Can I practise yin during my pregnancy is a question I have been getting asked lately.
My answer is possibly. It is best to ask your doctor and midwife about activities during pregnancy. Especially if you are hyper-mobile and have pre existing lumbar or SI issues. With my practise as and manual therapist and my yin yoga teacher training there is no black and white answer to this question. Like many things in life what is good for one person could be awful for another. I have had clients who practised yin before becoming pregnant and were able to continue through their pregnancy because their body awareness was very good and they modified postures for their body. I have also received new clients as a result of trying yin for the first time while being pregnant and came out of the class in immense pain. The purpose of Yin yoga physically is to provide healthy stress and compression on connective tissue, fascia, tendons and ligaments. All of which all become more supple during pregnancy. Most of my pregnant clients benefit from strength training rather than flexibility building practises.
There is a lot of adjustment in the realm of physical changes to the body during pregnancy. It's a pretty big event! Here are some elements to consider and be mindful of:
1.) Hormonal changes:
-Relaxin: aids in lengthening the ligaments for the belly, back and hips. It has a pronounced impact our deep tissues, which are the ones we apply pressure to in yin, and can lead to over-stretching the body.
2.) Change in ligaments: particularly the round ligaments of the stomach (we also work on this ligament when our clients are menstuating and are suffering from cramps due to the uterus swelling), ligaments of the back/ hips are stretching more than ever before with the help of growing physical weight and the hormone relaxin.
3.) Sensitivity in the low back and pelvis: shifting hormones, softening of tissue, change in ligaments, additional weight can all contribute to this area enhancing sensitivity.
4.) Crowding: The uterus can grow to the size of a watermelon to accommodate the growing baby which means all the neighbours like stomach, intestines, bladder have to do their best with less room. This is why its best to avoid yin postures that compress or twist the abdomen.
Some important safety guidelines for practising yin while pregnant.
a) The appropriate edge will be very different. Do not go to your end range or availability, it is best to keep yourself safe and go in the 10-30% range to start and experiment with what your body likes.
b) Adjust hold time to 1 -3 min rather then 5 or 10 min. Staying too long in a posture could lead to unhealthy stress or tearing of tissue.
c) Keep pelvis and abdomen neutral: avoid backbends, twists and compression on belly
Avoid long held inversions eg like legs up wall, bridge, standing fold, avoid lying flat on your back, keep your heart above your head.
No two bodies are alike and no two bodies are the same experiencing pregnancy. If you are hyper mobile or have pre existing joint (especially SI) it may be best to try yin after your pregnancy. Pregantal yoga, Yoga nidra, and restorative yoga are all wonderful practices if you are looking for meditative experiences during pregnancy if you are hyper mobile and pilates can be wonderful to build strength. So in short, yin yoga could be great for your body during pregnancy or not. Experiment with alternative poses or modifications that feel good. The yoga practise can help you to observe new sensations and connect not only with yourself but with the life you are growing. Talk to your doctor and health care professionals.
What is yin yoga and why practise it?
Physically the primary tissue we are addressing in yin is connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia. Connective tissue plays a large roles in our long-term mobility. It benefits from slow gentle traction over a longer period of time. It behaves very differently than muscle tissue. A yang practise involves quick, dynamic, stimulating postures with shorter holds while yin involves slow, static, calming postures with longer holds ranging from 1-10 min. Most yin practises have 3-5 min holds.
Mentally the longer posture and times of stillness are wonderful to cultivate mindfulness and meditate.
Some principles for yin yoga are:
Come to an appropriate depth for your body in the pose. This means you have sensation of gentle stretching but not pain. Low level discomfort is ok but if you are wishing the pose would end soon because you are so uncomfortable you have probably gone to far and could benefit from a lighter variation or more props. No sharp, electric shooting pain. We consciously soften muscles away from bone.
Resolve to stay still. The therapeutic benefit for connective tissue requires passive slow gentle traction. Lengthening tissues is an integral part of what makes our yin yoga practice so impactful. Physically bouncing, quick or unnecessary movement can stress and damage the connective tissue we are working on. Mentally practising any mindfulness techniques that help keep you in the present moment and help to calm overly stimulated minds.
Stay a while. The length of time is a key factor in benefitting connective tissue. Our tissues do have a protective mechanism that helps us stay aware of how much stress is too much, this will present itself by muscles starting to tighten and contract. Sometimes the depth of a pose can be suitable at the beginning but part way through if your muscles starts to contact it is asking to to come out of the posture and find a more appropriate version. The time also allows for a wonderful opportunity to see thoughts rise and change in the mediation practise.
Exit the posture slowly and create new movement or counter movement. Moving quickly increasing the change of damaging tissue as they are not as protected and stable. Incorporating gentle movement or counter movement after the pose encourages blood flow.
Always pay close attention to the signals your body is communicating to you as you practice. It is also best to check with your Doctor if yin yoga is suitable for you.