You’ve probably been told to do prenatal yoga, but is it really for you? Trauma-informed yoga teacher Abigail Lauren Geller says not if it’s another overwhelming thing on your to-do list! But if you are curious about the benefits of prenatal yoga for your body, your mind, your pregnancy, and your labor, and want to create a space of self-reflection to better connect with your body and protect your energy, then prenatal yoga may be just what you need. Abigail also shares with Adriana how lying on your back while pregnant may not be as problematic as we’ve been led to believe.
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- Prenatal Yoga, Part 1 – Helping your Client Choose a Class, the Lamaze “Connecting the Dots” blog
- Prenatal Yoga, Part 2 – Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation, the Lamaze “Connecting the Dots” blog
- Prenatal Wellness Classes Cut Moms’ Depression in Half Up to 8 Years Later, University of California-San Francisco
- Could Yoga Lessen Prenatal Depression? Brown University
- How to Practice Yoga Without Appropriating It, by Susanna Barkataki
- How to Decolonize Your Yoga Practice, by Susanna Barkataki
- Practicing the 8 Limbs of Yoga Will Help You Understand Yoga as It Was Meant to Be, by Meesha Sharma
- How the Ethical Practice of the Yamas and Niyamas Relate to Pregnancy and Childbirth, by Deena Blumenfeld (the guest speaker from our prenatal yoga legacy episode):
- Different Types of Yoga: A Complete Guide, by Shamlee Pathare
- 6 Tips for Modifying Your Class for Pregnant Students, Yoga International
- Yoga & Your Pelvic Floor: An Integrative, Gender Affirming Approach (Part I), Accessible Yoga Association
- Yoga & Your Pelvic Floor: An Integrative, Gender Affirming Approach (Part II), Accessible Yoga Association
- Find a yoga teacher near you:
- Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) committee opinion
- Should Pregnant Students Do Yoga Postures While On Their Backs? by Bernie Clark
Related Birthful episodes:
- Why Do Prenatal Yoga? (our legacy episode)
- Are you Meditating Yet?
- Baby’s Position and Labor Flow
- Diastasis and Tummy Fitness
How Prenatal Yoga Can Help Protect Your Energy (And Why This Is Important!)
Adriana Lozada: Hello hello, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. Welcome to Birthful. I am Adriana Lozada and for today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about the benefits of prenatal yoga for pregnancy and birth as we forge on with our Movement and Body Wellness in Pregnancy series.
Now through this series, one of the things that I love the most is how all these different ways of moving and caring for yourself connect really nicely with each other, and how they can have a positive impact right now (during your pregnancy) and also extend into your birth, the postpartum period, and beyond— really beyond— for years. So hopefully this series will inspire you to explore different ways you can set down some really nourishing body movement and wellness habits.
Today, I will be talking to the wonderful Abigail Lauren Geller who is a trauma-informed experienced Registered Yoga Teacher who specializes in fertility, prenatal, and postnatal yoga. She’s also a certified community birth and postpartum doula among many other things. I really appreciate the non-judgmental and holistic lens that Abigail brings to how you can explore what yoga can do for you.
Make sure you stick around until the end, to hear Abigail talk about the new research on lying on your back during pregnancy. It’s really surprising.
You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Welcome, Abigail! It is a delight to be talking to you today. Thank you. Thank you for coming on the show. And before we get into all the wonders of prenatal yoga, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? How do you identify? Who are you?
Abigail Lauren Geller: Hi, I’m Abigail (pronouns: she/her/hers). I’m here on the land of The Council of the Three Fires as well as land associated with the Kickapoo, the Miami, the Sioux, the Illinois, many other tribal nations, also known as Chicagoland area. So I live just outside of the city. I’ve lived here for over 15 years, but originally from the Cleveland, Ohio area, where my parents still live and most of my family still lives. And right now I work as the Outreach and Education Coordinator at the third freestanding birth center in the State of Illinois, called Burr Ridge Birth Center. I also own my own business, Unusual Pearl LLC, and I’m a certified birth doula/postpartum doula, and also a certified educator. So wear lots of hats! And yeah, it’s just a pleasure to be here.
