Maybe you’re already a dedicated yogini, and want to keep practicing safely during your pregnancy. Or maybe you’re looking for an exercise plan to replace your normal-but-too-risky-for-pregnancy exercise routine. Or perhaps, your doctor recommended you exercise regularly during pregnancy - because of course, regular exercise is recommended for all healthy pregnant women. Whatever it is, you’re curious about prenatal yoga, and wondering what you can do.
Prenatal yoga can be part of a healthy pregnancy - it can help develop balance, strength, and stamina; can relieve tension and stress in the body; calms the nervous system; and the breathwork done during yoga can help to prepare for breathing during labor.
You can practice yoga safely, and here are some poses you can do. Not only are they excellent to do, but some might actually help you with your labor process - and ease some of pregnancy’s pains!
These asanas (poses) are recommended during pregnancy:
11 Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Triangle Pose, with some modifications, can be great to practice during pregnancy. It gives you a full body stretch, stretching your sides, opening your shoulders and hips, and giving your core a chance to really work. Triangle can be great at relieving shoulder and neck strain - just gently look up towards your raised hands.
Be sure to do any modifications to adapt for your body’s changes during your pregnancy; shorten your stance and place your hand a bit higher on your leg. If you find it's too difficult or your balance is too unsteady, you might want to avoid this asana.
10 Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Both Triangle and Extended Side Angle really stretch out your sides, but Extended Side Angle has the bonus of allowing you a bit more stability with your hand on your leg. You might feel more grounded, which can give you the ability to get in a deeper side stretch.
9 Bound Angle Pose (Baddya Konasana)
Bound Angle Poseis great for helping to improve the flexibility of your pelvic region. Many yoga teachers recommend bound angle pose to help ease delivery.
Feel free to use a cushion under your buttocks, especially during the later months of your pregnancy. A cushion is also great to use if your hips are really tight.
Also, don’t forget to try Reclining Bound Angle Pose a variation on Bound Angle Pose. In this pose, you gently recline on top of pillows on the floor. Place extra cushions underneath your knees to prevent overstretching your hips and pelvic area. To get out of Reclining Bound Angle Pose, lean to one side and use your hands to get up. This pose is also recommended to help prepare for an easier delivery. It’s a great restorative, relaxing pose, and can really feel wonderful after a long day. You might even accidentally fall asleep - it’s that comfortable!
8 Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Bridge is another great pose for pregnancy. It’s great at building core and lower body strength. It also lengthens and strengthens the spine. Additionally. it’s excellent at relieving lower back tension.
There are many variations you can do if you struggle to reach the full pose, or just want a more relaxing and restorative pose. Best of all, like other backbends, Bridge is energizing, and it’s likely you’ll feel upbeat post-pose.
To avoid overstretching during your pregnancy, keep your arms by your side. You might want to do a restorative version of bridge, where you place a block underneath your sacrum and just rest and release, or place a stack of pillows underneath you to do a restorative version in bed next time you can’t sleep. Do not overstretch; stop before reaching your limit.
7 Warrior I (Virahabadrasana I)
While women might find it rather difficult to do this in their third trimester with the extra weight, women in their first and second trimester will enjoy the core strength and balance they are practicing in Warrior I.
This pose starts as a gentle lunge forward and raising the arms up along the sides of the head and slightly bending the back backwards and looking upward, but not drastically so. Just enough to feel the stretch throughout the core, arms and legs.
If at any time, the pose becomes overly difficult or you feel dizzy, cease doing the pose.
6 Warrior II (Virahabadrasana II)
The difference between these two poses are the placement of the arms and head. In this pose you will lunge forward again, this time spreading your arms out in a T and keeping your head straight. This pose strengthens the ankle and leg while stretching the ankle, groin, shoulder, leg, lung and thorax.
Think of yourself as a five point star while performing this pose. Press into your feet, lower your hips towards the floor to lengthen the spine and keep the legs strong while holding the pose. You can relax your shoulders down through the back and press your chest forward. You should be breathing and holding your breath for 3-6 breaths.
5 Hero Pose (Virasana)
Sitting on your knees might seem like not much work, but Hero’s Pose is actually a great pose to do during pregnancy. It’s a great sitting posture for meditation. It stretches your thighs, knees, and ankles, and can help improve digestion and relieve gas. Some women find that it can help with the swelling of the legs during pregnancy.
Make modifications as needed; a pillow or blanket under each knee will help to release tension and pressure.
You can stretch your arms in Hero’s Pose; try cow-faced arms, a great arm stretch and chest opener.
Reclined Hero’s Pose (Suptavirasana)is a modification that is another great pose to do during pregnancy. Be sure to use support. Place a stack of bolsters or pillows behind your back, and put a pillow or blanket behind each knee. Keep your heart high - this gives you a gentle, supported backbend.
4 Garland Pose (Malasana)
Garland pose is a great pose to do during pregnancy. It gives flexibility to the hips and pelvic region (important during pregnancy and labor!) and helps to strengthen the muscles in the uterus, knees, and thighs.
The pose can be an intense opener, or it can gently release tension - depending on if you place props underneath or not. You might find placing a blanket underneath your feet or heels gives you a different feeling - play around and do what feels best for you. Later in your pregnancy, you might find this more difficult with additional weight. Listen to your body.
3 Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Everyone loves relaxing in Child’s Pose during class, but did you know it actually is really beneficial during pregnancy? It helps prepare your body for labor, and can release lower back strain (common for many pregnant women).
When bending forward, relax, and breathe deep into your back. If the pose feels uncomfortable or awkward, feel free to place a pillow or blanket underneath and/or in between your knees. Listen to your body; if it doesn’t work, don’t do it.
2 Cat/Cow (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana)
Not only is Cat/Cow a great way to warm up for any yoga class, it’s a great pose for pregnant women to do to relieve back tension and neck stress. It helps to strengthen your abdominal region, and to open your hips. Some even think it can help to put the baby in the right position! Best of all, focusing on your coordinated breath will help for a little later down the line - during pregnancy, when coordinated breath is a must!
Because you’re pregnant, don’t take the pose too deeply. Take it back a notch or two, and just slowly and gently stretch much less than you would usually. Think, “Cat/Cow light.” If you experience stiffness or pain in your knees, place a pillow below your knees.
A bit confused? Check out this great prenatal cat/cow video.
1 Last words on Prenatal Yoga
Be sure to discuss with your doctor your yoga practice before beginning something new, and if anything feels uncomfortable or just not right, stop. Yoga is not about punishing yourself, but about gently reaching towards your limits. Your limits will change during pregnancy, so be sure to give yourself modifications as needed. Some poses, like Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana), can still be done, but modifications are necessary - put your hands on blocks on the tallest setting if you attempt this.
After your pregnancy, do take some time off. Listen to your doctor’s advice about when you should return to exercise. When you do begin again, begin slowly. Start with corpse pose (savasana) and working on your breath before you return to moving poses. When you feel strong again, slowly and gently return to your practice. Your body will remember it - and it will feel so amazing!
Not sure how to do the asanas mentioned above? Check out the links above or check out your local yoga studio’s prenatal or basics class.
For Further Reading
Seema Sondhi, Yoga in Pregnancy and Childbirth, Delhi: Wisdom Tree, 2005.
Geeta Iyengar, Yoga: A Gem for Women,Timeless Books, 2002.