As yoga teachers, how we react when pregnant students walk into our classes can have an impact on the way the students view their pregnancies. If we react to pregnant students with eyes that grow three sizes, a gasp and grimace we will convey to them that pregnancy is a scary and unsafe “condition”.
However, if we respond with a warm welcome, confident smile, and a short explanation of modifications, we convey to them that pregnancy is natural part of the human experience. Additionally, our willingness to show them modifications for pregnancy helps insure they will continue to practice yoga consistently.
In order to help yoga teachers become educated, comfortable and confident in leading pregnant students safely through their yoga practice, 90 Monkeys has released a series of articles about pregnancy and yoga, each article with a different emphasis and addressing the most common questions about yoga and pregnancy.
This article focuses on preparing you to guide your pregnant students through a supportive and safe Savasana (corpse pose and/or final relaxation).
Why can’t pregnant women lay on their backs?
During the first trimester of pregnancy, it is safe for women to lay on their backs and enjoy a traditional Savasana. However, during the second and third trimesters, women are recommended to enjoy Savasana on their side.
During the second trimester, around the 16 week mark, a woman’s volume of blood increases by up to 50%. That, combined with the weight of the baby and the enlarged uterus, can put too much weight and pressure on the large vein that runs along the spine. This vein is called the Inferior Vena Cava, and runs slightly to the right of the spine. The Vena Cava is responsible for returning blood from the legs back to the heart. When a woman lays on her back the pressure and weight of the growing baby and uterus can be enough to compress this vein and compromise blood flow, oxygen, and nutrient delivery to mother, placenta, and child. Compression of this vein may also cause dizziness, numbness in the limbs, and an overall feeling of faintness.
It is generally believed that a woman needs to lay on her back for a “prolonged” period of time for the position to become a problem, but each woman is different and the exact amount of time that constitutes “prolonged” is not clearly defined in the medical literature. Therefore, as yoga teachers, it is best for us to err on the side of caution and recommend a side-lying Savasana for the comfort and safety of the mother and child during the second and third trimesters.
In addition to this recommendation being the safest option for mother and child, when you recommend this option to your students it shows them you are a committed yoga teacher and educated in modifications for pregnancy. This will instill their trust and confidence in you as a teacher, and can help them feel cared for during this time of great change and uncertainty in their lives.
What are side-lying Savasana options?
Setting up a safe and comfortable Savasana is very simple. In the picture featured with this article, you can see the most ideal set-up for pregnancy. However, you can always make due even if you don’t have any props.
Since the Inferior Vena Cava runs slightly to the right of the spine, it is believed to be most beneficial for pregnant women to lay on their left sides. Although for the length of a typical Savasana this may or may not make a huge difference anatomically, it can make a difference for you as a yoga teacher. Knowledge of this information conveys to your students that you are professional, educated, and invested in keeping all students safe and comfortable.
Ideally, when laying on their sides, women have support under their head to keep it in line with the rest of their spine. You can use a pillow, folded blanket, sweatshirt, or block to achieve this height. This will help prevent any pulling, compression, or over-stretching in the neck and shoulder area.
It is also best to support the top leg of your student, so that they feel comfortable and avoid any possibility of compressing their bottom leg and hip joint. Using a bolster, folded blankets, or even a block for this purpose can do the trick. While it’s certainly okay to place the prop between the legs, it is much preferred to place the prop in front of the bottom leg, as is pictured above. With the bottom leg straight, and the top leg is shifted forward and supported by props, this allows space in the body and pelvis, and avoids compressing the bottom leg and hip joint. Try this position yourself, even if you’re not pregnant, and notice how wonderful and spacious it feels!
What if I don’t have any props?
If you find yourself in a situation without any props, no problem! As you look around your teaching space, there’s almost always something you can use in a pinch! Things like sweatshirts, sweaters, purses, foot stools, books, yoga bags and rolled up yoga mats can be used as make-shift props.
After you scan your teaching space, if you still find yourself without any “prop” options, you can just have the student place her folded arm under her head to keep it supported and in-line with her spine. As far as the support for the legs, you can simply have the student lay on her left side with her legs stacked, one supporting the other. While this isn’t ideal, it’s certainly fine for the average length of time in Savasana.
A nice option, if you will be seeing the student on a regular basis, is to suggest to her to bring a pillow and/or a blanket from home next time.
Please leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences of savasana during pregnancy!
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Carole Westerman’s mission is to bring yoga to everyone! Carole is an ERYT-500, and is also registered with Yoga Alliance for the specialties of Prenatal and Children’s Yoga. She is a Certified Childbirth Educator, and has experience as a Doula attending births. Carole has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Psychology and has worked many years in the fields of children and family services. In addition to her full-time yoga teaching schedule in Omaha, Carole is also the Director of 500-Hour Level Yoga Teacher Training at Lotus House of Yoga, where she is part-owner of three locations. Carole is on the Teacher Training faculty of several yoga schools and travels to teach nationally and internationally. She has created her own curriculum for both a Prenatal and Children’s Yoga program.
For Carole, yoga is a living and ever expanding practice, that changes according to what is needed for the evolution of the soul. She wholeheartedly believes that yoga is not just a practice we do on our mats, it’s a practice we do each day and with each breath. Living yoga is what resonates with Carole; taking the skills, challenges, successes, and experiences we have on our mats, and applying them to our everyday lives. Carole believes, that as we align our bodies in poses, we are actually aligning ourselves with our greater purpose. As we flow, we are actually learning to ride the ups and downs of life with grace and ease. For Carole, even the music in the room serves as a shared language and vibration that actually bonds the students together in a way that words cannot. All of these elements and more come together in Carole’s teachings; weaving together a complex and beautiful tapestry that becomes the fabric of our living yoga.
Carole hopes that yoga helps to unite your heart and soul, and that your mind and body become open to the vast experiences that life has to offer. Come explore the vast array of yoga teachings with Carole, as she truly believes yoga will change your life and the lives of your students.
Take courses with Carole on 90 Monkeys!
Pregnancy and Yoga: Be Prepared to Serve Prenatal Students in Your Open Class
Beyond the Basics: How to Teach Prenatal-Specific Yoga