Kathrin’s yoga experience during pregnancy

Practicing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, 40 weeks pregnant

Hi Kathrin! Thank you so much for accepting to do this interview and sharing with the people out there your yoga story and the experience of practicing before and during pregnancy. So let’s get started! 

Can you share with the readers who Kathrin is?

36, living in Sweden since 2013, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, Ashtangi and climber 

When did you start practicing yoga?

2016. Starting with once per week up to four times per week as the body got used to it and became stronger.

What was your motivation? 

When light backpain started to show up after working days I started to search for an activity to help stop it.

How did you end up practicing at Unfold Your Mat? Why did you choose to stay after your first class?

I got the recommendation from a colleague. I never felt so calm and relaxed after having attended „Lavi style yoga“.

Kathrin in Baddha Konasana pose, pre-pregnancy picture taken in 2019

Which styles of yoga do you practice? Do you have a favorite one?

I practiced what was offered at UYM which was a mix of Vinyasa flow and Hatha yoga and later also Ashtanga. Ashtanga is my preferred yoga style. I love that Ashtanga works on both, physical and mental strength. But I stay flexible. When my body demands it, I also practice Hatha or Vinyasa flows with Lavi or on my own.

At the climbing gym in Gothenburg combining her two passions, yoga and climbing

Some people don’t know that you are also a dedicated climber besides being very committed to your yoga practice. Did you feel at any moment that you have to choose between the two?

I never had the feeling to choose. Because I started them both simultaneously and I am in neither of them too competitive (I believe) meaning I take the process in both of them as it comes with dedicated practice and training. I love to do both equally and I would never stop climbing just to improve the openness of my shoulder joints to make the alignment better in a certain yoga posture or stop a certain yoga posture because it “weakens” certain muscles in climbing by stretching and working them during yoga. It is just what it is. I like to have fun, especially in climbing which one does usually in groups or with a partner.

Bouldering in her home town climbing gym Cube Kletterzentrum Wetzlar . Can you see that nice wall Triangle pose?

Do climbing and yoga have anything in common?

Both disciplines require full body awareness and disciplined and aware practice/training to make the movements strong, soft and effortless. Also both train the whole body and mind. While climbing is more pulling towards movements, yoga is more pushing away movements. So there is a nice balance between the two most done movements. In climbing one has to be present in that moment which helps to “shut off” the mind chatter. I would say in climbing the mind is faster “off “than in yoga. One cannot climb when one doesn’t think about where to put the limbs and how to move and how to climb a route without reading it before. In my yoga practice it requires rather demanding postures to completely stop the mind chatter. I am not able yet to just start meditating out of nowhere. I need the physical basis together with a breathing pattern to be able to enter. While climbing (especially outside on rock with a rope in heights of over 30m) can be really adrenaline pushing; yoga is usually the opposite, calming the body down and bringing great relaxation in into the whole system. Still, some yoga postures are demanding and scary in their own ways, which usually brings me to be into that moment. Repeating challenging/stressful yoga postures with great awareness and the correct breathing technique again and again creates a mind pattern, which can be helpful to bring calmness into the body in other situations than yoga, into climbing for example. The breath is the key to calm the body down. I think yoga and climbing together it’s a perfectly balanced lifestyle with both, requiring a present mind, strength, softness, full body awareness and control and calmness.

Has yoga brought anything new or of value to your life? Do you feel any different when you don’t practice?

I really am more present into the moment I believe. If I don’t practice regularly I feel less balanced and calm in my mind and less strong, less stretched and opened (shoulders and chest) in a physical point of view.

So baby is coming soon 🙂 They say, every woman and every pregnancy are different. How did your practice change when you knew you are going to be a mom?

I changed my practice to a softer version without pushing boundaries when my body told me to stop and adapt. This is the good thing if one practices yoga and therefore body awareness, you will learn to read and listen to the body correctly in most of the times.

Kathrin practicing Triangle pose during pregnancy

Which postures have you stopped doing and why?

How has your practice changed throughout the pregnancy trimesters?