Adriana: Yes, and I was really interested and excited to talk to you, especially because you really have that experience of being a yoga teacher, but also of going to births and not just seeing things before and after, but how the actions done in pregnancy cause ripples, and effects during the birth and then postpartum.
And I know that by now people are like, “Yes, prenatal yoga, we should all do prenatal yoga. If you’re pregnant, do prenatal yoga.” Can we first just understand why? Why should people do prenatal yoga? What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Abigail: So I think the first thing I’d like to say about prenatal yoga is that it isn’t for everybody. I think that it is something that people may come to because their doctors or their midwives may recommend it or a friend did it. I think in pregnancy there is an opportunity to get in touch with your body that’s a little different than outside of pregnancy.
If you’ve been curious about yoga or you’ve had a prior yoga practice, I would say come on into that prenatal yoga class. But I also want to, there’s a lot of “should”s in pregnancy and I wanna lower that load for people a little bit and say if prenatal yoga just sounds so overwhelming to you— to do one more thing on a to-do list— actually the most yogic thing to do, I think in that situation, is a approach it from kind of a non-violence standpoint (which is part of a principle of yoga) and apply it to yourself and some self-compassion of being like, “I don’t know if I can add this in.” And that actually is practicing yoga.
So I think first just getting an assessment of “Am I doing this because I want to do prenatal yoga? Because I feel like there would be some benefit based on the things that I’m hearing?” Like, for example, it can be helpful for low back pain. It can be helpful for pelvic girdle pain. It can be helpful for folks who are feeling a lot of anxiety, or also feeling very low in pregnancy, whether it’s in mood or in energy. Is it to get you motivated to move in other ways? We know that people who do prenatal yoga often become more motivated to move their bodies in other ways outside of the yoga practice.
So I think assessing for yourself, “Is this just one more thing I’m adding because somebody outside of me said I should?” or “Is there something within me that says, ‘Based on the things that I’m feeling in my body…. Based on some of the things that I know that it can help with… I’m gonna be open-minded and want to step into that space to do some prenatal yoga’?”
Adriana: And I love that approach of curiosity, of seeing “What is this about?” and “Is it for me?” and “Does it match? Does it track with what I need?” right? Because at the end, you’re not looking to just do prenatal yoga, but to… maybe what you’re looking for is more flexibility in your movement, more alignment, or to calm your anxious mind, or be more centered, more grounded. And as you were mentioning, yoga can be a great tool for all of those… or lower your aches and pains.
I think also it could be something where people, y’know, “Is it one more thing I need to do?” Or maybe this ticks a lot of boxes and “Let me try yoga because then I might do the yoga and take away three other ‘should’s,” that yoga just boom, boom, boom is filling all those needs! So yes, I love that curiosity approach and that “honoring of yourself and your needs” approach.
What about if somebody decides, “Yes, I’m gonna do a prenatal yoga class?” Are all classes created equal? What’s a good baseline to start? What should they look out for?
Abigail: Yeah, I don’t think all classes are created equal. Part of that is I’ve observed other colleagues of mine— when I was initially getting my certification. I’ve attended some classes myself; I’m pregnant myself now, so seeing those classes. I love sometimes just doing a YouTube video and seeing what’s out there. There’s so many different formats and ways that you can access the prenatal yoga practice.
So let’s start first with a studio class. So, in-person, right now, for some people is going to be more motivating than maybe finding something online. You have that group energy there and it can also be a great way to make another friend that’s pregnant. And so there’s this community element that I think that can be missing in the online format.
But we also know that yoga spaces tend to be dominated by folks who carry a lot of privilege. So folks who can afford maybe a $20 class, a $25 class, a $15… And so we have to acknowledge that there’s an economic barrier for people to access an in-studio class. If you have other little ones at home and childcare is precarious, that can be a barrier for people to actually get into a yoga studio. And then sometimes it’s the yoga studio itself. We know that yoga studios in the U.S. are predominantly owned by white folks. And so that is not always a welcoming space for everybody— specifically able-bodied, cisgendered women occupy those spaces. And if you don’t tick some of those boxes, you may not feel safe at a very vulnerable time in life, which I think pregnancy— at least from my personal experience right now— lots of feelings/emotions are coming up, and you may not feel safe in that setting.
