Yoga for Pregnancy: First Trimester By Jenn Falk photos by Cara Brostrom
The first few weeks and months of pregnancy welcomes a journey unlike any other. Every womanâ€™s experience remains so very particular to them as an individual. And with it there are SO many resources, opinions, research articles, and advice to navigate. Yoga can be an important tool to aid a woman through this incredible yet strange transition for body, mind, spirit. Continuing a steady yoga practice throughout pregnancy and into motherhood is a way into and through yourself along the ups and downs of the experience. Yoga is not only a way to maintain harmony in your spirit, but to stay at ease with the constant changes in your physical state. The journey of growing a child, and then having to nourish and care for them...can be full of both exuberant joy and interesting unknowns! The more at ease with yourself you are, the smoother transition you can have. Again, the experience is so perfectly unique to every woman. We often forget this fact in our mediadriven culture. In addition, there are so many varying opinions out there about yoga in relation to pregnancy (among ALL of the other opinions surrounding pregnancy, birth, and parenting). The approach offered in this first trimester guide is meant to provide a grounded, honest, and open outlook for inspiration. The aim is to encourage you to be yourself, to love yourself, and to listen to what you and baby know is best.
Short intro of my pregnancy experiences: Both of my pregnancies were risk-free, non-invasive, healthy terms with midwives, and birthed naturally in a hospital. I was 29 when birthing my first son and 33 years old with my second (pictured in this guide). I had already been practicing yoga for a decade when birthing my first son. I relay this information so that you can take note of background, age, pregnancy circumstance. Comparison is the worst when pregnant...and yet all women do it a little. I want you to know that I had ideal experiences, and even still it wasnâ€™t always full of energy and heart blasts. I had beautiful births coupled with a lot of work and intuition on my end to support myself in the proper ways. Pregnancy, for me, was not super easy, at least physically...but also not a complete drag. In Western society, we live in these parts of the world with safe and wonderful birthing access, but often with a lot of stigmas attached and hardly any feminine intuition respected. (It is getting better...yes!) The worst part about pregnancy (in American culture), is the lack of emotional support offered, and all of the judgments and competition that come about when dealing with motherhood in all of its complicated facets. The realization is that we, as women in our own communities have the power to unite and support one another through the process of becoming a mother. This is where I have found the yoga practice to
merge as a pathway to support and acceptance. In sharing my journey with other local mamas and teaching prenatal yoga, I see the shifts and beauty that can come from vulnerable truths of so many amazing pregnancy, birth, and mothering experiences. Becoming a mama has been my biggest transition as a woman to date. In fact, I believe going from person to parent is one of THE biggest shifts anyone can have. Itâ€™s the ultimate growth experience that forces one to change and become responsible for anotherâ€™s life while still taking care of, trusting, and honoring what it is that we, the parents, are.
The following posture/sequence ideas, and insights I present through each trimester issue are for your inspiration. You can create your own practices from them, add to them, and grow from them. The aim is to show that you can stay both strong and soft through the pregnancy experience. We all come from different yoga backgrounds and different life backgrounds. We all have different body types, and in pregnancy we all gain weight unique to our baby and body. Keep this in mind and may you find love and beauty from the practice and from this guide. Ultimately, your body and your baby are your biggest teachers through it all.
*All professional photographs in this guide are copyright Cara Brostrom Photography and were shot when I was in my 12th week of my 2nd pregnancy. *All material in this guide is copyright Jenn Falk Yoga. *You can find me at: www.yoginijennfalk.com and on Instagram as @jennpfalk I teach yoga in the Somerville-Cambridge-Medford communities of Boston, MA.
The first 3 months
The Delicate Balance The first trimester can be the trickiest and hardest trimester for a number of reasons. It certainly was for both of my pregnancies. It is a time where one can be simultaneously joyful and terrified, excited and nervous. This is when the pregnant woman is full of new hormones and physical sensations that can be so new and strange, to say the least. It can be tricky to know what to do with your body during this time.
