I’m so excited to introduce my dear friend Leah, who is in the third trimester of her second pregnancy. I first met Leah when she was in her first pregnancy at The Yoga Shala in Winter Park, FL while I was working on my apprenticeship. Leah would wake up early every morning and drive to the shala to practice, and she didn’t live close! Her dedication inspired me.
I remember always being a little concerned working with her because of the pregnancy. Since I have never been pregnant, I am not personally familiar with the body changes and adjustments, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t push too hard, press in the wrong spot, or do anything that would cause any harm or discomfort. I would always ask to make sure everything was okay, and she would also guide me in the right direction. To my surprise, she she was able to take the same pressure in adjustments that I was giving to everyone in the shala. Her second pregnancy is completely different, which she explains below.
I reached out to Leah because I wanted to be able to share a post with my readers and practitioners who are pregnant, thinking of getting pregnant, or would like to start up their practice after pregnancy from someone who has personally experienced yoga practice and changes during this time.
In this post, Leah not only discusses how to practice during pregnancy, but how her practice is completely different from one to the next, and how she has had to modify to work through an injury. At the end of the post, I have included a video that Leah provided discussing the foundations of Ashtanga during pregnancy as well as a Sun Salutation demonstration. I hope you enjoy!
Ashtanga Yoga During Pregnancy
I have been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for over 10 years and daily for about 3 years, which include two pregnancies. I established my daily practice during the second trimester of my first pregnancy with my daughter, Skylar, who is now 2 and half years old. Currently, I am 31 weeks pregnant and am still practicing daily (with one day of rest per week and full and new moon days off).
Skylar & Leah
Pregnancy is such an exciting time and one that can bring a special focus on health and wellness. Staying healthy and fit during pregnancy offers countless benefits and Yoga is one of those incredible wellness options that also bring countless mental benefits. It is the mental benefits that I believe are equally, if not more, important during the emotional and life changing time of pregnancy.
In practicing yoga throughout both pregnancies, I can definitely attest to the fact that every pregnancy is different, and therefore the modifications that make sense for each individual woman are different. While there are certain guidelines that I would recommend for all woman practicing yoga during pregnancy (no twists, feet hip width apart, taking the intensity down) I personally felt much less of a need to modify postures during my first pregnancy in comparison to this pregnancy. I have some theories on why that may be, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is respecting your growing belly and changing body and doing your best not to worry about the physical look of the posture and just enjoy the process and breathe.
Don’t get me wrong, I am first to admit that not being able to do what you could just the day or week before can feel frustrating. But, if you embrace these changes and allow yourself to let go of the physical posture by reminding yourself of the amazing miracle of life you have growing inside, you may just get even more in touch with your yoga practice and its meaning.
Ashtanga Guru’s Guruji and Sharath suggest taking rest during the entire 1st trimester of pregnancy. Personally, I chose to practice during this time, but I can understand why the advice to take rest is given. During the first trimester, your body is going through so much inside, but it doesn’t always correlate with what’s going on physically on the outside. This can make it difficult, or even impossible to, “listen to your body”. There is the nausea, which for some alone could be reason enough to take rest. But, on the other hand, which for many A type Ashtanga personalities is the case, one may be inclined to push too much.
Physically, you can probably still get into postures the same as when you were not pregnant, given the good probability that you are not showing much if at all at this early point, so it can be a tough time to know how to best respect your body and your practice. It is interesting though what the body will do to ensure that your growing baby is first priority.
At some point during the 1st trimester of my current pregnancy, I injured my neck and shoulder. The injury was pretty intense in that it caused numbness in my hand and weakness throughout my left arm. The injury wound up forcing me to take it way easy in my practice. For starters, jumping back into Chaturanga Dandasana was completely out. In fact, I physically had to come to my knees when lowering down during sun salutations. I had about 50% less strength in my left arm so strength-building arm and core postures as well as transitions were out. Not to mention, backbends (including drop backs of course) and all postures (which are more than you would think) that include using your neck and shoulder/arm strength.
The beauty of this injury was that it forced me into a gentler practice. This modified practice has turned out to be exactly what my body and this particular pregnancy needs. Although the injury has since healed considerably, it has helped me learn from an early point in my pregnancy to surrender and adapt to modifications in many of the primary series postures.
Truthfully, I often could not tell if the modifications I was including were necessary due to the injury or the pregnancy. Regardless, without the injury, my ego, and the experience of feeling so great and needing so few modifications in my previous pregnancy, may have prevented me from embracing this gentler practice as quickly. Having an injury can be frustrating and often it is hard at the time to understand why it is happening. Later though, when you have gained a new perspective and more understanding, the pieces come together and somehow it all makes sense.
If you are wondering whether or not Ashtanga Yoga is right for you in your pregnancy, there are definitely some important factors to consider. One is that Ashtanga yoga is a rigorous practice and typically not recommended as a start up exercise during pregnancy. However, if you are active, healthy and have a low risk pregnancy, learning the foundations and a few of the postures and sequences of the Ashtanga method could be perfect to explore with an experienced teacher. I will be going over modifications for Sun Salutation A&B, which is an ideal starting point to incorporate daily.
If you already have an established Ashtanga practice, I would highly recommend sticking with it and embracing the fact that your practice will change and may look much different than your non-pregnant Ashtanga practice and this is beautiful and necessary. One thing I know to be true about Ashtanga yoga is that when practiced regularly it helps your body become the best it can be and exactly what is needed for optimal health.
I whole-heartedly believe that this is true during pregnancy as well. I have absolutely put on thickness during this pregnancy but am certain it is exactly what my body needs right now. I am sure that my body will change dramatically again in the upcoming months as I return to my non-pregnant state and as long as I keep practicing, I can let go of worrying or wondering about what that will look like and just trust that it will be what is healthy and best for me.
One thing this life shows us is that the only constant is change and practicing Ashtanga yoga during pregnancy truly magnifies and helps you embrace the natural changes and rhythms that this life and body include.
Leah Venturello started her yoga journey by taking classes in a gym. In order to explore and deepen her practice, she began taking classes at a yoga studio which offered different styles of yoga where she found and fell in love with Ashtanga Yoga.
During this time, she met Krista Shirley and eventually enrolled in her Ten Month, 200+ Hour, Apprenticeship-Practitioner Intensive at The Yoga Shala of Winter Park. The start day of this program was her birthday 3-30-2011, which she felt was a sign. The program was an incredibly intense training and Leah felt grateful to have completed it all with a new baby! Shortly after finishing the program, she began teaching at Inspirit Yoga and Fitness in South Orlando, and built 3 led Ashtanga classes from the ground up. These classes became some of Inspirit’s busiest classes, with an incredibly dedicated student following.
Currently, Leah is taking a hiatus from teaching so she can maintain her own practice and not push too hard as she is in the last part of her second pregnancy. She looks forward to teaching more private lessons as well as classes at Inspirit again as soon as possible after her baby is born.
I have such gratitude to my teacher and to all the teachers who help make it possible for yoga to enrich lives, my own and so many others. We all truly can accomplish whatever it is we set our mind, intention and focus towards. I now look forward to the great honor and opportunity of becoming a mother for the second time, knowing that for me this journey would not be as full without my yoga practice. For with it I am able to enjoy life with more ease and find gratitude in all its blessings. – Leah Venturello