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November 14, 2013

A Pregnant Pause: Ashtanga Yoga in the 1st Trimester. ~ Val Geisler

People say your life completely changes when you have a child. Let’s be clear and go back another nine months: your life completely changes the moment you become pregnant.

I was pregnant for a week or so before I was aware of it. Yes, some women can go a whole month or longer before realizing they are carrying new life but not me. I just knew and I knew because of my yoga practice. In fact, it was in my daily practice that it dawned on me: “You’re pregnant” I heard a voice say. And the tests proved that voice to be true. Suddenly, that moment of stillness and connection became a catalyst for some major changes in the months to come.

I’m a researcher, a gatherer of knowledge and facts, a learner for life. Taking that mindset to my practice, I began pulling any information I could find on practicing while pregnant…and I kept coming up short.

I found a few mentions of people continuing to practice the full series (Marichasana D and all!) but I simply couldn’t stomach it. For me, and for many women, that first trimester equals nausea, headaches, exhaustion, and mood swings – enough to keep you sleeping in child’s pose for an hour.

So what could I do? How could I put a plan in place that would support both my practice and my pregnancy? I turned to the knowledge my teachers had given me when I was injured in the past. Is pregnancy an “injury?”

Absolutely not, but the lessons around it are the same when it came to the asana practice. Here’s what I know:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Much of the Western world believes that yoga is asana. In order to be “doing yoga” one must be physical. Preferably sweating. And the occasional sighing or grunting is much hailed as well. Asana (the physical practice) is only one piece of the eight-limb puzzle of yoga. For several weeks, my practice consisted of japa meditation, chanting, and a few sun salutations to keep me strong. Guruji would prescribe 10 Sun As and 10 Sun Bs if you can do nothing else. In those early days of my pregnancy, I took that prescription and built on it.

  2. Breath, drishjti, and bandhas. As the first trimester carried on, I was able to do a little more of the practice every day. The most important focus became (and, admittedly, should have always been) breath, drishti, and bandhas. As Kelly Morris says, “The breath is the cathedral, the poses are the parishioners.” As I moved through the practice, I focused on what my breath was doing, where my gazing point (my dristi) was landing, and how I used (or didn’t use) those internal locks in each and every pose.

  3. Be where you are. When I pulled an inner groin muscle last year, I thought it would never heal. When I practiced with bronchitis this past winter, I was convinced I’d be the girl coughing her way through practice from there on out. And both of those times have passed and my practice evolved with those passages. Pregnancy has a short time span and you just may miss it very soon. It takes nine months to create a life. It takes a lifetime to master your personal practice. Be with where you are now. Where you’ve come from and where you are going will be there when the time is right.

Lastly, I know that this incredible thing that we women can do with our bodies—grow another human life – is both awe inspiring and completely humbling. Remember that awe and humility every time you step on the mat.

Be in awe of what you are still able to do, and be humble about your struggles.

The tiny human you carry inside of you may just be your greatest teacher yet.

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Assistant Editor: Andrea Charpentier/Editor: Bryonie Wise

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Val Geisler