Do you continue your yoga practice as before? What’s safe and what’s not? These are questions so often proposed regarding yoga and pregnancy. Plus, there’s the added energy surrounding the privacy of the pregnancy. Perhaps it’s still a secret, or only a few loved ones know. Do you tell your yoga teacher? Our western culture offers a lot of pressure and fear wrapped up and around the joy that is pregnancy. It’s all a truly delicate balance. So here’s the thing. One has to breathe! The only person who knows the answers on how to feel, who to tell, how to move your body...is you. The actual human with the baby on the inside. Bringing a baby into the world is no joke, but it’s also a most natural and beautiful experience. When we push aside all of our modern culture’s opinions and expectations for what pregnancy is supposed to be like, then we may feel secure with the inner knowledge that each of us are capable of. This recognition of intuition is essential to the first trimester. This is a time to allow all of the mental swirling and questioning, and then soften into it all. It’s a time to seek out what nourishes your body and spirit. Move how you feel most natural. Rest as much as you want and need. Seek support of your dearest friends and family. If the pregnancy is a secret during this stage, share it with a friend or with at least some trusted mamas you know (perhaps a trusted yoga teacher) so that you can take deeper breaths. Both of my first trimesters were fraught with terrible morning sickness at any time of the day. This meant that I needed constant snacks to help me feel okay enough to get from point A to point B each day, and that my regular movement routines were not as accessible. With those things, it meant that I started gaining weight in this trimester. This had emotional effect on me since we are so programmed to think that pregnancy weight gain is oh so important. As a former athlete and a yogini throughout my adult life, this change to my normalcy was a huge challenge and has been one of my biggest learning experiences to date. Or perhaps you are one who feels more or less physically the same during this trimester. I know you’re out there! Even so, this is a three month (and more) period of time where the newly pregnant body can benefit from a slower yoga practice in general. Try letting go of wanting to test your limits with a new posture or style of practice. Try to welcome the idea of more frequent meditation and restorative practices into your routine. This slowing down will provide ample benefit to your heart, where our innermost feelings on bringing new life into the world dwell. Then there’s the topic of miscarriage. This is a top cause of anxiety for so many women during this trimester. We all know at least someone who has gone through it, and if you think you don’t...I assure you, you do. Miscarriage is an unsettling notion and for those of us with sensitive souls, it’s important to help put our minds at ease until we hit the point in pregnancy where the baby moving inside can actually be felt. Perhaps you’ve been through it a number of times and it’s hard to relax again during this trimester. Or maybe the worry of it happening is too much. In my experience, the more I removed the mask and acknowledged my fears and the fact that miscarriage does happen to women and it’s all okay; the more I was able to move forward each day with gentleness and love toward myself and my baby. This meant saying NO a lot more often. It meant staying on the couch to binge-watch my favorite shows or movies, which also helped take my mind off of things. This could be a great time to read some fun fiction, to journal, to pamper yourself with
new clothes that actually fit your changing shape. To enjoy the feeling of your own mystery without the whole world knowing, yet. If you’re like me at all, one might give in to eating the grilled cheeses, the fries, and the chocolate croissants during this trimester! These early months, in my opinion, are not the time in a woman’s life to be rigid in any way. It’s a time to open yourself up to the mystical unknown, to tap into your inner wisdom more than you ever have before, and to tune out what everyone else thinks and tune deeply in to what you know to be true for your body. With all of this, my suggestion to everyone during the first trimester is to continue exercising as you are used to, as long as it feels good. You will have days that you can’t do anything for one reason or another...but don’t let it discourage you. It could be helpful to remember that even on days when you’re feeling the most nauseous, tired, or uneasy are the same moments where getting onto the mat to try some seated postures or simple cow--cat pulses could be the new perspective or shift in energy that you need. If you’re in your first pregnancy, may you feel encouraged to really take in this time. If you do decide to have more than one child, the second time you go through the first trimester, might not be as easeful...as you will then have your first born to look after as well. That said, one can still manage to fit in rest during each pregnancy if getting into the routine of asking for help from partners, loved ones, and friends. The biggest mistake I made in my first pregnancy? Putting pressure on myself. I had such preconceived ideas of how I was going to look and feel when pregnant. I wanted and thought I’d remain a super fit yoga teacher continuing with an active practice, while glowing through it all. Well, I remained fit and super healthy, and family will tell you that the glow was there. However, I didn’t feel like myself for one second and I gained fifty pounds to my usually small and athletic frame (during both pregnancies). This didn’t mean giving up what I loved to do or even forgoing active practice...it simply meant that I was trying to channel what the baby and I needed most. I welcomed the more restorative postures and I found my yin practice for the first time! I fell deeply in love with yin yoga for that matter. I’ve offered some of my favorite yin postures for during this first trimester time in this guide... What can be hard to admit is how vulnerable we can feel when pregnant. The fact that I compared myself to other pregnant yoga teachers/practitioners was an annoying sidestep in my experience. Why was I gaining SO much weight? Why couldn’t I keep up with other women like me who managed to continue with life like everything was normal? I compared myself too often to what I thought people expected of me. This was not what I needed and it added to my already sensitive new state. When I look back at the photos we shot for each trimester of these guides... I see how lovely and strong I was, even with all of the extra weight on my frame. I was mostly vegetarian throughout both pregnancies, never had complications, had over ten years of a steady yoga practice, was under the age of 35 and was able to give birth vaginally and drug-free both times. I’m stating these things so that you may understand my situation and the factors that lead me to the outcomes of my birthing experiences. This is MY truth and how it all worked out for ME. May you know that this is not going to be your recipe for pregnancy or birth. It could be similar, but ultimately every single pregnancy is fantastically unique to woman and baby. I am certain now having gone through it twice, that my body needed to gain the weight, and slow down.
