’ answer for these questions! ;)

    wendy

  20. gisella said,

    October 31, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    HelloI am 43 years old and my first trimester Should i continue to do yoga. They do not exercise until the first trimester is over. What do you think?

    let me know

  21. Angie said,

    May 7, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Wendy. It’s very enlightening.

    I, like many other readers, am in my first trimester (10 weeks) and have not practised yoga since i found out 4 weeks ago. There are so many conflicting pieces of advice, that all we can do is listen to our bodies and practice with awareness, care and love.

    Thank you for your inspiration – I’m going straight to an Ashtanga class tomorrow.

    Angie

  22. kat said,

    July 29, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Hi Wendy

    and thanks for all the info, which is really helpful as there is a bewildering amount of contradicting info out on the web!

    I’ve been keeping up my practice through pregnancy (am now 7 months) but was advised early on to not do shoulder stands. I’ve really missed doing them, and I wonder now if it might be ok to start doing them again (seeing as a you and others on this page seem to have had no problems with them)? I haven’t done them for about 3-4 months. Your opinion would be much appreciated!

    Thanks again
    Kat

  23. bhavna gandotra said,

    September 21, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Can i do Yoga during 8th week of my pregnancy?How long i can do during my pregnancy

  24. bhavna gandotra said,

    September 21, 2010 at 6:03 am

    please help me

  25. Jacque said,

    September 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Wendy,

    I am 6 weeks into my first trimester and am an Ashtangi. What asanas did you not do during your first trimester? I have read not to do twists and during sun salutations to walk up not float. Any advise you have would be great as you know there is little research on this.

  26. wendy said,

    September 27, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    hi everyone – i am sorry but i don’t get notifications when someone comments on this article. i haven’t looked at it in a long while. i would suggest that you do what you think is best and listen to your body, while still trying to exercise and eat well (to your best ability). with my second child i was not able to practice! not only is every yogi different, every pregnancy is so different, it is really difficult to generalize from one to another!

  27. Ashtanga vinyasa och gravid i vecka 26 « ANNAYOGA said,

    October 26, 2010 at 8:44 am

    [...] efter träningen och googlade på gravid och yoga. Hittade härliga bilder och text på  denna sidan. Samt en hel hög med gravidyogabilder här. Det märks vart mitt fokus är [...]

  28. salma said,

    April 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I’ve just miscarried on my second pregnancy. both times i’ve kept practicing. as previous posters have said, it’s impossible to know whether it was the yoga or not, but i think that if i’m lucky enough to get pregnant again, i’m going to give it up for the first trimester.

  29. yoginini said,

    May 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Hi there – Just thought i’d add my two cents. I’ve been a regular (although not daily) ashtangi since jan 2005. we’ve been trying to get pregnant since May 2010. the first time, in december, i asked all my most experienced yoga teachers whether it was safe and received some contradicting advice, but what swayed me to practice, was that two of them had both practiced through their own successful pregnancies. both times i conceived, i felt great, and kept on practicing, and both times i miscarried. i’m sure that’s not all of it, but now i am trying to learn to swim and do lots of cycling. i hate not practicing for the two week wait…….i may change my mind, but that’s how i’m feeling now. i need to see if i can have a successful pregnancy. i keep telling myself that ashtanga will alway be there when i go back to it. i’m 36 just for context. thanks for the site and good luck to you all!

  30. Katie said,

    January 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I came across this article during a search – as most of you probably did.
    As a dedicated Ashtangi trying to conceive, and now in the two-week-wait (!), I’ve heard lots of conflicting advice about practice while trying to achieve, and during pregnancy.

    I admire your commitment to your practice, your body, and your baby’s health and I understand that you did what felt right for you.

    What feels right for me, is to follow Guruji’s writings in Yoga Mala, which state not to practice at all in the first trimester and to exclude certain postures in the second and third trimesters. I guess you could say Betty Lai’s article sits better with me.

    So, while we disagree, I applaud you for your writings which have created a much needed forum for this discussion. And – I wish the best baby and momma health to all the Ashtangi women out there! Om Shanti!

  31. Resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy | YogaRose.net said,

    August 25, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    [...] but also listening and modifying as needed as my body changed as the baby grew.” –Wendy Spies “PREGNANCY. Absolutely fine for women who already have an established ashtanga practice to [...]

  32. Christina said,

    February 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    This is inspiring, thank you! I am just over 6 weeks pregnant and struggling with giving up the majority of my practice in order to be on the safe side. It’s frustrating, but I am looking forward to doing more in the second trimester.

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