So, doing a little research before you go into that studio. What neighborhood is it in? Maybe you go in and just ask the front desk some questions, when you know that there are other classes going on, just to kind of see who else is in the studio. I know over the years I’ve picked studios, as a Black woman, I’ve definitely picked studios to practice in, that I could see myself a little bit more in. And so we also know that that can affect whether somebody wants to walk into an in-studio class.
We also know that sometimes prenatal yoga can be offered through your local YMCA or your gym or your park district, and so if maybe going to a studio feels out of reach, you might be able to see at a lower price point some other places in your community, even some local libraries. So don’t just do your Google search on freestanding studios, but just see what other community resources are there for in-person classes.
The birth center I work at, we’re offering prenatal yoga. So maybe even in the hospital or the birth center or the homebirth midwife that you’re working with might also have a resource for prenatal yoga that might not appear in your average Google search. Doulas are usually a pretty good resource as well for that.
Adriana: For all things, as co-doulas here, we will say we tend to know! Yeah, and I find depending on, then, what you were saying on the studio and how they’re showing up in the world and how they’re being responsible for some social justice. I find some studios here where I live have also started having some free offerings outside during the summer, so maybe you can’t access the class in the studio paying $20-$25, but then you have the option of doing this free class that might be one month, and then you mix it with the online class and you’re getting a little bit of the community and then you’re getting, y’know, the benefits of doing it more often. There’s a lot of… I love the invitation to mix and match and to just really play that. It doesn’t have to be a commitment to one thing or one way.
Abigail: Yeah, I think mix and matching and trying a few things out, you’re not gonna hurt a teacher’s feelings if you go once and don’t go back ’cause it doesn’t fit.
I think also… Thinking a little bit about “Can I go to a class that does not have the title ‘prenatal yoga’ in it?” and “Would I still benefit?” And so some things that you may wanna think about, especially if you’re a person who’s more motivated by being in-person, is you can ask if sometimes studios will hire folks kind of within, who have trained in their studios, so you can ask them, “Do your teachers take a module?” Usually it’s four to six hours that has a prenatal component, so that teacher may not have the 90 or 80 hours I think that’s required by Yoga Alliance, to have the prenatal yoga designation. But a lot of programs now in their teacher trainings are requiring all of their teachers to take a prenatal yoga unit. Doing that allows yoga teachers who aren’t prenatal-focused just to get a little context for, y’know, physically and mentally, emotionally and spiritually, what their students may be going through in the prenatal process.
So somebody may not have that 90 hours, but they might have a good four to six hours of training where they at least know to do things that aren’t going to hurt your pregnancy and keep you in mind as they’re teaching and giving those variations and options throughout the practice.
You could also try… I know some folks will opt into a gentle class or chair yoga class or a hatha class. I know some folks might go to an Iyengar class, just alert the studio that they’re coming in, they’re pregnant. Again, I think a good, a phone call is nice or an e-mail is nice, when the prenatal option isn’t either available to you or you don’t connect to that teacher or you know that they have that free community offering that’s more accessible to you and you would like to take advantage of that, but you wanna make sure that you’re being safe.
Now for those folks who have been taking yoga for a long time and you want to go to your regular class still, I say, “That’s wonderful!” I say go to one or two or three sessions of a prenatal yoga class just to get familiar with some of those options and choices, and then as you can go back to your regular class and weave those in.
I know some folks who get pregnant— me included— who their regular class just does not feel desirable once you are pregnant. So don’t be surprised or hard on yourself if that happens too. If just going into a regular class no longer feels— a regular asana class does not feel good to you anymore, doesn’t feel like something you can commit to— that doesn’t make you a bad yoga student or a bad yoga teacher, for wanting to opt into something different
Along the different trimesters, we know that there’s going to be a proclivity toward certain practices. Like, first trimester, when we might be more nauseous or more tired, we might actually wanna focus on pranayama breath practices versus asana. And then as you get more energy back, asana might become more appropriate again, y’know, at 16, 17, 18… 20-24 weeks. So there’s also that opportunity for self-reflection again, of, like, “Is it asana? Is it the physical practice that I need? Or is it some breath practices, some meditation that’s actually going to be a little bit more nourishing?” of what we would call “ojas,” really nourishing our inner being at its deepest level.