When you are one full year from this first trimester stage, the reflections and lessons learned may be profound. I encourage you to journal or write notes in any way you can throughout your pregnancy so that you may reflect in gratitude and find grace in the entire experience. My wish is for more pregnant women every day to trust where your body is taking you. It is challenging in the moment to see the big picture. Youâ€™ll have good and bad days with your pregnant body and with your pregnant yoga practice, but donâ€™t we have the same during out non-pregnant days? The opportunity for immense amounts of growth and wisdom that comes from pregnancy, birth, and motherhood will enhance your yoga practice and your life to an unparalleled level. I wish you immense love, courage, and health! ~Jenn
Yin Posture Ideas ~supported sphinx, seal, or cobra *image 1* (have a blanket or pillow under
~dragon lunge (low lizard lunge) (one foot planted forward with
thighs/pelvic area while youâ€™re
shin over ankle and steady knee,
propped up on your forearms and
back knee down on blanket, hands
elbows, or hands)
can be on blocks or at your front thigh)
(use a bolster in front of you to
(gentle seated forward bend
lean on, or between your bottom
with legs straight out in front of
and your heels)
you, and with bolster/pillows on thighs for support to rest arms and
~shoelace *image 2* (stack one thigh over the other. You can either sit straight, or begin to lean forward a bit to get
head onto) ~legs up the wall *image 5* (support yourself with blankets or pillows underneath you)
into the hips) *Yin postures are typically ~saddle *image 3*
held for 3-5 minutes in a passive,
(with bolster and props behind
gentle way that nudges you to let
you to recline over--this shape is especially nice if dealing with morning sickness...you can take butterfly legs if knees bother you) ~swan/sleeping swan (pigeon) *image 4* (one knee forward at shoulder,
go and allow your body to soften/ release the buildup in your tissues. *Remember this is all inspiration. You can follow it as is or take from it and create your own practice! *I highly recommend checking out a Yin Yoga book or website for
other leg back out of hip...rest
insight on the poses and practice.
forward to cleanse lower organs in
I love teachers/authors:
the torso and breathe into it all)
Bernie Clark, Sarah Powers, or Paul Grilley.
Tips for your Active Prenatal Yoga Practice: ~AVOID~ -rapid breathing or breath retention techniques -vigorous twists--(generally, gentle ones are fine, and you can also practice opening in poses the opposite way from the twist to create room for the belly) -vigorous and deep backbends -putting full pressure directly on the belly once you're more into the 2nd trimester, and/or once it simply feels odd -most active inversions, unless you are an experienced yogini practitioner and it still feels good and natural to take handstands, headstands, arm balances, etc. -deep forward bends, and once in 2nd trimester (always fold forward with knees bent and legs at least hip width) -trying anything new--(meaning, don’t take up vinyasa or power yoga now if you aren’t used to it) -pushing to your edge (yes, time to get less goal-oriented in your practice) -overheating and dehydration (skip those super hot and intense classes!) -teachers that push a fast-paced class and/or continue to enforce you to take all postures, when they might not know what's it like to be pregnant with all of the ebbs and flows -intense core work--(but please continue core work, especially for your transversus abdominus...such as in side plank variations.) Mostly, I mean that it’s wise to begin to slow down a bit and stop doing sit-ups, jump backs, and the like. **please reference the work of Katy Bowman and Jill Miller for all of the details on safely and effectively relating your entire core and your pregnant body
~DO~ -breathe very slow, deep, focused, and evenly (this will become more and more important as you near the actual birth!) -welcome a more restorative, gentle practice at least a couple of times a week (this is a time for more surrender in your life, and less Go-Go-Go--especially if you're feeling extra fatigued or nauseous) -continue to attend public or online non-prenatal classes that are either: all-levels (or slow) vinyasa, hatha, or gentle/restorative/yin...in your first trimester, you can keep doing the same practice as long as you feel good. It’s really up to you knowing yourself and what feels right. -Work your core in a safe way. Your inner core consists of the multifidus muscles in your back, your transversus abdominus along the sides of your abdomen, your pelvic floor, and your diaphragm. All of these areas can still be strengthened, and released as needed during pregnancy. (Non-crunches core work is fine throughout the pregnancy. Once your belly starts to stretch and you are into the 2nd trimester, then begin to modify more intensely and be mindful of your changing shape. All yoga will help keep the core strong for the birth, but stay mindful to how you feel. Allow your energy to soften around “being in shape” to being strong and connected.) -squat, squat, squat more than kegel, kegel, kegel. **again, read Katy Bowman’s work for more detailed information -mindfully check-in with yourself every time you're on your mat. Some days will be better than others. Take it slow and listen.
