Changing Your Yoga Practice to Fit Your Pregnant Self

by Jacqui Stix, prenatal yoga teacher & doula

I can’t drink, I can’t eat soft cheese, and now you’re telling me I have to change my yoga routine? WTF

Pregnancy requires a lot of changes, some we are more prepared to accept than others. As our body grows and expands to hold life, staying fit, and keeping a healthy body is a concern.  Yoga can play an important role, but as our body shifts, our yoga practice must evolve as well.   In prenatal yoga class, it is no longer about finding your edge, or even the full extent of the pose. Instead it is about learning to back off, to soften, and to let go of ego.


Why should we shift from our traditional yoga class to a prenatal class?

* Relaxin makes you overly flexible

During pregnancy, our muscles and ligaments all over our body become super stretchy and have the ability to overextend, due to the hormone relaxin. Relaxin helps our body expand, lengthen and softens the pelvic floor preparing for childbirth. (Thank goodness!)

* Preventing Diastasis

Keeping our “core strength” and hoping our tummy “bounces back” crosses most moms-to-be minds. Women run to core work, but while pregnant, the traditional core strengthening activities such as crunches, leg lifts and such PROMOTE diastasis recti. Diastasis Recti? Separation of the rectus abdominal muscles, aka your six pack.  That’s why in prenatal yoga we don’t do intense backbends, and skip the “updog” and modify our cat/cows to cat/neutrals. We should limit the amount of yoga poses we do where our uterus presses/hangs on our abdominal wall, further stretching it out.

* Limiting time on your back

After 18 weeks, it is recommended that you no longer lie on your back.

As your belly gets bigger, if you lay on your back, the weight of your uterus starts to compress the inferior vena cava (the vein that returns the de-oxyinagated blood from your lower body back to your heart) affecting your blood flow. If you wake up in the middle of the night on your back, don’t stress, nothing bad is going to happen! Chances are your body woke you up because it needed you to shift (dizziness may occur). In prenatal yoga class a few poses are taught on the back. You always have the option to stay a short time in the pose or come completely out.  For many women a little time on their back, or with their legs up the wall feels really good!.


And no twists? Not true. Just like lying on your back isn’t going to be the worst thing ever, neither is a twist. But similar to why we don’t lie on our back during prenatal yoga, we do open twists instead of closed twists. Deep twists momentarily reduce circulation to parts of our body and therefore our baby. Twist feel amazing on our back, and our back is holding much more than its used to right now, so enjoy the twist just do it mindfully.

*Make space for baby

As our baby grows, our belly grows. Poses are adapted to create more space and keep moms-to-be more comfortable. Such as a wider stance in Warrior 1, and hands on the inside for lunges.

*Belly down poses

Obviously prone yoga poses (lying on our belly) are no longer appropriate. In prenatal classes, you won’t have to come up with an alternative because prone poses are not taught.

*What about inversions?

In prenatal classes, legs up the wall is our inversion of choice. If you had an inversion practice prior to your baby, and you feel good in it, keep it, but next to a wall as our center of gravity is off. It might give a nice release to the pelvic floor (just keep in mind inversions require a lot of core strength). Otherwise, now is not the time to start one. There is plenty of time after baby is born, and don’t worry they will help flip your world upside down on their own.

*Change of breath work

Prenatal yoga class breath work has a specific focus on assisting you in childbirth.  

*Community (Sangha)

Taking prenatal classes at a studio, you become a part of a community of other expecting. Who knows – your fellow yogi’s baby may be your child’s first bestie.


Prenatal yoga classes are designed for you! Around super flexy ligaments, opening the pelvic floor, the fact that our hands can no longer frame our feet, and that it’s not great to back bend in-between almost every flow. Hello pregnancy brain? You are lucky to leave the house with our keys and cell phone. Let someone else worry about how to individualize a practice for you.

Don’t stop your yoga practice, just allow it to shift and change, along with your pants, house, and life.


