The Best Modifications for Prenatal Yoga & How to Teach Them
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
Teaching prenatal yoga is an art, and at the core, it is not just about understanding the physical needs of pregnancy but also considering the emotions and spiritual connection of the birthing process. By approaching modifications for prenatal yoga from a holistic perspective, you can gain a greater understanding of how to truly support your students on all levels of their body, mind, and soul.
Learning modifications for prenatal yoga is a crucial step to becoming a prenatal yoga teacher. This learning process doesn’t end after a single training; it is an ongoing process where you continue to discover each individual student and their unique and beautiful needs. In this article, we will explore the best modifications for prenatal yoga along with insights on meditations, mudras, mantras in prenatal yoga, and the role of the five prana vayus. Now, let’s dive in!
Yoga and Pregnancy – What is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a unique form of yoga that takes into special consideration the needs of women during the beautiful phase of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life when she is cosmically connected to the flow of creation moving through her body. During this time, it is vital to take care of this connection and nourish both the pregnant woman’s body and the beautiful life growing inside of them.
Prenatal yoga helps women unwind from the stress of pregnancy, ease any aches and pains, and helps them increase their strength and resiliency to prepare for birth. Prenatal yoga classes typically include a combination of yoga poses, breathing practices, meditations, mantras, mudras, and yoga philosophy that is perfectly tailored for women during pregnancy.
How to Teach Prenatal Yoga
Prenatal yoga is a sensitive class to teach because it requires extra consideration for the safety of the women in the class and their unborn child. You aren’t just working to protect your students, you are also working to protect the life growing inside of them, so it requires a bit of added awareness to ensure that you fully protect them both.
Prenatal yoga is also a beautiful opportunity for women to nurture and take care of themselves before they have to begin to invest that energy in another. We all know that when you don’t take care of yourself, it is hard to take care of anyone else. Prenatal yoga gives women the opportunity to fill up their own cups before they have to start sharing this energy with the new baby on the way.
How to Modify for Prenatal Yoga
During pregnancy, yoga students can do many of the same practices that they did before. The critical consideration is not to add any movements that they have never tried previously because the body is particularly sensitive to strain.
When the body prepares for pregnancy, it spreads a hormone called relaxin that causes the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to be looser than usual. Therefore, there is a higher likelihood for pregnant women to injure themselves. That is why prenatal yoga classes are often slower and incorporate more props to help support women during these practices.
In addition to these considerations, there are 3 main modifications to keep in mind to support pregnant women during a yoga class:
1. Be Conscious of the Baby
As we all know, the abdomen greatly increases in size to make space for the baby to grow. So, we also need to make space for this and avoid putting uncomfortable pressure or compression on the abdomen, particularly during the later trimesters. An excellent way to do this is by using blocks under the hands in a forward fold or offering variations for any proline poses. Closed twists can also be uncomfortable, but a simple variation for this is to try an open twist instead.
2. Avoid Lying Supine
During pregnancy, lying flat on your back can compress the vena cava, which can seriously compromise blood circulation. This modification is a tough one for any savasana lovers out there. Of course, if the pregnant student feels comfortable, then it is okay. But particularly in the later trimesters, it is better to prop them up by placing an angled bolster underneath the spine for a reclined bound angle, fish pose, or a side-lying position.
3. Be Cautious of Inversions
If inversions were a regular part of yoga practice before pregnancy, then it is likely fine to continue them. However, it is often advised to avoid inversions, particularly during the end of the first trimester and the beginning of the second trimester, as this can impact placenta attachment. Again, at the end of the day, it is essential for each woman to consider how she feels and discuss it with her doctor as well.
Meditations for Prenatal Yoga
The phase of pregnancy is a divine portal where a woman is more closely connected to the process of creation than at any other time of life. Deepening into this inner connection to a higher power can help women honor the sanctity of this beautiful experience and harness the power of the life force energy coursing through them. Visualization meditations or meditations connecting mom and baby can be an excellent option to deepen this experience.
Additionally, for many women, pregnancy can be a time of great stress, and learning some basic relaxation skills can be truly transformational. A great place to start is with mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation to teach mom how to connect with herself and nourish her body with loving self-care and growing inner awareness.
Mudras for Prenatal Yoga
One of the most popular mudras for prenatal yoga is the yoni mudra. This mudra helps women connect to the power of the divine feminine, calms the nervous system, and awakens a powerful connection with the process of reproduction and creation.
Another excellent mudra for prenatal yoga is prithvi mudra or the mudra for the earth element. This mudra connects women to Mother Earth, helps ground and center the mind, and balances the elements in the body to promote greater harmony between body and mind.
Mantras for Prenatal Yoga
Mantras in prenatal yoga are an excellent way to support women in tapping deeper into the cosmic energy of the universe through sound while also affirming inner peace within their hearts. Mantras can be focused on cosmic sound by chanting in Sanskrit, or they can be affirmations that deepen the body, mind, and soul connection. See below for 6 mantras for prenatal yoga:
2. Gayatri Mantra
3. Garbh Sanskar Mantras and Shlokas
4. My body is a divine temple.
5. My baby is safe and growing.
6. I trust my body completely.
The 5 Prana Vayus and Prenatal Yoga
One of the central teachings of yoga philosophy is the five prana vayus or winds in the body. These different flows of the life force energy help support all of the functions throughout your body and mind. By balancing the flow of prana in your body, you can support your pregnant students during all the phases of pregnancy and help them prepare their bodies for birth.
All of the five vayus are important during pregnancy. See below to learn more about how each prana vayu supports pregnant women during pregnancy:
1. Prana Vayu – Prana vayu is essential for building energy in a woman’s body and supporting the process of creation.
2. Samana Vayu - Samana vayu is vital for supporting the energy building in the abdomen to nourish the baby.
3. Vyana Vayu – Vyana vayu is essential to support the flow of blood circulation through the body, which can be a common issue for pregnant women.
4. Udana Vayu – Udana vayu helps support the upward-moving connection between mom and baby.
5. Apana Vayu – Apana vayu is perhaps the most critical vayu to support the downward movement of energy necessary for a harmonious birth.
The best way to influence the flow of the prana vayus is through pranayama practices or breathwork. During pregnancy, it is essential to avoid any kumbhakas or breath retention practices. Additionally, avoid any vigorous breathing techniques, such as kapalabhati or bhastrika. Some excellent pranayama techniques for pregnancy to balance all of the vayus are nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, and bhramari, or the humming bee breath.
Learn How to Modify for Prenatal Yoga in Our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training (RPYT)
Learning how to teach prenatal yoga takes time and extra consideration. Still, with a bit of loving awareness and compassion, you can be on your way to supporting pregnant women through this beautiful phase of life in no time. Supporting pregnant women through yoga during pregnancy is a true gift and to be part of this phase of a woman’s life is an honor to witness the process of creation.
If you would like to learn more about how to modify yoga poses for pregnancy and how to teach prenatal yoga, make sure to check out our online prenatal yoga teacher training (RPYT). This training is registered with Yoga Alliance and will give you all the tools you need to combine yoga and pregnancy through yoga poses, meditations, mudras, mantras, pranayama, and more for prenatal yoga. Reach out to us for more information on how you can start your journey to becoming a prenatal yoga teacher today!