Active Practice Ideas -Begin in an easy seat, or childâ€™s
towards feet, while also stepping
pose (image 1) to connect IN and feel
feet as wide as mat for a prenatal
what you and your body/baby are
standing forward bend. You can have
ready for with energy in that
props under hands and breathe for a
minute or so here.
-After a minute or more there,
-Take time to root into feet and
move into table pose and breathe
then on an exhale begin your rise to
into some cow--cat pulses with your
stand...which is better for your
breath. (images 2 and 3) Perhaps you
then might sway around in circles or
pressure, etc. during this time (or
figure eights on hands and knees as
well...you can flip your wrists in the
-Walk to top of mat and feel into
other direction too to change up the
a secure and rooted mountain pose
load on your body. And/or stretch the
for a moment. Then you can aim for a
leg back and place the ball of the foot
few rounds of slow, mindful,
into the mat for some calf-stretch
probably modified sun salutations if
pulses, one leg at a time.
your energy is calling for it.
-After this tabletop shape for awhile, try down dog and flowing breath to breath from there to plank pose...eventually, lower knees in a supported plank (image 4) and you can practice some prenatal pushups...lowering down to a hover (similar to chaturanga--image 5) but then pressing back to supported plank...and doing this breath to breath 3-5 times or so. -Next, come back to childâ€™s pose again to recalibrate and observe yourself. From there, find your way through down dog to walk hands
-If not...follow onto the next page.
Active Practice Ideas -Find your way onto your belly.
each side if you can...pausing in
You can place a blanket under
childâ€™s pose or cow-cat between
thighs or pelvis as needed. Hands
in line with chest/top ribs, elbows
-From there, try moving into down
steady by torso (no winging out but also not super tight into you either), active legs...and then
dog for a moment to then walk hands back toward feet and end up in a squat (image 3). Place
breathe the chest up while also
blankets or support under balls of
relaxing shoulders and steadying
feet as needed. Keep shins
head/neck to neutral-ish. Soften face and breathe into your whole spine. Cobra pose (image 1). You can lower down at any time and then come back to it again 1-2 more times if needed. -Eventually, find yourself coming back to tabletop to set up a
parallel. Root down and lift spine/ chest/crown upward. -Come to stand on an exhale and then walk to top of mat. When ready, exhale to fold forward and then plant hands to mat and step left leg back to drop left knee to the mat for a low lunge (image 4).
modified side plank pose (image
You can gradually build the pose
2). You can send your right hand
so that you feel connected from
out just past the shoulder, while also grounding right knee below right side of hip, and at same time
the ground first, then walking hands to front thigh and bringing pelvis back to form a 90 degree
then extending left leg out in line
angle with body (or so). If stable,
with hips as a kickstand (placing
you can lunge deeper, keeping
the left foot on the ground with toes pointing to left). Once steady from the base (right hand and
knee moving toward middle toe and lifting arms up. After a few breaths, lower arms back to mat
knee, and left leg rooted) on
and step left foot forward. Pause at
upward, then extend left arm up
top of mat for a few breaths before
and breathe in all directions to open up space in your system and strengthen your outer abdominals. Stay 5 breaths on
taking other side low lunge (image 5).
