“I heard that practicing qigong while pregnant can be dangerous,” he said.
Drew was a longtime student, and also a concerned father-to-be. I could see the fear written all over his face. He was worried about his wife and his baby.
I knew where the fear was coming from. In the world of qigong and tai chi, there are some pretty scary ideas about practicing while pregnant.
“Getting in a car while pregnant is far more dangerous than practicing qigong,” I said.
This surprised him, in a good way. Sometimes, a little perspective is all we need.
While it’s true that some caution is advised when you are growing a brand new human in your belly, it’s also true that qigong can be incredibly safe and beneficial.
In fact, qigong is one of the best things that you can give to your brand new human!
In this article, we’ll take a modern look at the dos and don’ts of practicing qigong while pregnant.
Although I don’t have children, I want you to know that I’ve helped usher many “Qi Babies” into this world.
While working with an acupuncturist, I’ve worked with: couples who struggled to conceive; breach births; overdue pregnancies; and post-natal care for both the baby and the mother.
I’m proud of these Qi Babies and I’m happy to share my experience with you in this article!
I’ve also included some helpful quotes from Angelika Fritz, who is a tai chi colleague as well as a member of my online qigong program.
Angelika runs a popular blog on qigong and tai chi. Unlike me, she has direct experience with being pregnant! I’m grateful for her contributions, and I hope you’ll visit her blog to show your support!
Here are 16 guidelines for practicing qigong while pregnant:
Guideline #1: Stick to Medical Qigong
There are 5 major categories of qigong:
- Medical Qigong
- Vitality Qigong
- Scholarly Qigong
- Martial Qigong
- Spiritual Qigong
Of these, Medical Qigong is the safest choice. (If you want to read more on this subject, take a look at my article, History of Qigong: The 5 Categories of Qi Cultivation.)
For example, there’s a form of Martial Qigong called Iron Shirt where you systematically strike the torso with harder and harder objects. As you can imagine, this might not be the best choice when you’re preggers!
There are ways to safely practice Vitality Qigong, Scholarly Qigong, Martial Qigong, and Spiritual Qigong — but not without close supervision by an experienced teacher. Remember that tai chi can be considered a form of Martial Qigong.
Guideline #2: Forget About Dantian
In most schools of qigong, including mine, you bring your qi and your awareness back to the lower dantian at the end of the session.
Certain qigong exercises use dantian even more intensively. For example, a technique called Dantian Breathing focuses on cultivating a ball of qi at dantian.
The lower dantian is your natural energy center, located about 3 finger breadths below your navel, and about 3 finger breadths inside your abdominal wall. (If you want to read more about dantian, check out my article, Where in the World is Dantian?)
As you probably noticed, this energy center is located almost exactly where your brand new human is being nurtured!
When you’re pregnant, there’s already plenty of qi at dantian, so there’s no need to add more. To be extra safe, I recommend that you completely avoid focusing energy at the lower dantian while pregnant (see below).
Guideline #3: Use Mingmen Instead
Instead of using dantian, close your qigong session by focusing your awareness at mingmen (命門)
This energy center translates to The Gate of Vitality. It’s located on the midline of your spine, below the spinous process of the 2nd lumbar vertebra (L2).
To locate it, find the shallowed part of the natural curve of the lower back. This should be almost exactly opposite your navel.
There is some discrepancy about the location of mingmen among qigong schools. The location I described is the one I learned in acupuncture college, and the one that feels right to me when I practice.
However, whenever we’re talking about energy fields like dantian or mingmen, we’re talking about an area, not a tiny little point.
To start feeling energy at mingmen, rub the area with a finger, and then close the eyes and try to feel some warmth or activity there.
If you can’t feel any activity, don’t worry. Just try to feel the lingering sensation of where you rubbed your finger. That gentle awareness is more than enough!
Guideline #4: Use Your Intuition
Pregnant women are known for eating intuitively. For example, they’ll suddenly crave a strange food, and gorge themselves on it.
This is the body’s own innate wisdom telling you to get certain nutrients for you and the baby.
You should use the exact same approach with qigong.
Trust your gut. Listen to your intuition. If you feel like doing a particular Medical Qigong exercise, then do it.
If you feel like skipping a practice day, then skip it.
Don’t get carried away with intuition. Don’t use it as an carte blanche to ignore the guidelines listed in this article. But learn to trust your intuition for the expert that it is.
Do the exercises you feel most comfortable with. Being pregnant is a great time to get in touch with your body! I particularly liked circling my pelvis and used that move during labor too! – Angelika Fritz
Guideline #5: Consult Your Physicians
This is a no-brainer, but notice that I used “physicians” plural, not singular.