Adriana: I hadn’t thought about the ebb and flow— of first trimester, second trimester, third trimester— and being… y’know, tuning in, checking in with your body, and that yoga still has a broad array of spectrum of options for you to continue to get benefits from it, even if you can’t do, y’know, the asanas.
In terms of what to look out for, how to check in with your body. What are the common modifications of movements? What should people really avoid? You know, let’s give people a little bit of information of… or tools of… when they step into maybe that class that’s not prenatal-oriented, how to do it more safely.
Abigail: Absolutely. So I think let’s start with the physical body first. And so I would say like the number one thing that you probably want to avoid are deep twists that go across the body. There are twists that you can do that are more open, and so you wanna focus on what we would call an open twist versus, like, a closed, deep twist around the belly— and that goes for all trimesters.
Other things that you might wanna avoid, especially as we transition from first trimester to second trimester, is maybe laying on the belly. Now everybody has kind of a different rate at which their belly grows and feels uncomfortable, so a lot of folks may get through their first trimester, feel fine laying on their belly. They may see that also in their sleep. And then some place in their second trimester it can become very obvious to you that laying on your belly to do something like a cobra pose is not going to be accessible. So you might substitute, y’know, if you’re doing a sun salutation, maybe you’re not doing your cobra, maybe you’re doing kind of a cat-cow variation. Maybe you’re going into cow pose and just being on hands and knees and then coming back to your downward-facing dog.
Some other ways, especially some other poses that might become… I don’t say “challenging,” but counter-indicated more structurally, that might be hard to resist in classes, are also big backbends, especially as our belly gets bigger. We may still be able to do them, but is that good for the actual abdominal muscles that are already getting pressure to separate? And so we don’t want to make things like a diastasis recti more dominant than it needs to be.
So especially again, as we get into that second trimester, those big wheel poses can feel really tempting and may even feel like they could feel good for the upper back, ’cause they’re actually supposed to be more focused in the upper back. I would say resist that, just based on your belly is already going through quite a bit of work.
One of the sequences of poses that I think that people underestimate in terms of “actually may not be so fun for our pelvic girdle” is actually anything that is asymmetrical— so especially like a warrior one where one foot forward, one foot back, it can actually be very hard on the pubic bone, or even like a tree pose, this can be irritating for the pelvic girdle.
And so although these poses may not seem challenging in, like, a headstand sort of way, these poses can pose a little bit of a threat to the stability of the pelvis when we know the pelvis is already going through so much change that it eventually has to let a baby out.
And then finally going back into like some of the more obvious ones: unless you have a very rigorous asana practice avoiding headstands, handstands, forearm stands, things of that nature. The risks of falling, to me, are just not worth it. But you will see folks online, especially in Instagram world, with big bellies doing headstands and handstands and all sorts of things. So I also want to give people autonomy and say, “It is your body and you can do what you like with it.” But, I think, also thinking about those things, with a reflective mind.
Now we do know doing some inversions can actually be good for the pelvis. Sometimes you’ll see some of that in the Miles circuit and Spinning Babies. And so just making sure somebody is spotting you while you’re doing those types of movements. And again, those aren’t really for balancing or for some yogic benefit— those more have to do with some ligaments and things in your pelvis, and shifting baby around. So again, I think being more… about just being very intentional in those ways.
Adriana: Absolutely. And those you don’t hold for a long time. I mean, the inversions— in Spinning Babies, Miles circuit— you don’t do more than 30 seconds and it’s very specifically supported. So knowing that difference, for sure, and definitely tuning in with your body and what your body’s history is, where you are that day and how pregnancy is presenting for you… because I didn’t realize the asymmetrical, but when you said it, it makes total sense that the asymmetrical movements can be stressful for the girdle! And especially if you, say, have somebody who is experiencing a lot of pubic symphysis pain, well definitely you don’t wanna do any, y’know, lunges or that Warrior I or anything. Definitely tune into your body!
