Six Tips for Teaching Prenatal Yoga

It's a weekday afternoon and you're getting ready for yoga class. Students are pouring in and getting settled on their mats—and there she is: one very pregnant student rolling out her mat.

More than 70 percent of yoga students are women. So it makes sense that, at some point in your yoga teaching career, you’ve had (or will have) this experience. What do you do? Freak out? Ignore it? Give her every modification in the book (tell her everything she can’t do) and hope for the best?

I’ve heard again and again from teachers, “I didn’t want to break her” and “I was afraid I would hurt the baby.” Thankfully, pregnant bodies are strong and the tools for welcoming a mom-to-be are simple. In our prenatal yoga teacher trainings, Sarah Longacre and I teach yoga instructors how to support pregnant women while maintaining focus as a teacher. Here are a few tips.

Remember how you want to feel at the end of a yoga class. Calm, grounded, more open, and balanced, right? It’s the same for that expecting mother. So incorporate movement, breath, strengthening, and relaxation. It’s no different.

Invoke the message to trust in your body. So often, we search outside of ourselves for comfort, guidance on how to fix an imagined problem, validation that we’re doing it “right.” When you as a teacher allow space to explore, to get creative, and to be curious about sensations, such as tension and softening, you are leaving space for the mom-to-be to develop trust that she knows exactly what to do with her body. This is a powerful message that will most definitely help her in labor and motherhood, no matter what type of birth experience she may have.

Go for the hips. Every single body can benefit from focusing on the hips. Warrior II, squats, Goddess pose, Pigeon pose. This is especially important in our Western culture, where we sit for hours in bucket seats while creeping through traffic to and from work, on our couches binge-watching Netflix, and in desk chairs that don’t leave room for the pelvis to move. Circles and pelvic tilts get those hips moving, so the pelvic floor muscles can contract and extend, giving baby space to get into optimal fetal positioning.

Encourage breath—lots of it. When things get hard or stressful, do you tighten your jaw? What would happen if you invited students to say “Haaaaaa” as they exhaled? The jaw softens downward. There’s space between your teeth, and, as a bonus side effect, tense shoulders may soften as well. Teaching how to soften in the most challenging postures is essential not only for birth, but also for life. Soften in the jaw muscles, soften in the pelvic floor muscles. As above, so below.

Support her to get strong. Push-ups for expectant moms are great. Car seats are heavy! While the rest of the class is moving from Plank to Cobra or Upward Facing Dog, invite your pregnant yogi to put her knees down in Plank, draw her elbows in close to her ribs, and snuggle her baby with each powerful exhale during push-ups.

Let her relax. Leave ample time for her to soak in the hard work—a minimum of 10 minutes in Savasana to fully let go. Have her rest on her left side, using  a bolster for support to bring the hips into balance. Don’t skimp on this; don’t rush through it. Give rest the time it deserves.

You may have noticed that not once did I mention what not to do. That is on purpose. You can teach a yoga class with a mama in the group and focus on all the amazing things she can do while pregnant. With only a short amount of time to make a difference, why not focus on the many wonderful, beneficial options, instead of negative “don’t do that” messages? Remember, a pregnant woman is not broken, sick, or weak. Be her cheerleading squad. Your yoga class may be the one moment that day or even that week when she gets nourished in this way. Remind her that she is strong, supported, and appreciated!

Find out more about programs with Stacy Seebart at Kripalu.

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Stacy Seebart, E-RYT 500, RPYT, director of Blooma’s Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, is an experienced prenatal yoga teacher, massage therapist, and educator.

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