I’m assuming that you already have an obstetrician in the equation. But do you also have a primary care physician to help in other ways? An acupuncturist might also serve this function. (In the state of Florida, acupuncturists are primary care physicians.)
But don’t stop at physicians.
I’m a big fan of creating a wellness team. Consider adding a midwife, a massage therapist, a mental health counselor, or even a spiritual coach to your team. Together, your team can help you to make better decisions about your health.
If it turns out that one of the members of your wellness team isn’t working out, then you can simply replace that team member, while keeping the rest of your team intact!
Surround yourself with people you like and who can help you with your questions. I specifically want to recommend a midwife (to answer all your questions about you and your baby), a TCM doctor/acupuncturist (to help you balance your new life), and other moms (to have allies during sleep-deprived days). – Angelika Fritz
Guideline #6: Use A La Carte Qigong
Qigong can help with many of the common issues that women face during pregnancy, like indigestion, constipation, hypertension, insomnia, back pain, and nausea.
Sometimes, all you need is a few repetitions of Plucking Stars to get rid of your nausea. If it works, then great! I call this a la carte qigong.
Normally, students are taught to do a longer, more comprehensive qigong routine.
For example, with Flowing Zen Qigong, we use the 5-Phase Routine as our standard practice.
Some pregnant women will prefer to use shorter, a la carte routines. And that’s exactly what they should do, rather than trying to force a longer routine.
(If you want to try a 3-minute, a la carte qigong routine, then check out my free online course: Beating Fatigue & Exhaustion with Qigong.)
Guideline #7: Understand the Risks of Pregnancy
Many qigong masters are extremely cautious when it comes to pregnancy. Some of them will tell you not to practice at all. Others will refuse to accept new students who are already pregnant.
I believe that some of these masters are actually trying to reduce their own liability. Many couples don’t understand the risks of pregnancy. A grieving couple might blame qigong for the miscarriage. To avoid this problem, some masters try to preemptively cover their backs.
Miscarriages are a common risk of pregnancy. This has absolutely nothing to do with qigong. Qigong is safe even if you don’t follow all of these guidelines. But if you follow these guidelines, then it’s even safer.
You can even talk to your OBGYN about this. Show them this article, or talk to them about qigong and ask them if it’s safe. (Hint: it is.)
Guideline #8: Practice After Giving Birth
In the Chinese tradition, women are expected to rest for at least a month after giving birth, and preferably more. During this period, family and friend take care of the new mother.
If you’ve given birth in the U.S., you might want to sit down for this one. In China, new mothers are not even allowed to dress themselves. Buttoning a shirt is considered too strenuous. The extended family chips in to help the new mother rest and restore.
After giving birth, your qi, your vital energy, is severely depleted.
Of course, many women feel great during and after pregnancy. Nevertheless creating another human being from scratch undoubtedly drains your qi.
We all know that maternity leave in the U.S. is awful. There is tremendous pressure on women to get back to work ASAP. Even women who can afford to take time off often succumb the peer pressure created by our society.
It would be better if, as a society, we encouraged women to take plenty of time after giving birth. And of course, we need to encourage them not just with words, but with paid maternity leave!
Rest as much as you possibly can with a newborn. Prepare food in advance or find a good delivery service — there are even some that cater specifically to new moms! Just stay in bed. You don’t need to get back into your (qigong) routine immediately. If you want, a good time to practice in your head is while you feed your baby! – Angelika Fritz
Guideline #9: Squat Well (Or Not at All)
Some masters will tell you not to squat. This advice was also common in the West for a while, but that advice is changing.
Today, the general advice is that squatting is safe when done correctly.
And this makes sense. For millennia, humans have been squatting to poop and cook. In fact, billions of humans still poop or cook that way!
The key is to squat correctly. If you don’t know how to squat, then pregnancy might not be the best time to learn.
Squatting should involve zero sharp pain in the knees, ankles, or hips.
Human hips vary a lot, and you need to adjust your squatting to your own hips. Adjust your feet, adjust the width, and avoid sharp pain like the plague (see Guideline #10).
You can squat with the feet flat, or you can raise the heels like in the image above. But again, remember that you need proper instruction before attempting either of these.
I personally did not like to squat during my pregnancies. I avoided any exercises that come with a wide stance or which go DOWN (physically and mentally) until I was sure I wanted to get the baby out! (And by that time my belly was too big for proper squats anyway) – Angelika Fritz
Guideline #10: No Pain, Good!
“No pain, no gain!” is part of Western culture. It’s in your subconscious whether you like it or not. This mentality is especially dangerous for pregnant women.
I’m certainly not one of those sexist old-timers who thinks that women shouldn’t exercise at all during pregnancy. That kind of thinking is outdated. But there’s a difference between exercise, and “no pain, no gain”.
