First of all, congratulations and big smiles all around! This is such an amazing and tender time that is filled with excitement. Whether you are new to yoga or an avid practitioner, your body is dynamically changing, and things are shifting to accommodate these changes. I’m not going to give you a list of dos and don’ts. But what I am going to give you is encouraging guidelines for you to explore during this sweet and, sometimes challenging, time.
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We will talk about some common symptoms during the first trimester and how to address them. We will also discuss some tools to refine your inner listening as well as some movements that can help.
A yoga practice during the first trimester can look different for everyone. Different teachers have varied opinions on what is considered “safe” during the first trimester. Before we talk about any kind of movement, I want to say that the most important thing in the first trimester is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Every pregnancy is different and there is not a single woman in the world that has the same experience in their pregnancies.
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What is occurring physically in your body is amazing. In the first trimester, you are literally creating your baby — organs, tissues, all of it. Wow! So remember, every time you get frustrated that you feel ill or fatigued, remind yourself that you are working so hard to create a new life. I lovingly encourage you, before taking on any new or even familiar activities, to pause and really check in with how your body is feeling. Ask yourself, “What does my body/baby need right now to feel the most nourished?” Be patient and adopt a healthy perspective.
Now is not the time for pushing edges. It’s a time for rest, contemplation, connection, intimacy, and joy. You have your whole life ahead of you for vigorous movements. For the first 12-15 weeks (15 if you are high risk), just focus on nourishing, relaxing activities. The first trimester does not last for long (although if you are nauseous it can feel like an eternity.) Your symptoms should improve after 12-15 weeks. By that time you will feel ready to resume most of your regular activities.
What’s Happening in Your Body
You are hormonal — even more so than usual. Please be kind to yourself, and ask your partner for patience as you navigate these changes. Take time to rest and to meditate too. Here’s a summary of the three major hormones that are hard at work during this time:
- Your estrogen is surging which increases the pliability of your connective tissues, increases your blood flow, and can cause mood swings.
- Progesterone rises which slows the digestive organs while raising your basal body temperature.
- You are producing relaxin, a hormone which softens your tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Relaxin is also secreted by the placenta during labor which dilates the cervix and pubic symphysis.
The increase in estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin creates a “loosening effect” on your smooth muscle tone. Your body is actually becoming more flexible and pliable in preparation for birth. For this reason, I recommend focusing more on strength and stability in your yoga practice versus deep stretching. Due to the influx of relaxing, it’s important not to overstretch. Be mindful in your practice to avoid putting too much pressure on your joints and ligaments.
I offer these guidelines as just that. Please know that different things have felt good to me in each of my pregnancies. During one pregnancy I loved back bends, in another I preferred twists. I can’t encourage you enough to tune your ear to your body’s needs and move from this place of intuition. Here are some general guidelines to get you started.
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Yoga Guidelines for the First Trimester
- Twists: Avoid deep twists — visualize the movement happening in the upper back (rather than from your lower spine, belly, and deep in the abdominals).
- Backbending: Gentle backbending can feel wonderful during the first trimester, but over stretching the abdominals will not feel good. Use caution, and feel your way slowly into backbends.
- Abdominal Work: I do not recommend abdominal work during pregnancy, as I feel it is counterintuitive to what the body is working hard trying to do — which is expand. I do recommend some gentle transverse abdominal work in the second and third trimesters to help with spinal strength and alignment.
- Jumping: For now, just step.
- Belly Down (Prone Poses): The uterus is still quite small during this time and protected by the pelvis so compression is not really an issue. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) should feel fine but any intense backbends like Dhanurasana or Shalabhasana should be done cautiously.
- Pranayamas: Certain pranayamas or breathwork that involve retention and force, like kapalabhati or bhastrika, should be avoided.
- Inversions: Not recommended, but if you had an inversion practice before you were pregnant and can’t live without them please don’t stay up longer than 30 seconds.
- If you are considered high risk, I recommend restorative practices as well as meditative practices. Here is a great meditation to help center yourself during any stage of your pregnancy. In your practice, remember to move from love, not fear, and enjoy the beautiful and bountiful changes happening in your body!