My first pregnancy was a complete nightmare. Not only I gained 50lbs, but I suffered from cankles, back pain, a swollen nose and face, and I was always tired. I was only 18 when I got pregnant, so I attributed all of those maladies to my less than wise younger self. I made up cravings that I never had, I sat around and didn't exercise, I really was not thinking about my future self at all. Fast forward 14 years, and here I was pregnant again... I was terrified. If at 18, I managed to gain 50 lbs, how many pounds would I gain now that I was 32? And worse, how would I lose them now that I have hypothyroidism and the metabolism of an 80 year old? Luckily, the beautiful practice of Ashtanga yoga that I had adopted a few years prior to my pregnancy, would change what I had known pregnancies to be like. In fact, had I known a pregnancy could be so easy, I would have had 10 kids.... Shhhh, don't tell my husband!
Although I envisioned this pregnancy as a time I would be able to refrain from all temptations and eat clean 100% of the time, that did not happen. In fact, I still caved into chocolate and sugar and being pregnant made me hungry all of the time! What was different this time was my bullheaded conviction of continuing my Ashtanga practice throughout the nine months of pregnancy. I knew that I would eventually need modifications, but I continued to practice up to the day that I went into labor.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ashtanga yoga, it is a practice that produces intense internal heat (translation: it is really hard and you sweat buckets). The generation of internal heat is supposed to heal and purify, releasing toxins from your body. I am not sure how scientific that is, but what I can say is that Ashtanga really did affect my experience with pregnancy. I would recommend anyone planning to get pregnant to start practicing it a year prior to getting pregnant. And I mean at least a year prior because Ashtanga yoga is too challenging of a practice to be started once pregnant. It is not a practice to be adopted during pregnancy. Although these are not scientific observations ( I can only speak of my experience with a sample of n=2), this is what I noticed:
1. More sane despite hormones: During my first pregnancy I was a much crazier version of my normal self. I was extremely emotional and really hard to talk to. I cried for no reason at all, I was easily ticked off, and was an overall roller coaster of emotions. The moving meditation practice of Ashtanga yoga helped me remain centered. I was calm, I was happy, I felt pretty. The focus it took to engage in a daily ashtanga practice when you are 20lbs over your normal weight really helped me channel my emotions. I noticed that if I missed a day or two, my emotions became more intense and I would often act irrational. My practice helped me stay grounded.
2. No back pain: Another problem in my first pregnancy was the amount of back pain I felt. I couldn't stand for too long because it would hurt, I couldn't sit for too long because the pain was also unbearable. This meant I was uncomfortable most of the day. However, this time around back pain was not an issue. The primary series of Ashtanga is full of forward folds throughout it, and I credit those forward folds for saving my back. I had virtually no back pain this time around. And this has nothing to do with gaining less weight. Even though I gained less weight during this pregnancy (25 lbs vs 50 the first time around), I started this pregnancy 20lbs heavier- which meant I was carrying nearly the same weight as before - except that I had all the forward folds to elongate my back and alleviate any pain I could have had.
3. No Edema: Cankles during pregnancy is also known as edema. In my first pregnancy, I felt like an elephant - and not a cute graceful one. I waddled, my feet looked like the feet of a baby elephant. It was not a pretty sight. My legs got really swollen, which kept me from moving much. Not moving much further contributed to my legs and body getting even more swollen, which meant I was in this sad vicious circle of hell. This time around, I was dreading getting cankles, specially when I crossed into the third trimester. I braced myself for the worst, I waited, I waited, and nothing... I had no swelling at all. Again, I believe the practice of Ashtanga, which produces heat within your body helped my circulation. The conjoined breath and movement of the vinyasa and asanas is said to help circulation as it thins the blood. Again, I am not sure how scientific this statement is, but it surely seemed to have worked for me.
4. More focus during labor: My first experience giving birth was scary and chaotic. This time around I was much more focused and calm. I believe that the vinyasas (the linking of movement and breath) in ashtanga yoga and the practice of moving meditation of ashtanga really taught me how to calm myself through an intense focus. In general, with a regular practice of Ashtanga I learned to be much more focused, and that was quite apparent when I compare Gabriel's and Isabella's birth.
I can't speak highly enough of keeping with your ashtanga practice while pregnant. It was probably the best decision I made. Although It wasn't easy as Ashtanga is an extremely challenging routine (specially when you have another human being inside of you), it was well worth it. My pregnancy became surprisingly easy with Ashtanga, and even my postpartum was also positively impacted ( I will talk about my postpartum ashtanga practice in another post). The important thing is to listen to your body so that you can practice safely. No one will know how your body feels while it is growing another person. So, no one can really tell you how to modify your practice. Listen to your body, don't go over your limits and remember the practice of ashtanga during pregnancy shouldn't be one of cleansing, but of feeling good about yourself and doing what is best for your baby.