Prenatal Calf Cramps

by Jacqui Stix

One of the most common complaints during our weekly “check in” session before prenatal yoga class is calf cramps, especially occurring during the night. (Like sleeping isn’t hard enough, now we add a calf cramp in ?!?)


There are a lot of ideas on what can cause leg cramps, but they have yet to figure out the exact reason. It can come from:

  • Pregnancy weight creating poor blood circulation
  • Pressures on the nerves in the spine
  • A shortage of calcium, magnesium and/or potassium in our diet
  • An injury (one we may have forgotten about)
  • A muscle strain
  • Remaining in one position for too long (thanks office desk)
  • Not drinking enough fluids – remember that dehydration is one of the most common causes of premature labor
  • Swelling in the feet and legs


So we don’t know why exactly they are occurring but there are things we can do to help them, and prevent them in the future. For example:

  • Stretch your legs and feet before going to bed.
  • Before bed, elevate your legs up at the wall. Place a blanket (about an inch and a half thick) at the wall to support and give your hips a lift. Place your booty at the far end of the blanket, giving yourself about a foot gap from the wall, and then rest with your legs up for a minute or so.
  • When the leg cramp occurs, start to flex the foot (of the cramped leg). Start with the heel, then draw the toes back to you (maybe even a gentle wiggle of the toes)p1100814
  • If you get out of bed, try Warrior 1, pressing your hands against the wall. Standing at the wall, step the cramped foot back into a 45 degree angle outward, front leg forward and nice and wide out to the side, making room for baby. Bend your knee creating a 90 degree angle (better a longer stance than shorter, with the increase in relaxin in the body we want to try not to over extend our ligament). Then lean and press into the wall – you should feel a nice stretch in the back leg.
  • p1100817Another option is table pose. Kneeling, with your hands under shoulders and knees nice and wide, extend the effected leg out and press through the heel.
  • Hot compresses or even standing on a cold tile surface might help.



Once the cramp has subsided start to work flexing and pointing the foot into your daily life routine. Elevating the feet while relaxing on the couch, staying active (dare I suggest Prenatal Yoga?), and a delightful prenatal massage or warm bath are also good habits.


Also try to add some magnesium, calcium and potassium rich foods into your diet. (If you want to try supplements please talk to your doctor first). Sadly our typical American daily diet is lacking in magnesium due to the amount of processed foods we eat. Diets high in sugar, and phytic acid deplete the magnesium in our body. In addition, the produce most often found at grocery stores and supermarkets are magnesium depleted, due to farmers not rotating the land, which creates soil and produce which are both lacking in magnesium.


The best bet is to buy organically grown produce from your local farmer or farmers market. Look for dark leafy greens that are loaded with chlorophyll like – spinach and chard – for magnesium, or collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and kale for an added boost of calcium. Low sugar yogurt or Kefir (which can also help with pregnancy constipation) is high in magnesium. Almonds contain both magnesium and calcium, and an added bonus is that they help with indigestion. For potassium, bananas, coconut water, prunes, squash and beans to your diet.


Life in pregnancy is different, but not that different. Look at your diet and exercise nonjudgmentally. Be observant. If you try something different, notice any change (or not.). And give things some time to create an effect (or not). Explore and continue to talk and share with fellow expectant mamas. We are here to help one another learn and grow. You don’t know until you ask/share. Needless to say, our Yoga Haven prenatal yoga classes and our Yoga Haven Mom’s Facebook page is the perfect venue to share, explore and learn from each other. It is never too early to join our YH Mom’s page, it holds a wealth of information and is a judgments free zone!


Looking forward to delving deep on the next pregnancy topic with you.


Peace and Always Gratitude

unnamedJacqui Stix is a yogi and an artist, coming from her art teaching background she views moving the body is an art form.  It is beautiful, expressive, and healthy. Her goal is to help spread the joy and love of body movement to all ages, creating a healthy, grateful and peaceful atmosphere inwardly that works it way out and off the mat.  She completed her 200 hour teacher training at Yoga Haven 2011-12.    She  apprenticed and received her Prenatal Yoga Certification with Kelly Swalis at Yoga Haven in 2015.  Jacqui teaches Prenatal Yoga on Sundays at 4:30 pm in Tuckahoe.

