Yoga can be dangerous during pregnancy. It’s often touted as perfectly safe. Reliable even. The default exercise to begin. And I do mostly agree with that with one caveat. Yoga during pregnancy must be gentle (that does not equal boring), it must be careful, and it must be refrained. The most advanced practitioner is not exempt from harm. But what is harm? What qualifies as dangerous? How can simple stretches ever be contraindicated?
When you hear the word “danger”, what do you see? A rocky crag? A slippery floor? A situation that will cause imminent death or at the least, a visit to the emergency room? Many people only see danger as something that is emergent, acute, or frightening. Unfortunately, danger isn’t just those instances, and yet, we often behave in such a way that we avoid glaring “danger” and ignore subtle shifts in our environment, or body, that is indeed, dangerous. The actual definition of danger states that harm or injury is possible. Not even probable. Possible. So then, danger can pad its way softly as a tiger into your practice. It can sneak its way around unnoticed. And it often does without the slightest cognizance of the practitioner.
Avoiding Danger, Avoiding Harm
Pregnancy already comes equipped with the nuisance named “discomfort” for most people. Even for those who report a generally great pregnancy, they have experienced more general pain and discomfort than when they were not pregnant. It is one of the reasons people seek yoga to begin. To relieve their physical and emotional discomfort. So why do we insist on becoming as bendy as Gumby, particularly during pregnancy? I don’t generally like to ascribe goals to my students or pregnant people in general, but I like to be clear about what prenatal yoga will look like. It will be gentle in nature with lots of period of rest. It will not have deep back bends or exerted hip stretches because they are dangerous insofar as they have the potential to cause pain by way of hyper-extending already lax joints. There will be no inversions as the risk of falling is too great and the pressure on the cervical spine is unnecessary. By avoiding dangerous situations, poses, and speeds, we are avoiding harm. We are lessening our chances of chronic pain during pregnancy and after.
Gaining Perspective, Gaining Awareness
An important part of any yoga practice leads us on a path to gain perspective by becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings. That awareness allows us to discern what is beneficial and what is not. It goes beyond the poses. We begin to ask ourselves what the endgame is when we feel disappointed at the lack of sweat or sun salutations that we perhaps expected. We judge (yes, we do) whether it actually is important to do pose A or B, whether our feelings of what happened at work is partly our responsibility, and whether our discomfort at situations can be rectified or if it should be there. Hint: physical discomfort should not be a result of yoga. Intellectual and emotional…should.
The point is this: your practice during pregnancy will undoubtedly change to accommodate your changing body and baby. Danger must be avoided. Any pose that will even moderately increase your risk of discomfort and pain, emergent or chronic, needs to be avoided. Especially if they confer no benefit. Sometimes, the poses are obvious. Others are not. But you must first assess what is dangerous and to do that, you must understand how pregnancy changes the body. A teacher can help you, of course. As well as a doctor or physical therapist. Your body and baby will thank you for taking care and abstaining from unnecessary risk.