Let’s talk then about relaxin when you’re tuning into your body— because you might suddenly be like, “Oh, I am so much more flexible than I’ve ever been! Now I can really do this yoga class, or this stretch, or this pose.” And even though that sounds really tempting, how should people approach that, Abigail?
Abigail: That’s a really great one, so I’m glad that you brought that up. So I think the first thing that people notice when I teach a class is that it is not a stretchy class— and what I mean by that is there’s actually quite a bit of strengthening that we do before we do anything that has to do with stretching. There’s a lot of, like, foundation building and working some muscles, not in, like, a workout way, but activating some muscles very consciously before we’re thinking about lengthening the muscles in any way.
And part of that is, like you mentioned, the relaxin, and that we’re naturally gonna be able to maybe get into some poses that we wouldn’t be able to outside of pregnancy. For those folks who are not pregnant, you can actually get a little experience of this actually before your menstrual cycle. A lot of times if you are tracking your menstrual cycle, you’ll notice that you’re most flexible right before your period, and so you get a little preview of that.
And so if you’re not pregnant right now but are looking to get pregnant, you can kind of practice modifying that— going to your furthest edge in a pose and kind of bringing that back a little bit and working at, like, 60% effort in that period of time right before your menstrual cycle.
But if you are pregnant, I always say in the poses that focus on lengthening the muscles, work at 50% effort. So if you can bring your hands way past your toes, like maybe just bring them to your ankles. We don’t need something that makes you look like Gumby, we just need something that is going to give you a little bit of sensation.
A lot of times in yoga, especially if you’re a more experienced yoga practitioner, we can be sensation seekers. So we’re sometimes… we’re looking for the loudest, biggest sensation. If we’re not doing that, we feel like we’re not doing our practice. In pregnancy, we’re kind of undoing that a little bit. We’re practicing brahmacharya and bringing it back a bit, and being moderate with our energy, moderate with our movements, so 50% effort.
Adriana: Can you explain what brahmacharya is? I’m not familiar with the term.
Abigail: So there are different interpretations of brahmacharya— people interpret it as a modulating of your sexual energy. The way my… one of my teachers, Susanna Barkataki, talks about it, is actually a modulating of your energy in general. So this means, y’know, whether it’s, like, with your social media, is that draining your energy? Y’know, if you are going for a run, does 20 minutes serve you? Or does 45 minutes serve you? So it’s really being in-tune with your energy outputs, and being moderate with it and being careful with your energy. But I know that’s in some lineages— Susanna works from the Shankaracharya lineage. They talk about overall energy. I know in some lineages it primarily talks about sexual energy.
Adriana: And I love how that counters this whole very capitalist idea of “More is better.” And even the technocratic idea that we apply to medicine and healthcare and also birth, of, if you have technology, the more the better. Use it. Use it. Use it. Right? So, if 20 minutes is gonna serve you, why do 45? Oh, such a good reminder! Now, what about… I know this has ebbed and flowed in terms of its popularity, but what about hot yoga?
Abigail: So just like we have those recommendations for pregnant folks not to get in hot tubs, I think this lends itself… or a super hot bath, y’know… that lends itself into the hot yoga space. Hot yoga would not be something I recommend for pregnant folks. Have I seen pregnant folks in hot yoga classes I’ve taken?
Absolutely. Would it be something I would recommend to folks? Not really. I know that folks who are pregnant tend to run warm as it is. I know for my own classes that I’ve taught in-person, sometimes I turn on the air ’cause people get hot very easily as soon as we start moving a little bit for asana practice.
So if you have been going to a hot yoga studio, y’know, maybe step into a class, see how it feels for you. Again, I’m not an “always or never teacher.” I’m usually not an “always or never” about most things in life! What is one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison. But I think, in general, avoiding heated classes would be my recommendation, with a giant asterisk around the fact that yoga’s about liberation and self-reflection, and really tuning in with what’s good for you.
Adriana: Now, when I was doing my research and looking at the benefits of yoga (prenatal yoga) for pregnancy, we talked about things that you mentioned, y’know: less stress, there was also mention of less preterm labor and prematurity, less hypertension, like all really good things! What about for labor? What are the benefits of doing prenatal yoga, for paying it forward to your labor?
