A resounding YES is the answer. However, contrary to popular opinion, you should modify your practice as soon as you find out that your pregnant. There are varied opinions on how to progress or start a yoga practice in the first few months of pregnancy, so this topic always provokes a lot of debate. I've heard scary stories of women starting an Ashtanga practice while pregnant (just NO,) and even scarier, I've been in a Bikram class standing next to a woman who was 8 months pregnant!
Everyone feels differently in early pregnancy (I'm referring to the first 12 weeks,) and many people don't even know they are pregnant at this stage. Just because we don't look or perhaps even 'feel' pregnant, does this mean we should just continue as we are? Personally, I don't believe so.
Why Should I Practice Yoga During Pregnancy?
Even though you don't look pregnant and probably most people don't even know yet, it is vital that you at the very least, make your hatha yoga teacher aware that you are now 'with child.' Any ethical yoga teacher not trained in pregnancy yoga, should refer you to a specialist teacher at this stage. Yoga during pregnancy is not just about throwing yourself onto the yoga mat and trying to stay fit, or even sane. Yoga for pregnancy can be so much more than this, if you allow it to be.
Yoga during pregnancy takes you on a journey of acceptance. Acceptance that your body cannot or does not, want to do what it used to do. This doesn't mean you should spend the first trimester on the sofa eating donuts because you feel like it, but it does mean you should listen to and respect what your body and your baby are telling you. The key thing is to remember, is that your yoga practice is not all about you any more and you must consider the teeny person living inside of you.
Why should I modify my practice in the first trimester?
There are literally millions of changes going on in your body in early pregnancy: Physiological, emotional and (very) hormonal. Even if you feel healthy and well, your body is working extra hard to create your own mini person and even when you are sleeping during pregnancy, your body is still working full time to do this.
The main hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy are caused by relaxin, estrogen and progesterone. This team of hormones are making changes to your blood supply, the size of your uterus, causing constipation and heartburn, increasing your basal body temperature, relaxing tendons and muscles and so much more. All of these fluctuations and changes really take their toll in the early days, as you attempt to become accustomed to your new pregnant status. All of these factors can affect your ability to practice yoga as you once did, making it essential to start your modifications as early as possible.
The body releases Relaxin, ultimately to prepare the body and to assist the birth. It helps to softens the cervix and the pubic bones, to allow baby a smooth entry into the world. However, the presence of this hormone in pregnancy and the early post natal period, mean that it is very easy to over stretch or feel unstable in postures that we once used to practice with ease, from as early as a few days post conception!
What If I Feel Too Sick To Practice?
Then you can join my gang. I was extremely sick during my first pregnancy (I suffered from Hyperemisis) and spent a lot of time lying on my mat, howling at the injustice. During the first trimester, I spent a lot of time meditating in a warm bubble bath, bonding with my baby, encouraging him to grow strong and talking to him. This is still yoga :) Learning to accept that the sickness may last another 8 months, is also yoga. This is still valuable and it's still your practice, you just need to adjust your perception of what yoga means during your pregnancy.
And If I Can Practice...?
If you are well enough to physically practice yoga in the first trimester, then here are a few basic modifications you can make right now to keep you and your baby safe. I strongly recommend that you find a qualified pregnancy yoga teacher and attend a class also, to enjoy the support and continuation of safety that this allows.
1. Avoid deep twists or anything that will compress the womb or abdomen. Things like Marichyasana or Urdha Mukkha Svanasana should be avoided, the chances are that you will be aware of baby's presence and these prone postures may immediately feel wrong.
2. Careful with deep back bends. Uttanasa and Chakrasana should be avoided, try replacing with a cat curl or gentle bridge pose.
3. Time to forget your jump backs. These kinds of movements alarm and can disturb baby, so it could be time to park that dynamic practice.
4. Avoid breath restriction. Avoid Kapalabhati, any breath retention or any pumping breaths. Just focus on full, deep belly breathing.
5. Avoid planks and strong abdominal work. Pregnancy is not the time to worry about your abs, let your belly hang free and be proud! :)
But I don't want to slow down!
If you have a strong yoga practice or are very active, it can be extremely hard to accept these modifications. I missed my sun salutations so much, but I found my own modifications and enjoyed them instead. Your ego can stand in the way of keeping you and your baby safe during this vulnerable time. Don't be ashamed to take it easy, you're doing the best thing for both of you.
The outside pressures on women to 'get on with it' because of course, 'pregnancy is not an illness,' don't help either. You should take whatever time you need to sleep, puke or cry and don't let anyone tell you that this makes you weak or 'unable to cope' with pregnancy. Accepting pregnancy is your first lesson as a mother: that life now revolves around protecting and loving your child.