Active Practice Ideas -If the lunges felt good, you can
and welcome the opening of the
consider practicing Warrior 1
side body to breathe warmth into
(image 1). From the top of your
the baby. Take other side when
mat, you can fold to place hands
ready. Then take legs out in front
on the mat and step your right
of you and shake out.
foot back behind you into your lunge again. Take that right foot/ leg a step wider out to the right from there, in order to keep yourself grounded with a steady enough base. Turn your foot out to a 45 degree (or so) angle and keep the sole of your foot rooted to mat. Front left foot has toes facing
-Now bring soles of feet together out about a 1-2 feet in front of pelvis for bound angle pose (image 3). Instead of folding over, try simply holding the feet, lengthening the torso and spine, and finding your center for a minute or so.
forward. Rise to stand and place
-When ready, lean back to then
hands to hips with elbows bent
stack one thigh on top of the other
back. Bend into left knee and
for cow face pose (image 4). You
engage the lower right leg and foot may need extra support/props to aid your knees or legs. Arms can just as much. Hold a few breaths before then placing hands to mat
be either resting on top leg or you
and then stepping back foot
can take the arm/shoulder stretch
forward to meet front foot, taking
as seen in photo. Hold for 5
a moment to pause, and then
breaths or more before then
repeating all on the other side.
shaking out and switching sides.
-After the warrior poses, you can
-Final rest (image 5). Now you can
find yourself coming down to the
set up props to your liking to find
floor to sit. Take your legs out wide
your five or more minutes of
for a seated wide-angle pose
complete relaxation and support.
(image 2). Connect to your seat
For this trimester...I recommend
and the line of energy in your
propping your torso in a slant and
legs, then breathe over to one
then either extending legs straight
side...reaching for the lower leg
or finding butterfly leg shape. Rest
and extending the top arm high.
in loving-kindness toward yourself
Settle into all areas of the torso
and baby. In peace.
My Top Resources: *There are tons and tons of books, teachers and websites one could list, however, these (listed in abc order by last name) are the ones that have most influenced me about movement during pregnancy, and overall health/lifestyle for a mom-to-be... --Katy Bowman (Diastasis Recti, Move Your DNA, Alignment Matters) --Elena Brower (Art of Attention) --Tian Dayton (Journey Through Womanhood) --Hari Kaur Khalsa (A Woman’s Book of Meditation, A Woman’s Book of Yoga) --Jill Miller (Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls, The Roll Model) --Sarah Powers (Insight Yoga) --Aviva Romm (The Natural Pregnancy Book, Natural Health After Birth) --Linda Sparrowe (Yoga Mama, The Women’s Book of Yoga and Wellness) --Alissa Vitti (Woman Code) --Yogaglo.com, for a wonderful array of online practices for pre and post-natal-teachers: Carole Westerman, Stephanie Snyder, Jo Tastula, Elena Brower
Gratitude and Love: Cara Brostrom-- for saying YES to photographing me during every stage of my second pregnancy, so that I could both have photos for my own documentation and also for my vision to share with women in my own community and beyond. Youâ€™re a visionary artist and fellow mama who I feel honored to walk the path with. Thank you, thank you. My sister, Laura--for being a sounding board as I shared things I wanted to share with my prenatal yoga classes and beyond. For being my friend and my sister, both with our boys to mother and our changing bodies and changing everything. Iâ€™m so grateful for you. And that you went first. Hehe. The rest of my family--both my Pici family and the Falk family, for watching/supporting me as I learn and grow, for supporting our growing family, for aiding in my ability to teach and do what I love. The Mt. Auburn Midwives in Cambridge, MA--for being just what I, personally, needed for the proper non-invasive and natural care during my pregnancies. For providing the wisdom and the support during both of my births in that they ended up being exactly perfect for me. And for helping so many in our community do the same. ALL of YOU. The women in my community (and beyond) who have practiced yoga with me during your pregnancies, have emailed me, been on social media with me, and have trusted me to teach and hold space for you. YOU are the reason that I continue this work. Thank you for being a part of my life and itâ€™s an honor to share with you. My dear husband, David, for your support that holds strong in how I want and need to share this practice. And for all the love. My amazing sons, Isak and Gus, who are my true and only teacher-gurus in this life.
This guide is meant to be an inspiration point from one yoga teacher mama of two to you! The first trimester provides a delicate balance in...
Published on Jun 9, 2016
This guide is meant to be an inspiration point from one yoga teacher mama of two to you! The first trimester provides a delicate balance in...