Abigail: So yoga, when we look at the eight limbs, pranayama (or breath practice) is one of those limbs. What is the primary thing, when I’m a doula in the labor space, that I’m coaching people on, that I find is one of the most number one helpful things that somebody could do throughout their birthing experience? It’s breathing. I find that folks who have practiced breathing intentionally prior to the labor process are able to access that more easily in actual labor.
Why is that? Well, when we study labor, we know that laboring— when we get into active labor, we are no longer at beta-wave, logical thinking. We get into the subconscious and the unconscious mind, and so what lives in the subconscious? Things that we’ve done over and over and over again. So if you have no habit of conscious breathing, when somebody tells you to breathe through a contraction, or you’ve done your HypnoBabies class, but you didn’t do any of the practices with it and you’re trying to do it in the hospital setting, you don’t really have access to that, ’cause you’re not working from, “Oh, I read this in a book and it’s good for me,” and “Now I’m gonna breathe,” or operating from an embodied level.
So whatever your habit of being is, what you have imprinted on your body is what’s going to come out in the labor. So I find, anecdotally, just from watching laboring folks, folks who have come into a prenatal class, or some of my clients who have doubled up (as my doula clients and as yoga clients), I think they do really well in labor because there’s this memory of breathing and being cued to breathe from an outside person as well, that that is something that they can always come back to, no matter which way their labor and birthing experience goes. There’s a lot of letting go that has to happen in the birthing space.
And so a lot of times it’s like, “Well, what can I control?” and the one thing that will never leave you in the birthing space is your breath. And so I think having that experience, y’know, whether it’s just been through prenatal yoga or maybe even prior you’ve been cultivating a yoga practice (even prior to pregnancy) can really serve you, because it’s a lived experience that lives in your unconscious and subconscious mind.
Adriana: Mhm, a hundred percent! And also, I find that people that have had the practice of going into deeper brainwaves— and usually that comes along with deeper breathing as well, and longer exhalations and diaphragmatic, like your body naturally connects all those things— definitely have an easier time with labor and being able to find their focus when they are feeling out of control. And it doesn’t take much, like you’re saying, y’know, just saying, “Take a deep breath. Find your focus,” I find, is enough for a really hard event in transition to become one that they can get on top of, rather than be taken over by it.
Abigail: Absolutely. I find that that tendency to, like, freak out at the moment in birth where you’re like, “This is really overwhelming,” or “This feels so much bigger than me,” when I debrief with clients afterwards, the reflection of folks who I feel like who have a little bit deeper practice (versus folks who they’re getting into the labor space, they haven’t really practiced much breathing, breathing coordinated to movement as well), the folks who have a little bit more practice, I noticed that they’ll say there was a moment, “There was a distinct moment in my birthing experience where I wanted to freak, and I just went back to the breath and I let it kind of, like, wash over me, and I was like, and then I could, like, really be in it.”
And then the other folks, sometimes there’s this response afterwards of like, “That was so out of control. That really felt really scary.” And not that those two groups don’t cross over each other, but I would say more times than not the folks who are having that reflection of like, “I had one thing to control,” like, “one thing I could control,” because although the movement is very helpful and mimics… the movements in yoga mimic so many great movements that help labor progress. We know a lot of folks, especially in the U.S., for epidurals, they don’t have access to their body anymore in certain ways, or we know that some providers really want folks in the bed in a lot of ways. And so, although that may not be ideal for a lot of reasons, we always have the breath as an option!
So I always say breath, to me, is number one. And then movement would be number two, because depending on the options that people have opted into— or even as a doula, I’ve attended planned cesarean births, and in that space I’ve had clients who are practicing mantras or affirmations— they’re practicing their breath. And so even when they’re on a cold metal table, opting into a procedure that they really, really want for a variety of reasons, they’re still able to access their yoga practice and then really be present for the birth of their child and be like, “Okay, I’m really gonna be present,” and y’know, “When they first lay baby on me, I’m gonna take a breath. I’m gonna,” y’know, “take it all in.” And they’re really able to take in the moment a little bit differently. So, it can serve you in so many ways when maybe access to the body is not available. And then we also know that it can go a long way in postpartum, because access to the body can be really variable when we are healing as well— in the first six to twelve weeks, especially.