Way before the growing uterus changed the practice because of space issues, the hormones took over and made it impossible to practice some days. Nausea, low blood pressure, tiredness, all together made me feel like not to practice. The body had to adapt to the pregnancy in so many ways, it was right to listen and to rest if I felt so. For me, pregnancy is not the time to push boundaries. Where before was athletic movement there was suddenly just tiredness, nausea and/or weakness.

Kathrin in Upward Plank pose

Have you felt the pregnancy gave you the opportunity to practice some of the mental strength yoga principles?

I was able to practice acceptance and non-attachment right in week six or seven of pregnancy. I had to let go of my beloved practice schedule because my body forced me into it with strong nausea. Which also means I had to say good bye to a physically rather well trained body.

Since not only pregnancy happened but also Sars-CoV2 and therefore Zoom yoga started it did change pretty much. Ashtanga primary series requires a lot of sitting postures with forward folding while having closed legs, which didn’t feel comfortable with any longer after week 12 I would say. Or even before. There was suddenly some sensation in the belly that told me to not squeeze there. So I switched to open legs forward folds or side stretches. Also I avoided the hard twists because if done correctly they come from the core and that movement needs a rather empty stomach and I stopped doing them already in the first trimester I think. As the belly grew and showed more in the second trimester I stopped doing headstand at some point also because of my low blood pressure. Its not very pleasant feeling when in all standing forward folds or headstand blood rushes into the head. On top of that I also didn’t feel the need or urge to do it. It didn’t feel like the right thing and I stopped feeling up for it. Somewhere in the middle/end of the second trimester I switched to “Lavi style yoga” completely. I just took the classes she had online. With a growing belly there was also the sensation that chaturanga and plank isn’t for me anymore since they require great core strength and they work also the abs which actually are stretched during pregnancy and they even move apart in the middle of the belly to make space for the uterus and the baby. Instead I did chaturanga on my knees or switched to cat/cow in later stages. I listened to my body sensations and left postures out or adapted them as soon as they didn’t feel right anymore. In the third trimester my wrists started hurting when I was too long leaning on the hands which isn’t surprising by the weight gain in relatively short time. So I included some more rest postures or went from down dog to the knees on all four. I still do what I can and some days I just feel heavy and exhausted as I am now in the last month of pregnancy. Now, I feel pretty much that the pelvis joints are loosening which leads to a feeling of some sort of pain caused by hypermobile sacroiliac joints and the pubic symphysis caused by the pregnancy hormones. I don’t appreciate stretches in that area any longer. Also I have to move very slowly (including walking, as well as moving into or out of yoga postures).

Kathrin in Anjaneyasana ( Low Lunge pose) practicing during pregnancy

Many pregnant women suffer from back pain and other specific aches during this time. Have  you experienced any of those?

No. My colleague suffered from lower back pain already in week 12 of pregnancy but she never practiced yoga. As I understood as soon as the uterus grows the point of gravity shifts forward pulling on the lower back. Together with tight hip flexors (which further pull on the lower back) this can create back pain because of a more hollowed lower back. By practicing yoga the lower back is strengthened to stay in place, also because one has the awareness for the body posture one takes and can adjust. Importantly, yoga stretches the hip flexors, which appear to be important to relieve the pulling forward movement of the pelvis. I read about pregnant woman climbing but still experiencing back pain. So the strengthening part alone would probably not be sufficient to avoid back pain I could imagine. A healthy balance between strengthening and stretching appears to be beneficial in my experience. I didn’t experience muscle pain during pregnancy so far. Only tired back muscles in the last month of pregnancy from too long sitting, standing and walking.  

Do you find that yoga helped during your pregnancy? And if yes, can you give us some examples?

I can still shave my legs without problem (the key is the leg comes to the hand, one needs to lift it sideways where no belly is, not the hand to the leg, all while standing and balancing on one leg, same for putting on socks before putting on tight pants) and pick up things from the floor (wide legged forward fold or squatting) and put on my shoes (the foot comes to the hand with the shoe on the toes, balancing on one leg). As you see yoga is very useful. One is used to certain postures and movements and can be creative.

