Ashtanga & Pregnancy
Answers to questions asked by students on the path of getting pregnant...
Do you hold your bandha tight or slightly?
Bandhas are a wonderful tool to bring circulation and awareness to the pelvic and lower abdominal region before pregnancy. There is no medical evidence of whether moola bandha, which I will call pelvic engagement for the means of this article, is beneficial or not during pregnancy, unlike uddiyana bandha which is not safe to practice once pregnant. In my own practice, and according to my teachers and fellow women practitioners, moola bandha is best not practiced during pregnancy or at least not emphasized. In my personal journey, after taking three months off of practice for the first trimester, I resumed a bandha free practice for the following trimester, now as I approach the last trimester I have begun to work with a pelvic floor specialist who has suggested I slow down my practice and focus the attention in developing an active relationship to my pelvic floor by relaxing it with the inhale and pinching up on the perineum at the bottom of the exhale.
My understanding is that with moola bandha energy moves up and i should bring the energy down to the womb. I am not sure?
I want to take a moment here to talk about the basic anatomy of the pelvic floor so that you can have a visual of what it looks like, and when you choose to refrain or choose to engage you have an idea of what’s going on in your body. Imagine the pelvic floor as a bandana laid out on the floor with one corner pointing up away from you and one down towards you. Now draw a figure eight down the middle of it with a string. The bandana is the deeper layers, two and three, of the pelvic muscle group and the string is the first layer. The top loop is the anal sphincter and the bottom loop is the vagina opening. The center of it is your perineum which is where you lift your pelvic floor from. Your pelvic floor, just like the diaphragm is a dome. Both domes naturally move down with the inhale and up with the exhale, with the difference that the diaphragm inverts shape, while the pelvic dome does not, it just moves up and down. When we are practicing Ujayi breathing with bandhas we are essentially inverting the natural movement of the pelvic dome during the inhale by holding it in an upwards lifted state. This compresses all the organs in the abdominal cavity, which is part of the cleansing and healing aspect of Ashtanga Yoga. When you have a baby growing in your uterus however, constraining that natural movement of the pelvic dome can cause discomfort as the organs are moved down with the diaphragm. As the fetus develops and grows it needs all the space it can take, so it is advised to not practice moola bandha when pregnant. Uddiyana bandha should be avoided as it is an engagement of the deep abdominal muscles at the height of the uterus, and you want the blood to flow without constriction in this area as growth happens. This is my understanding and interpretation on the subject, but I am no doctor nor a specialist of sorts.
In my own practice, I am currently focusing on relaxing the pelvic floor, as after many years of moola bandha I believe I have to retrain the pelvic neural pathways to understand they now have to relax with the inhale and at delivery time with the exhale as well. Toning the pelvic floor is however important throughout your pregnancy because your pelvic muscles need to be toned and ‘awake’ to receive messages from the nervous system and respond accordingly throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery. I chose to go see a pelvic floor specialist convinced I would be told I had a real strong pelvic floor and that I would probably need to focus on releasing exercises, but to my surprise I was told that parts of it are stronger and parts of it are weaker. I was given exercises to do both strengthening and releasing. I highly recommend you find a pelvic floor specialist and work with one, especially if you practice the more advanced series of ashtanga yoga prior to pregnancy.
When did you start practicing again?
I started practicing again the last week of the first trimester, because my body started asking for it. I began with standing and worked up to full primary practice, and over a couple of weeks re built an adjusted intermediate practice. I’ve also re-introduced a few postures of third series that I find are beneficial to building stability and strength in my back. Now as I move into the third trimester I am backing off from a lot of asanas. I only do what feels good, and that usually ends being an adjusted half primary with a few adjusted postures from the second half of seated, and a selected bunch of asanas from the intermediate series. I still do backbends and some inversions. I meditate and chant on a regular basis and only practice asana four times a week. I’ve really enjoyed spending time swimming and hiking, so I take the rest of the days to do that.
In terms of diet....
A vegan diet is not for everyone, I was vegan for a long time and it didn’t work for me. When I began to think about pregnancy I made some changes, which were based on ‘deep listening’. I’ve found it useful to think to think about the following principles drinks lots of water, limit sugar intake, eat healthy protein with all meals, eat healthy fats with every meal, eat plenty of greens when you can stomach them, eat healthy carbs in forms of grains and vegetables, have a steady exercise routine, don’t stress too much about what you eat, let yourself indulge every once in a while, nourish your soul and your relationships.I personally quit eating sugar about a year before I got pregnant as part of my hormone stabilizing preparation, which helped me stabilize not only hormones but energy, weight and moods. I upped my intake of healthy fats, by eating a whole avocado a day and more nuts, being mindful of being hungry before eating, and being present for the process of eating. This helped me to eat steady meals instead of snacking or eating sugar in any form. I started taking minerals with my water, taking prenatal vitamins and probiotics daily. The main part of this process was to learn to listen and nourish, and to not stress eat.
I slowed down the intensity of practice for the six months prior to getting pregnant, only because third series is very demanding and not great for pelvic floor stability, not because of the heat generated by practice. I believe generating heat is good up to when you conceive because it helps to keep everything circulating properly and ensures toxic waste is released. I slowly built in a meditation practice that felt right for my schedule. I began reading books about pregnancy and listening to podcasts about fertility and understanding the menstrual cycle. I tried to spend as much time outdoors as I could and learned to accept down time. Basically cultivating the yin aspect of things. My partner also made changes to his diet and lifestyle.
Now in terms of your practice...
I don’t know what your practice is like but you want to focus on building stability and steady breathing. These are the elements that help us to ground the mind and the nervous system, and they help cultivate kapha. I hope this is helpful to you. I invite you to mainly listen to your body, and to cultivate a good steady, nourishing space within your womb and your mind.
Lastly here are some good podcasts to listen to...yoga, birth, babies; magamama; birth kweens, the period power; lady parts, the feel good podcast for nutrition or deliciously Ella, practically fertile, pregnancy podcast, informed pregnancy, the ultimate health podcast.
Ashtanga & pregnancy
RETREATS: 🌸ASHTANGA, PREGNANCY & MOTHERHOOD : a week of gathering between women of all paths to understand how to use the practice through the stages and pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood; learn from one another; nourish and be cared for with your baby, toddler and partner if you choose. AUGUST 22-29 @yogabalearicretreats Mallorca, Spain