Adriana: And all those things match exactly— again, back to my research and what I found out of the benefits of prenatal yoga for labor— it talked about reduced pain and, y’know, more satisfaction with pain relief and shorter labors, more satisfaction with the experience in general. and having less stress hormones present.
One of the things that just popped into my mind when we were talking about things to avoid— and I can’t believe I didn’t think about this before— y’know, lying flat on your back, which is something that tends to happen in savasana. How do you navigate that, or how can people navigate that in their classes?
Abigail: So it’s interesting, we’re actually coming into an interesting period of folks reflecting on the whole “Don’t lay on your back” message. They’re finding— although we’re trying not to impede the vena cava and blood flow and everything— they’re finding that that is not as universal. And this is very new.
I’m seeing this come up as a theme, so I’m going to talk about this very… hold it very lightly, as I do most things. Because one of the beautiful things, I think, in the age that we are in, is that people are very curious and are always trying to find out more information.
And so I think we’re at this interesting conversation point, of we’ve kind of scared folks to death about, y’know, “You must lay on your side if you wake up on your back.” And now we’re finding that’s like, “You could be a little… probably a little bit more relaxed about that.”
So I think it really depends on, in your yoga class, a few things. If it gives you anxiety (I know for some, there are many things that will give folks, like, heart palpitations in their pregnancy, that don’t bother other people at all)… so I think first and foremost, do you feel comfortable laying on your back in any way in a class? If there’s something that… If the thoughts in your brain start to uptick and it just gives you too much anxiety, avoid it. I think that’s totally fine.
In savasana in particular, when we’re there for hopefully a little bit longer… I would say a yoga class that I would like to attend has a savasana that’s at least five minutes long. Some folks prefer a one minute or a two minute savasana; some folks, y’know, really go deep and do ten and fifteen minute savasana. For me, a yoga class that I would attend regularly, minimum five minutes (ideally ten minutes, depending on the length of the class). And so if I know a teacher is going to have a longer savasana, there are two options that would probably be my go-to.
The first option would be to get a bolster. You would put it on kind of an incline, so maybe putting a block underneath, and then you could lay back on that bolster so you’re not completely flat on your back. You have… You’re kind of on a slant, and then you can have your legs out in front of you. You could have your feet on the floor with your knees. You could put your feet together and have your knees out in more of that konasana or butterfly position— whatever is going to feel good on your pelvis, in your back.
The second option is to lay on your side. And again, there’s that preference for laying on your left-hand side for blood flow and things. But I’ve had clients who have injuries on their left-hand side, so laying on your right-hand side is not terrible.
And so I would say, when I’m instructing a group class, I’ll say, “Okay, you can either lay with the bolster or lay on your left-hand side.” If you have an injury or impediment or baby’s sitting funny/in a weird way that just doesn’t feel good that day, lay on your right. Now, if you know that your teacher has a shorter savasana, maybe laying on your back feels good to you, and you wanna be able to enjoy those moments. Or if you know your teacher has a longer savasana and you’re in your first trimester, laying on your back is usually perfectly safe and fine. And then usually it’s around 15-16-17 weeks, that usually is where I start to see folks say that laying on their back feels uncomfortable in general, or just feels different, or they have too much anxiety about laying on their back. So I think there’s a variety of ways, again, to think about. Most of my answers about yoga are long-winded because there just isn’t one good answer for things!
And, I think, kind of going back to one of your questions about, like, types of classes and where do we go, y’know, it can be beneficial sometimes… I’ve had folks do a couple private classes with me so that they can get things that are specifically tailored to their body, specifically tailored to their experiences. Sometimes people will sign up for a few classes privately because they’ve never done yoga and just need some basics. Some folks come in because they don’t feel safe in other spaces and want to first get some grounding in prenatal yoga that way.
