Do you know someone who is raving about the benefits they are enjoying from their prenatal yoga practice? Maybe you want to try prenatal yoga, but don’t know where to start?
In this article, you will learn about prenatal yoga, including recommendations for various postures you can practice during each trimester of your pregnancy. We’ve even included a helpful list of postures which may be helpful to relieve common pregnancy aches and pains. Happy body, happy baby!
What Is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal Yoga offers a healthy approach to exercise during pregnancy. It allows a pregnant person the opportunity to slow down and connect with their body as it transforms, as well as with their growing baby. This multifaceted approach to exercise encourages the body to stretch and move.
Moving the body helps to keep the joints lubricated, keeps the lymphatic system optimal, as well as all the other metabolic processes in our bodies; encouraging healthy development of your baby.
Research shows us that through movement, breathwork, and mental centering we are able to enjoy the many benefits of yoga during pregnancy, and postnatal recovery; such as improved sleep, reduction in stress and anxiety, increased strength, flexibility and endurance, and a decrease in common pregnancy ailments, such as lower back pain, hip pain, round ligament pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath.
Before you begin any new exercise regime during pregnancy, it is safest to get the approval of your physician/healthcare provider. There are some reasons, such as an increased risk of preterm labour or heart disease, which could cause further complications and therefore certain exercises are to be avoided. It is also important to pace yourself and stay hydrated. If you experience any vaginal bleeding, decreased fetal movement or contractions during prenatal yoga, stop and contact your healthcare provider.
Contraindications For Yoga During Pregnancy
It is important to avoid certain prenatal yoga poses, such as anything involving belly compression or internal twisting that crunch or squishes your uterine area. As your pregnancy progresses, use props during postures to accommodate changes in your centre of gravity.
Only stretch as far as you did before pregnancy. In preparation for childbirth, your body releases a hormone called relaxin, whose prime goal is to relax the ligaments in the pelvis and soften and widen the cervix. Interestingly, this hormone doesn’t only act on the cervix and pelvis – it’s a systemic hormone, which means that it acts on your entire body, making you more flexible than you used to be.
However, don’t take this as permission to bend into a pretzel if you weren’t quite this flexible before – it’s best to only stretch as far as you used to stretch pre-pregnancy, so you don’t injure your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Lastly, it is recommended to avoid any “hot yoga” classes during pregnancy so that you don’t increase your core body temperature – always practice yoga in a well-ventilated space.
Yoga Poses For All Trimesters
Downward Facing Dog
This pose is wonderful for pregnant people practicing yoga as it is a good stretch for the entire back of the body from head to toe. Downward Facing Dog is also considered a yoga inversion because the head is below the heart and the heart is below the hips. Inversions help to bring oxygenated blood to the brain.
- Begin on hands and knees in the “Table Top” position
- Exhale as you tuck your toes and push your hips back towards your heels. On your inhalation, lift your hips to the sky with straight arms and straight legs. Be aware that there is a soft bend in the knees
- If you are in your second or third trimester, it can often feel much more comfortable to have the stance wider. Just make sure that when you look back at your feet you are looking at your toes.
The pigeon pose is a hip opener that helps to keep hips strong and flexible for labour and delivery. Sitting for prolonged periods of time will result in tight hip flexors, and Pigeon Pose is really great at opening those tight muscles up.
- Begin in table top position or a low lunge position, moving the right foot in front and the left leg extended behind you.
- Place one block under your right hip. Roll onto the block to ensure that it is supporting the hip. The block will allow for additional space around the pelvic area. Blocks are a great way to lift the floor up to meet your forearms so you can safely keep your belly above the floor at all times.
- Slowly, toe-heel move your right foot over to the left side until your right lower leg is at a 90-degree angle.
- Enjoy several deep breaths then change sides.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
This pose provides a deep stretch for the inner thighs and a gentle stretch for the lower back; it’s also calming to the nervous system. It’s very similar to a downward-facing dog, but with wider legs.