Hot Topic

I’m going to tell you something you may not already know, so bear with me. I want you to know you have options. I want you to know that you should expect more from your yoga class and your teacher than you currently do.

I’m writing this because I took a terrible class the other day. The teacher walked around the room and made no effort to give alignment corrections, but simply yelled out poses. There were a few breath cues here and there, a couple lighthearted comments too, she was likeable and maybe her heart is in the right place, but the cues she gave for the poses were misinformed and some of them were downright dangerous. I looked around at the 30 or so others with me and only one of them looked focused or at ease in the challenge. The faces of those closest to me looked desperate just to make it through the class. Now, I’m all for sweaty and intense practices, I have been known to throw down a few myself, but what I’m not for is shoddy teaching. When half the class is on their knees shaking out their sore wrists, maybe it’s time to stop with all the downdogs and chaturangas. Maybe it’s time to teach how we can use our hands to stop the wrist pain and to properly build the strength needed for such a vigorous practice.

I know there are some good studios out there (I took a class in one recently) and some great teachers; change your life teachers; alter the way you move teachers. I also know that there are a lot of mediocre teachers too. Yoga studios make good money with teacher trainings and it seems that a few of them out there care nothing about the quality of the teachers they’re letting loose, but just want to churn out more and more of us. So, here’s the rub, there are a lot of people taking classes in big, hot studios and they’re struggling to keep up. They’re taken from pose to pose, getting sweaty (YES!) but not really connecting with their breath, or their bodies for that matter. Sure, they’re moving, but they aren’t getting stronger because they’re not being told the intricacies of the poses and the muscles that are used to support them.

We can sit and argue what “yoga” is, and really, I believe yoga is what you want it to be. You can hike and do yoga, drink beer and do yoga, hell, you can do yoga with your rabbit. I support however you want to get your yoga on. What I don’t support is lazy teaching. What I don’t support is an army of students flailing through class from pose to pose with no true idea of what their yoga practice could be. Frankly, just the thought of it makes me mad.

If you’ve ever been to a class and not understood what you were doing, if you’ve stumbled through a thousand and one sun salutations and on the thousandth one, you’re soaked in sweat but you still don’t know what proper shoulder alignment in chaturanga is, then there is something wrong. If you step into a studio and the teacher merely stands at the front of the room on his or her own mat and doesn’t engage with you, or they pace around yelling out poses without the thought of helping you to connect on a deeper level, then you shouldn’t go back to that class. If, on more than one occasion, your teacher has said “and if you can do (blank) pose here and you’d like to, then go for it” without even attempting to teach those of you in the room who have no idea wtf (blank) pose is, then you should be mad. How is your practice supposed to evolve if you have no true guidance? You deserve that much don’t you? Yoga isn’t cheap. Yoga gear isn’t cheap. Your teacher shouldn’t be cheap either.

There are a ton of studios around Rochester, so go to a few. Find a place that resonates with you, a teacher that speaks to you. Don’t just go to the studio where everyone else goes, do your homework. The teacher that your best friend loves may just be ho hum to you. Find a teacher who moves you, not just one who makes you move. Find a teacher who introduces him or herself to you before starting, one who wants to know if you have injuries, one who is curious about why you’re there, what your goals are and where you want your practice to lead. Find a teacher who is willing to stop the flow to answer your questions, one who actually wants to teach you.