Despite the regular UYM classes not being focused on pregnancy yoga, you chose to continue to attend even after we switched our classes on zoom due to the pandemic. You are on your mat on a weekly basis even few weeks away from baby coming. Why didn’t you choose a specific pregnancy yoga class?

I still did almost everything what I did pre-pregnancy (bouldering till week 12 then climbing on top rope till week 22 until Corona stopped me visiting the climbing gym, yoga as described before) when I felt up for it. I believe those years of practice leave me with a great body awareness that helped me to navigate through do’ s and don’ts during this time. Over the years my body got experienced to the movements and pregnancy did only change certain moves as I mentioned before. I also got the confirmation from the midwives that I can do as I am used to since I had a healthy normal pregnancy. The prenatal yoga classes I participated in are made for all women that are pregnant, meaning also those that never practiced yoga before. In those classes the focus lies on breathing exercises and birthing postures that can be helpful during delivery. As practiced yoga for now 4 years I already learned a lot what is taught in prenatal yoga classes and I do practice it in every day life. However, I signed up for six classes of prenatal yoga to get some knowledge about specific postures that can help the baby move into better position during labor. But those classes never replaced my regular yoga schedule I had. 

Are you planning to maintain yoga in your life after the baby is born? Is there any yoga pose you can’t practice at the moment that you are looking forward to do again?

Yes I would like to practice when the baby is born. But I am aware that I will need time until I can get back and will have to wait until my body is ready again. Also I will need to find time and energy to do so. So my plan is to come back but how and when will depend not only on me. I look forward to very simply things, like being able to lay on my back and belly as well as to walk in a normal pre – pregnancy pace again. Also to be able to move as I used to move pre – pregnancy in my daily life. Then it would of course be awesome to be able to practice Ashtanga again, the whole primary series is one good piece that I can’t wait to practice. But I know I will have to be patient and listen to my body and take it slowly step by step until I can do a whole primary series since it requires a great basis of strength.

They say yoga helps us to balance out emotions and build a stronger mind for the challenges of life. Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your life in any way? If so, did you find your practice helped you to navigate these times in a smoother way?

The covid-19 pandemic impacts me a lot. I worry not only about my health but also about my baby’s health, the birth and the time afterwards. Other rules apply at the Vårdcentralen and the hospital, all official courses for birth preparation and hospital visits are cancelled what makes the process not easier.

Moreover, I decided to isolate myself since March 2020 and avoid all unnecessary contacts. That also means avoiding going to my beloved climbing gym, meeting dear friends, practicing yoga together next to each other, going out in restaurants and cafes and rushing through supermarkets to odd hours, as well as working to odd hours  or at home to reduce contact to people as much as possible. The fear of getting infected was very strong during March and some time in April and I felt stressed all day long. I was lucky that Lavinia switched to online yoga classes so that at least those I could participate in. Even though those classes are virtual and everyone practices on their own at home but guided through Lavinia’s voice they had a positive impact on my stress level. By focusing on myself again I was able to relieve the stress and bring some calmness into my system. So I can definitely say that – at least for a couple of hours – yoga helped me to manage my stress level.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I want to point out that I answered according to my own experiences and opinions and that those are no general rules or medical advice. Every pregnancy and every woman is different. Meaning the answers I gave only apply for me. Every woman has to decide with their doctors and/or midwives how they deal with physical exercise during pregnancy.

Last but not least, I want to say how proud I am to be your friend and your teacher. Your self-discipline, dedication to learn and continue to improve yourself, your commitment to the practice, your strength, and your care for yourself and your baby are an inspiration for everyone out there. You show us all that the impossible becomes possible when our intention is pure and we put the work into taking care of our body and mind, into becoming a better version of ourselves everyday. It’s been a true pleasure to share so many hours and years together with you on the yoga mat. Thank you for always showing up and doing your best. It is a privilege for me to share this wonderful experience with you. Thank you my dear friend! Now go and enjoy this next chapter. I will be here waiting for you three to practice in the shala with the little one next to our mats. You are so ready to go next level – go 7th series! Rock it like the badass mamma you already are! 

Follow Kathrin on her Instagram @nebelbiene

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