If you push yourself to failure and fatigue, then you are draining your qi.
There’s a simple rule for this: You should have MORE energy after you exercise than before. If not, then you’re draining your qi.
Qigong is the perfect solution because it allows you to exercise gently, without draining your qi.
Guideline #11: Go Low Impact
Tai chi and qigong are generally considered low-impact or no-impact exercise options.
But this isn’t strictly true. There are jumping kicks in tai chi, and exercises where you bounce or shake in qigong.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of qigong and tai chi exercises can be considered low or no impact.
Choose those exercises.
Never shake a baby, even when it’s in your belly!
Guideline #12: Work Directly with a Chinese Medicine Expert
Personally, I think it’s wise to have someone who understands Chinese medicine on your wellness team. This could be an acupuncture physician, a licensed herbalist, or even a qigong master who has studied Chinese medicine.
Remember that qigong is a branch of Chinese medicine. The underlying theories of acupuncture and qigong are the same, so she can help you even if she’s not a qigong expert.
Guideline #13: Stop if…
As I said, it’s highly unlikely that qigong would cause any problems, but just to be safe, stop if you experience any of the following:
- vaginal bleeding
- shortness of breath
- racing heartbeat
- chest pain
- vaginal fluid leaking
- uterine contractions
- severe muscle cramps
These are cues that you should go speak to your OBGYN. Of course, these cues also apply to Western exercise, as well as to other mindfulness practices like yoga.
Guideline #14: Avoid Complex Visualization
Visualization is a big part of some qigong schools. I separate visualization into two categories: simple, and complex.
In my school, complex visualization is reserved for advanced students. For example, The Small Universe involves complex visualization.
I teach beginners to focus on simple visualizations, like Smiling from the Heart.
Visualization is a subtle skill, and it’s easy to mess it up. Since we don’t need complex visualization to get remarkable results with qigong, I encourage beginners to leave it out entirely.
I wrote a longer article about visualization which you can read here: The Simple Truth About Qigong Visualization
I should mention that Positive Visualization can be a powerful tool for pregnancy. This is a simple visualization technique where you visualize (and feel) the positive outcomes that you want to happen in the future.
This is safe because it’s simple.
For example, using Positive Visualization to imagine the smooth delivery of your healthy baby is safe, whereas visualizing a cool, moon-like orb of silver energy at the huiyin energy point (near the perineum) is risky.
Guideline #15: No Five Animal Play
My version of Five Animal Play is different than in other schools, so keep that in mind as you read.
You can read more about my version of Five Animal play in my article: The Secret of Energy Flow.
In my school, the Five Animal Play involves a vigorous, internal flow of qi that can also release deep-rooted emotional blockages. It’s a powerful technique, and one that I hope you’ll learn some day.
But just to be safe, it should be avoided during pregnancy because of the vigorous nature of the energy flow. If you accidentally do Five Animal Play a few times, don’t worry. Remember, qigong is already safe, but we’re trying to be extra safe.
Guideline #16: Move Qi Down During Your Third Trimester
Some qigong exercises lift the qi upward, and some sink it downward. Can you guess which direction you want to send the energy as you get ready to give birth?
Down and out. That’s what you want your energy to do.
Exercises like Lifting The Sky should be avoided in the 3rd trimester because they lift the energy up. (But for the exact same reason, Lifting The Sky is great for the 1st trimester!)
Similarly, exercises like The Bear Walk, which drive the energy downward, should be saved for the final trimester.
Exercises like Pushing Mountains are more neutral, which means you can do them safely.
Some of this can be felt. Learn to trust your intuition about which direction the qi is moving.
Does the exercise make you feel more grounded and rooted? Then it’s driving the energy down.
Does the exercise make you feel lighter and uplifted? Then it’s driving the energy upward.
Getting the baby out is not only a physical shift, but also a mental shift. Being pregnant, one focuses on KEEPING the baby mostly. However, during the last 2-3 weeks (once the doctor told me it would be ok if the baby comes now) I focused on letting go. Just sitting, relaxing, and smoothing my body was a big help not only for my body, but also for my mind. – Angelika Fritz
I want you to feel more relaxed after reading this list article, not more stressed.
This list is designed to educated you. I want to shine some light on the confusing darkness and fear that sometimes surrounds the issue of qigong and pregnancy.
Remember: These are guidelines, not strict rules.
You don’t need to follow every guideline in order to have a healthy and happy child! In fact, I doubt that anyone in the history of baby-making has ever followed all of the guidelines!
Relax, and enjoy the amazing process of creating a new human and giving birth.
Also, if you’ve practiced qigong while pregnant and have any advice to add, please share it in the comments section below! From the heart, Sifu Anthony