Yoga is a gift. It is a practice that helps us to connect with who we are, it shows us our weaknesses (not just the physical ones) and it gives us the tools to build stronger, more awake and more present (happier!) versions of who we are. Yoga is a way to reclaim our bodies and our souls; a way to look at ourselves with love and understanding so that we may look at others through the same compassionate eyes. Sure, yoga is about finding your strength and it can be used to get fit, but yoga is so much more than powering through a sequence of positions just to make it to the end of your 75 minute “workout.” You should expect more than that. You deserve more than that.


katevKnown for her fun, yet challenging vinyasa flow classes, Kate has always found joy in connecting with her students. She believes that the traditional practices of yoga still hold powerful benefits today and she strives to bring those benefits to her students while keeping a sense of humor about the process. Kate taught at Yoga Haven for 6 years before moving to Rochester and opening her own studio, Cycle Swami.

Three Ways Childbirth Education Empowers Your Birth Experience

by Kelly Devi Swails, RPYT, CCCE, CLC

When expecting moms ask me if they should take childbirth education, I believe what they are really asking is: How will this benefit me and my partner? The most obvious answer is that childbirth education (a.k.a. childbirth preparation) helps you gain an understanding of what happens with your body, and your baby, just before, during and immediately after labor. You are likely to learn about various medical procedures that may, or may not be necessary on the day of your labor. There are also the basics, like: signs of labor, and when to go to the hospital. But there are a few substantial benefits childbirth education offers that help to improve and empower your birth experience. These hold true whether your birth includes medications, surgery or is completely natural.


Normalizes birth and increases trust in the body. Women instinctively know how to give birth! But, let’s face it, our society does not largely support this fact. Generations of women have lost sight of their innate capacity and many harbor doubts and even distrust of their bodies. Such feelings create unnecessary fear and effectively mute a woman’s instinctive body wisdom. This can result in a more challenging, and yes, painful birth experience. Childbirth education classes (depending on the scope of the class) are often designed to help women reconnect with the power and ability of their bodies by normalizing and reframing the birth process. Some childbirth education classes also guide couples in ways to remain active participants in the birth via informed decision making. This has been shown to increase a woman’s overall satisfaction in her birth experience, and consequently how she views herself in the months and years beyond birth (regardless of delivery mode). Even if medical intervention is necessary or wanted, a woman who enters birth and motherhood informed, calm and believing in herself will generally have a much easier time than one who is fearful, unsure or doubtful of her body.


Ways to reduce pain and facilitate labor (And… ways your partner can actively support you). In many childbirth education classes, couples gain solid information and may practice techniques that help reduce pain and build confidence in the body and birth process. This helps women learn, but more precisely; trust that there are indeed many simple things they can do to effectively, and more easefully facilitate birth. This is also very useful for women electing an epidural as there will be time in early labor, prior to the procedure, and again during the pushing phase of labor when it helps to have an idea of how work with, and not against the body. For partners, this practice fosters confidence in their role of birth support. They learn exactly how to provide practical, effective hands-on support and advocacy.


An overlooked, long term benefit of learning these techniques for pain and stress management is that they are highly transferrable to many other uncomfortable or challenging situations in life. I regularly rely on variations of these techniques for dealing with the inevitable physical, emotional and mental discomforts life sometimes tosses in my direction (or that of my loved ones). As a new parent, this is a nice gift to yourself!


A forum to connect with others. That’s right! Meeting and talking with other couples is a huge benefit of childbirth education. Talking as a group, asking questions and learning from each other creates bonds with other new parents in the community. This is an invaluable, far reaching benefit that is not gained by reading books or surfing the Internet. Meeting other couples in your community is a fantastic way to build an ongoing social network of parents. Numerous friendships, parent groups and play dates have their roots in the connections made during childbirth education class.


Finding the class for you. Childbirth Education classes are not one-size fits all and can vary widely in focus and depth of material covered. Before signing up, find out the scope of that particular class and determine if it fits your needs. Consider the background of the facilitator (some are more clinical, while others are more body/mind focused). This will help inform you about the philosophy of the class and ensure it’s the approach that resonates with you. If you’re still unsure, reach out to the instructor and ask questions.