Some folks will only do private yoga if that’s within their budget. We know that, economically, private yoga’s gonna be your most expensive. We know that, y’know, your group yoga class is gonna be that mid-range. And then finding, y’know, your YouTube video or maybe an online offering might be a little bit more… even more economically-accessible for folks.
Adriana: Abigail, is there anything else about prenatal yoga that people need to know?
Abigail: I think prenatal yoga is one of those niche spaces that, if you’re curious about it, if you’re afraid to do it, I say— but you feel like, “I kind of want to try…”— I wanna tell people to go for it! I definitely have folks just saying how nervous they are because they’ve never done it, and sometimes the first time people have a yoga practice is starting with prenatal yoga.
I started teaching prenatal yoga in 2014, and I’ve seen many people over the years say, like, “I started with this class and then found a rhythm and then moved on to other classes.” So much so that sometimes in a subsequent pregnancy, I’ll only see those practitioners every once in a while because they use everything that they use in their prenatal yoga classes and they transform it into more of a mainstream class. And so it can be a wonderful starting point. I would say definitely, if you’re going into a studio class, call and ask if the teacher is beginner-friendly. But I would say that usually about 50%, usually about half my class has done yoga and half my class is very in the beginning stages or have only done it once in the park with their friend who dragged them there. And so I would say if you’re curious about it, go to a class.
I think the other thing to note is that some of the same principles we might look for in a regular yoga class, still apply to a prenatal yoga class and a prenatal yoga instructor. So you’re still looking for an instructor that’s embodying the principles of yoga— we call those some of “the moral ethics of yoga,” the yamas and niyamas— a teacher who’s connected to some lineage in some way and pays homage to lineage. We’re looking for teachers who honor your bodily autonomy and consent— so, y’know, a teacher shouldn’t be touching you without consent. A teacher should be getting to know you and developing a relationship with you in some way. Those relationships are important, especially if you’re coming week after week. I think sometimes we’re like, “Oh, that’s that one prenatal yoga class on the schedule. I’ll go to that.” You don’t have to abandon some of those principles that keep you safe just to attend class, just to say to your doctor or your midwife that you’re attending a class.
And I’m a big believer, too, of just tapping into the energy you’re getting from the class. Because you maybe don’t know or haven’t researched— y’know, it was convenient! You dropped into the class and you don’t know exactly all the background of this instructor, but you can tell from the energy of the class and people in it if you feel safe or not, or because I’ve been in yoga classes in studios where I’ve stopped going because it just felt like a big competition. It’s like, “That’s not what I’m here for.” So just tuning into the energy of the class can also be really helpful and how it makes you feel. And if you’re feeling safe, yes, I would agree.
Adriana: Abigail, thank you so so much for this lovely conversation. It was delightful to meet you!
Abigail: It was delightful to meet you as well.
That was trauma-informed yoga teacher Abigail Lauren Geller, who specializes in fertility, prenatal, and postnatal yoga. Abigail is also a certified community birth and postpartum doula and she believes everyone deserves compassionate, individualized care that honors a person’s cultural identities, encourages embodied interdependence, and centers consent and bodily autonomy— and we are here for that! You can connect with her at unusualpearl.com or on Instagram @1unusualpearl and that’s with the number “one.”
And you can connect with us @birthfulpodcast on Instagram as well.
In fact, if you are not driving, we would love it if you would just take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to your stories, sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Maybe it was the new research about lying on your back. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.
You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript for this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan.
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Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.
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Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “How Prenatal Yoga Can Help Protect Your Energy (And Why This Is Important!).” Birthful, Birthful. January 25, 2023. Birthful.com.
About Abigail Lauren Geller
Abigail Lauren Geller (she/her) is a trauma-informed Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT-500, RPYT-85) with Yoga Alliance specializing in fertility, prenatal, and postnatal yoga. She is a certified Illinois educator with a BS in Elementary Education from DePaul University as well as certified community birth and postpartum doula. Abigail is the founder of Unusual Pearl, LLC, as well as the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the third freestanding birth center built in Illinois, Burr Ridge Birth Center. Having supported hundreds of people through their reproductive journeys, she believes everyone deserves compassionate individualized care that honors a person’s cultural identities, encourages embodied interdependence, and centers consent and bodily autonomy.
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