I’m six months into my first pregnancy. What I’ve learned so far about practicing while pregnant can be summed up with the following: a) there are no rules, but b) consistency really, truly helps and c) it is an undeniably fascinating thing to have a human growing inside your body.
If you are not familiar with the Ashtanga system, then the ethos within which I’ve operated for a number of years is worth outlining. Practice is always in the morning. Six days per week except for new and full moon days, on which you take rest. Saturdays are for castor oil baths. Every day you do the practice that your teacher has given to you. No skipping postures. If you have moved beyond primary series, on Fridays you go back to primary series only. No practice during the first three days of menstruation. But on the subject of pregnancy? Some say don’t practice at all. Some say do a very light practice. Some say do whatever you feel like doing.
Wait, what? One of the things I’ve always loved about the system is that it eliminates the guesswork on a very basic level (“What poses should I do today?”) so you are free to examine your mind, your reactions, your physical way of interacting with the world in a way that is so much more interesting than “Should I do backbends or twists?” Suddenly I was faced with this blank page, this choose-your-own-adventure practice without page numbers to refer to.
There is a freedom in choosing what to do and a freedom in not having to choose, and I was so accustomed to the latter that the former was, frankly, a little scary. But, there I was. I gave myself some structure: I would keep up the schedule of practice (every morning except Saturdays and moon days), but the format would be different. I experimented with what worked and what didn’t, and was surprised on both counts. Early on, backbends felt horrible, like my stomach muscles were going to split apart. I eased off (but I won’t lie: I resented it. I did not sign on for losing my backbends). I was also surprised by how quickly something would change. Case in point: from week 17 to week 18, I got my backbends back.
What has not surprised me, though, is that the routine of daily practice has been so immensely valuable. Getting on the mat every day (at 4:30am these days, so I guess I’m preparing for those 3am feedings) has been a gift for my state of mind, whether the actual physical practice was half an hour of child’s pose (yep, there were some of those in the first trimester), or sun salutations and standing poses, or intermediate series with modifications. Because ultimately what we’re all doing on the mat is loads more than making shapes, so in the course of a lifelong practice, changing up the shapes for nine months is a drop in the bucket. And the coolest part of this? I know I have a little yogi inside me; the first time I felt him move was in savasana, at 12 weeks. And the first time I felt him kick repeatedly was while I was meditating, at 18 weeks. He’s already taking advantage of “quiet time” to make some noise.