The Scoop on Prenatal Yoga

by Kelly Swails, RPYT, CCCE, CLC


IMG_5075Over the years I’ve come to realize that prenatal yoga may be one of yoga’s best kept secrets.  It offers a full range of benefits specific to the physical and emotional transformations of pregnancy, labor and beyond. But, perhaps most surprising to many new prenatal yoga students is that this practice provides elements not found in a regular yoga classes. So, let’s take a closer look at the things that make this practice so unique.  



A few minutes of every class are always set aside to simply talk as a group. Women are encouraged to ask questions, share resources, get and give support and make new friends.  As women, and especially as new moms, this is an invaluable benefit! Prenatal yoga is one of the few places pregnant women can go and simply talk to one another and express their feelings and concerns. Plus, the connections made in prenatal yoga class often last for years to come.

A more easeful labor experience

Studies indicate that women who practice prenatal yoga generally cope better with the physical and emotional demands of labor. Researchers have noted that women who practice prenatal yoga seem to have a reduced perception of pain, and improved confidence during childbirth (Research Strategies for Normal Birth by Amy Romano and Henci Goer, Lamaze International, 2008). Perhaps this is because during prenatal yoga classes, moms actually practice a whole set of mind-body coping strategies that are practical and useful in the labor room. These include a range of flowing movements, many of which help to optimally position babies and reduce discomfort in coordination with breath, meditation and relaxation practice.

Reducing the discomforts of pregnancy

Prenatal yoga is specifically designed to target and address the discomforts experienced in all trimesters of pregnancy. Since everyone in the class is pregnant, it is much easier for the teacher to hone in on specific discomforts and help moms to find a sense of relief. In addition, specific tips on various day to day comfort measures are also provided during class; such as how to adjust your sleeping area to alleviate the issue of tingling fingers or sore shoulders, neck and hips, ways to make more “space” in the body and feel less compressed, or how to align your posture so there is less strain on the lower back.

Focus on breath awareness and deep relaxation

Yoga is all about breath and relaxation. This is as true in a regular yoga classes as it is in prenatal yoga practice. But, in prenatal yoga, moms dive more specifically into the process of breath and relaxation within the context of pregnancy and birthing. Training the body exactly how to achieve a state of deep relaxation takes time and regular practice. Attempting to learn effective breath and relaxation techniques after labor has already begun, or when you’re dealing with a fussy baby is definitely not a good time to get a handle on this! Learning and practicing these techniques well before labor is a better approach.  After all, the ability to consciously and effectively relax, soften and let go is absolutely the key to a more easeful birth.

A time to celebrate your pregnancy

Prenatal yoga class is a special time to engage in a beneficial practice for both you and your baby. The class is much more than just yoga as it provides time for connecting with other moms, bonding with your growing baby, learning about the rapid changes occurring in the body, gathering resources, asking questions, having a laugh or two, and dedicating a time to simply slow down, breathe and celebrate your pregnancy in the company of other moms-to-be.

You do not need any previous experience in yoga to participate in a prenatal yoga class. The practice is appropriate and recommended for women in all stages of pregnancy. So whether you’re in your first month or your last, now is the time to take advantage of this special class.  Check the schedule for class times. 

Kelly is an Integral Yoga teacher with certifications in general hatha, prenatal, postnatal and restorative yoga.  She is also a doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor, and mom.  It is Kelly’s strong desire to help women connect with the sacredness of pregnancy and labor by developing trust in the body’s ability to give birth.  Kelly’s classes include a strong focus on pelvic floor awareness, its connection to the breath and ways to find space, stability and comfort during pregnancy. Students also gain a deeper understanding of the physical, emotional, and spiritual changes of pregnancy, as well as the importance of honoring the body’s needs during each trimester. Kelly’s ultimate goal however is to encourage pregnant women to fully embrace their innate power and awesome ability to grow, nurture and birth babies from that deep maternal place of “knowing”. Kelly has worked with hundreds of pregnant women and their partners in the past decade. As she continues to witness the profound nature of birth first-hand, her dedication to this work has only grown and deepened.