Are pregnant Instagram yoga stars dangerous?
Just how deep and impressive yoga poses can we do when pregnant? And is it okay to be inspired by pregnant Instagram stars? By Anja Brierley Lange
Instagram is great for inspiration. We look at our feed and get inspired for our practice and amazed by what shapes and postures other people can do. But can they also push us too far?
I am a big believer that it is beneficial to stay active during pregnancy. A quick search on google scholar shows us several studies on the benefits of not just yoga but various exercises that are recommended during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is not a disease. It is a normal physiological process when we conceive. However, these changes affect us and our yoga practice.
It isn’t just about making space for the bump. It is also not about wrapping pregnant people in cotton wool and only suggest relaxation (although relaxation is always good!).
We do need to make space for the growing bump and fuller, more tender breasts, but we also need to understand how the hormonal changes affect the pregnant body.
To stretch or not to stretch in pregnancy
Relaxin is one of the hormones we need to know about. Relaxin relaxes the ligaments. It makes them more lax and stretchy. This is excellent as we need to allow space for the uterus to grow and for the baby/babies to move through the pelvis if we have a vaginal birth. However, relaxin affects the whole body. We can almost think of the pregnant body having a tendency to hypermobility.
Muscles will stretch too to accommodate the growing baby/babies. But muscles have contractile tissues so they will eventually heal from being overstretched. Most ligaments don’t (the exception being the uterine ligaments, which will contract again after birth). If we overstretch them it takes time to heal and they may always be a little lax.
If you have had any ligament injury you will know just how long it can take to heal. This is we often tell our pregnant students to only go 70-80% rather than 110% into a yoga pose.
The impact of pregnant Instagram yoginis
I recently saw a post of a pregnant yogini in a deep Ustrasana (camel pose). Although it looked impressive, and she clearly has a strong practice, I wouldn’t generally recommend this variation to pregnant people.
This is why: One of the ligaments which will stretch during pregnancy is the linea alba. It’s the line from the chest bone to the pubic bones. Basically the middle line of a ‘six-pack’. As the uterus grows, it puts internal pressure on the abdominal wall. This will start to stretch the linea alba. This is natural. But it is not something we want to encourage. If the linea alba stays separated it is referred to as diastasis recti or abdominal separation. With abdominal separation, we may get a weaker core which can lead to lower backache, digestive issues and less support of the abdominal organs aside from what is sometimes referred to as ‘mummy pouch’.
In a deep Ustrasana, we encourage the internal pressure and the stretching of the linea alba. We also put a lot of pressure on the lumbar spine; another sensitive area in pregnancy as the lumbar curve naturally deepens to support the physiological changes.
Understanding your stretching
In this specific Instagram post, the backbend was mostly in her lumbar spine rather than a full spinal extension. It might have felt and been perfect for her.
Who knows? A photo is just that. A moment in time.
But for pregnant yoginis, I would encourage the opening of the chest and extension of the thoracic spine, the upper back. Why? Because this is where there is most tightness as all the extra weight is on the front body, the larger breasts and growing bump. We could be in Ustrasana starting with the hands on the hips. And for a very experienced yoga practitioner perhaps taking the hands down to blocks or a bolster. Even the feet. But always thinking of lengthening the spine and creating stability in the lower back.
In a conversation, a fellow pregnancy yoga teacher told me about a caption from another pregnant Instagrammer. She was in a split and talked about how she had never been this flexible and never been able to be so deep into her splits.
Again, this photo probably looked incredible. The person was obviously very experienced, strong and flexible. But we need to understand the whys. It’s great she is more flexible and enjoying her splits. But not great that she overextends and potentially overstretches her ligaments which in a split could lead to pelvic girdle pain; a common condition in pregnancy that can be anything from just uncomfortable to debilitating. As with any ligament damage, this could take a long time and rehabilitation to heal.
The need for caution
Back to my initial question. Are pregnant Instagram yoga stars dangerous? Dangerous is a strong word. I might take that back. But I do think we need to understand the whys. If you are pregnant, go to a few pregnancy yoga classes to understand why we might not go 100% into a yoga pose. Or have a private session with an experienced pregnancy yoga teacher to help you modify your practice. If you are a yoga teacher who has pregnant people in your classes get educated so you can guide them and support their changing bodies.
Pregnancy is natural. If you are new to yoga join a prenatal yoga class to support and guide you through your introduction to yoga — and pregnancy. If you are an experienced yogini who likes a stronger practice you can still enjoy regular but modified yoga sessions if appropriate for you. You can still move and flow. But you need to understand the changes in your body and I highly recommend to have an experienced yoga teacher educated in pregnancy yoga to support you.