- Begin seated on the floor with a folded blanket under your sit bones.
- Open your legs into a wide straddle position around the bolster. Feel your sit bones pressing down into the folded blanket, with your knees and toes facing the sky.
- Lengthen through your spine on an inhalation, and on an exhalation, hinge at your hips and gently fold forward into a supported forward bend. You can have your forearms resting on blocks
Sitting with legs bent and feet together, begin to flap your thighs and allow the dynamic movement to pump fresh blood to your reproductive organs/baby. This pose may also be great for anyone trying to conceive.
- Begin by sitting cross-legged on the floor. Position yourself in such a way that the soles of your feet touch each other and your knees are slightly bent outwards.
- Try to pull your feet as much as possible, with both your hands holding your feet, towards the pubic area and find a tall, straight spine.
- Breathe out and move your folded knees up and down (like a butterfly flaps its wings) and try to touch your knees on the ground (do not try too hard in case you are unable to touch your knees on the ground).
- Repeat the same process fifteen to twenty times.
This pose sequence helps to strengthen and maintain flexibility in the lower back and abdomen. This sequence is a very gentle way to warm the core muscles and lubricate the spinal tissues.
- Begin on all fours with hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart (“Table Top”), or wider, depending on the size of your belly.
- Exhale and gently round the spine to squeeze the pelvic floor and tuck it under the body.
- Inhale through/into table top, lifting the breastbone and the coccyx (tailbone) toward the sky as you softly contract in your lower back.
Bird Dog Pose
This pose is great for core strength (Transverse Abdominus muscles, obliques, lower back muscles) and is also beneficial for balance training. This gives you a long line of energy extending in two directions (front and back), like the arrow on a compass. Strengthening these areas really helps to alleviate pregnancy aches in the lower back area.
- Begin on all fours with hands shoulder-width apart and knees hips-width apart.
- Inhale and lift your left arm and your right leg to the height of the hip.
- Find length in the back of your body as you reach the front hand away from the back foot and feel a gentle lift in the abdomen, as though you are wrapping the baby with your ribs so that there is muscular support in your core.
This is a nice counterpose to hip openers or any external rotation of the hips. Also, a balanced way to rotate hips in reverse and both externally (front leg) and internally (back leg). This pumping sensation in the body, through the movement of the larger muscles, will help to flush lymphatic fluid and reduce swelling of the legs during pregnancy.
- Start by sitting in Butterfly on the floor, then swing your right leg back behind you, bringing the foot behind your hip.
- Position the front leg by moving the foot away from you. Try to make a right angle with the front knee.
- Move the back foot away from your hip until you start to feel like you are tipping away from that foot. Keep both sitting bones firmly rooted to the ground.
Legs up the Wall
The main benefit of the Legs-Up-the-Wall pose is deep relaxation, which helps with stress relief. This pose is also great for alleviating tired legs, calming the mind, relieving cramping, and backaches. It helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and allows the body a chance to rest and repair. The best part is the fact that laying in this manner will allow for gravity to pump the fluids through your body and help the body work optimally.
- Place a bolster pillow up against a wall and sit with your hip touching the wall.
- Lay down sideways and swing your legs up the wall. Placing the pillow under your lower back/hips to elevate the lower torso.
- Stay here for at least 5 mins.
- When you’re ready to come out, just roll to the side, pause for a moment or two just like you would after Savasana, and use your hands to slowly bring yourself upright again.
Supported Garland/Squat Pose
This pose assists with the ability to squat, which is sometimes a position chosen for labour and delivery. The pose also helps improve the range of motion of the hip joints. This grounding pose is best practiced in the third trimester with blocks under sit bones to support the pelvis and prevent any premature pelvic pressure.
- Step the feet a little wider than hip-width and turn the toes out at a 45-degree angle, hands at the heart.
