Desi Bartlett (M.S., CPT, E-RYT) is a leading Pre and Postnatal yoga expert. Desi holds advanced certifications in Yoga, Personal Training, Pre & Post Natal Fitness and Group Fitness. She is also a continuing education provider through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the National Council for Personal Trainers. Desi has worked with several large companies, including Gaiam, Equinox, the US Navy and Mattel. Desi’s inspiring and unique classes have been featured on networks such as ABC, NBC, FOX, Univision, Hallmark, and Lifetime. She currently stars in 10 Yoga, Fitness and Dance DVD’s, including Better Belly Yoga, Latin Groove and Total Body Tone. Her dedication to helping moms stay fit and healthy is reflected in her Prenatal Yoga DVD. Desi has worked with several celebrity moms in LA. Years ago, I had the honor of observing a pre/postnatal yoga class with Desi Bartlett in Santa Monica, California. I was able to witness first hand her passion for teaching mothers. Recently, I asked her to share some insights on the topic of “Yin and Pregnancy.”

T. Could you explain the kinds of changes that happen in a women’s body during pregnancy?
D.B. The first trimester is very active in terms of changes in the woman’s physiology. The increase in hormones can lead to fatigue, nausea, and heightened emotions. It is very normal to experience breast tenderness, as well as orthostatic hypotension, which simply means that her blood pressure might drop upon moving from seated to standing- causing her to feel light headed.

The very beginning of the second trimester is the time that a woman experiences her first spike in the hormone relaxin. Her joints might feel a bit unstable as the body is preparing to make more space for the growing baby inside. This is also referred to as the ‘honeymoon period,’ because the nausea and fatigue often subside. Additionally, she may feel her emotions even out, as well as the nesting urge arising.

Third trimester, Moms have an increased lumbar curve and rounded shoulders as result of the increased weight in the front of the body. Often referred to as the ‘home stretch,’ the Mom-to-be might feel a return of fatigue and slight awkwardness in movement, as her center of gravity has dramatically shifted.

T. What are the ways that a yin yoga practice would help through the various stages of pregnancy?
D.B. We all carry yin and yang energy; masculine and feminine. Masculine energy drives; it is all about action. Feminine energy receives. Yin Yoga allows us to ‘receive’ a sense of calm. The longer holds can also lead to a greater feeling of release in the hips and lower back. It is important for the pregnant mama to make sure that she does not try to achieve her deepest stretch in any pose, as the ligaments are a bit lax with the spike of relaxin. However, she can go into a comfortable stretch and then meditate on all that she is receiving; a deeper breath to share with her baby, a sense of calm in body and mind, and being birthed as a Mother.

T. What types of things should a woman be cautious of during pregnancy related to yin yoga?
D.B. It is contraindicated to lay flat on your back, or on your right side for extended periods of time during pregnancy. A structure in our bodies called the vena cava is responsible for venous return. Lying flat or on the right side can put pressure on the vena cava thus acting like a rock on a water hose; it compromises the flow. It is important for the Mom-to-be to modify her Yin practice so as to lift her head above her heart, or in poses like legs-up-the-wall, have a bolster under her low back, with the tailbone able to drape over the front of the bolster.

Additionally, deep twists and prone positions (laying on your belly) are contraindicated and must be modified to accommodate the woman’s changing body, and to make space for the baby inside. Lastly, it is important to remember that the spikes in relaxin will make the woman’s joints a bit less stable and it is important to not go to the deepest point of any stretch as she might not be able to feel the natural ‘edge’ of the stretch.

Lastly, if the Mom-to-be has been diagnosed with PJSD (pubic joint symphysis disorder) she cannot safely go into poses in which the legs are wide open. If she has been having S/I joint pain, it is important to work with a skilled Yoga teacher so as to make sure that the pelvis is well aligned in several poses, so as not to exacerbate the pain.

T.E. What would be a great 8 pose prenatal yin yoga routine?

D.B. 1) Easy Crossed Leg Seated
2) Yogi Squat
3) Dragon (both sides)
4) Sleeping Swan (both sides)
5) Half Butterfly with Side Bend (both sides)
6) Child’s Pose
-with bolster under forehead and wide knees
7) Melting Heart
-place the blocks wide enough apart on top of the bolster for the mama’s head, so that she can rest her forehead on the bolster and place her forearms on the blocks
8) Corpse Pose
-laying on the left side with a bolster or blanket between the knees

T.E. What advice and tips do you have for postnatal yin yoga?
D.B. New Moms can greatly benefit from a Yin practice. The body has been through so many dramatic changes, it needs time to integrate these changes. When women return to vigorous exercise too soon, it can cause some problematic situations in the harmony of the inner unit. Meaning that the pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, the diaphragm, and the multifidus may see an imbalance in the system and not work together in harmony because one muscle group is stronger than another.
Enjoying a yin practice can also inspire a feeling of calm which will help her body to counteract the stress of being a new Mom. Motherhood is a joyous event, but even good stress is interpreted by the body as stress and can lead to a fight or flight response in her nervous system. The deep breathing and long holds hallmarked in a Yin practice act as a salve for her nervous system. The opposite of fight or flight is called recovery and repair, and that is exactly what her system needs at this time.

T.E. Anything else that you think would be good to share?
D.B. Pregnancy is an amazing time in a woman’s life. Each day can feel like a new adventure. Some days we are so sleepy that we need to nap, other days we feel like we can decorate the nursery and go exercise. It is important to honor the fluctuations in energy and when the body needs rest, remember that your body is creating the structure of a baby inside of your belly. I see a lot of Moms who feel like they ‘should’ exercise with great vigor at least a few times a week. The only ‘should,’ is to listen to your body and honor the feedback. If the body needs to take it easy, a Yin practice can feel amazing. Practices like Yin Yoga have been referred to as a ‘work in (vs. a workout),’ as they can bring a sense of support and balance to our inner body. Yin allows Moms to enjoy the sense of receiving, and that is a hallmark of this time in her life as she gets ready to receive her baby into her arms and into her life.