- Squat down until your hips are hovering above the floor. Try to keep from collapsing into the arches of your feet. If you feel any pelvic pressure then you can place blocks under your sit bones to support the pelvic floor.
This is a safe and easy way to stretch the lower back while supporting the weight of the upper body. Enjoy the feeling of traction in your spine as you find length in your lumbar and thoracic and cervical regions, as you lengthen the crown of the head away from the tailbone.
- From “Table Top” position, place your knees hip-width apart and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you.
- Slowly walk your hands forward until your torso is parallel with the ground and your heart is close to the floor.
- Contract the muscles in your thighs and lengthen your tailbone back as you reach the crown of your head forward and keep your hips high.
This pose strengthens the lower body with particular emphasis on the inner thigh and can help build strength in the core stabilisers (glutes, quads, hamstrings, abductors, inner thighs, abdominal muscles, lower back, obliques and TVA). Try hinging from the waist and folding over goddess legs to add a stretch in the lower back. Adding Eagle Arms for an even more challenging modification that will cultivate additional space in the thoracic back muscles.
- Begin standing with your feet as wide as it takes to bend your knees directly over your ankles and let your hips rotate outward so that your feet are turned out to a 45-degree angle
- Exhale as you press to standing, emphasising the strength in the inner thigh as it helps you drive back up to standing. Your abs will be lightly engaged in the movement to provide you with additional core stabilisation. Try engaging your pelvic floor muscles as you move through this dynamic pose.
Standing Lateral Stretch
This movement stretches the side body (latissimus dorsi, intercostals, obliques). Enjoy the feeling of lengthening in the side body and remember that the little muscles between your ribs help you to enjoy deep breathing. Imagine that you can breathe even deeper into the right lung as you bend to the left, and vice versa.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and sweep your arms overhead. Interlace your fingers, reverse your palms and press to the sky.
- On an inhalation, lengthen through the spine and reach up actively through the arms. On your exhalation, reach over to the left as though you were bending up and over a large beach ball so that you don’t collapse the side of your body.
- Take five deep breaths on the left and then return to the centre to establish balance. Then do the other side.
Prenatal Yoga Poses For Relieving Common Pregnancy Ailments
Yoga Poses For Lower Back Pain
Practice poses that strengthen the core stabilizer muscles – these include your glutes, quads, hamstrings, abductors, inner thighs, abs, lower back, obliques and transverse abdominis. For stretching, you want to practice postures that fold you from a flat back, with hips externally rotated to allow space for your belly. An example of this would be the Wide Leg Forward Fold.
Yoga Poses For Swollen Feet
To alleviate swelling, remember to stay hydrated (it’s counterproductive, but trust us on this!) With yoga poses, you want to find ways to pump the fluids that are being retained in your body.
Dynamic movement is key to a happy lymphatic system. Inverting your legs allows the weight of gravity to drain the fluid to the core and helps to flush the body’s natural system.
If you love the feeling of having your legs up the wall or of leg inversions in general, it is recommended that you elevate your hips with a pillow or blocks, as the weight of your baby may cause pressure on the inferior vena cava (and other major pathways in the body), which may affect the return of blood to your heart. Ex. Legs Up the Wall.
Yoga Poses For Sore Hips
The hip flexors are the muscles at the top of your thighs that allow you to lift your knees and bend at the waist. Practice hip-opening stretches that target the inner thighs, hips, and groin.
This pose not only helps widens your hips but also helps you prepare for labour. Examples of such postures are; Butterfly pose, the Pigeon pose, and Garland/Squat Pose.
Yoga Poses For Shortness of Breath
Practice movements that stretch the side body (latissimus dorsi, intercostals, obliques). Enjoy the feeling of lengthening in the side body and remember that the little muscles between your ribs help you to enjoy deep breathing. Imagine that you can breathe even deeper into the right lung as you bend to the left, and vice versa. (Ex. Standing Lateral Stretch)
Join Us for Prenatal YogaToday
Remember, stretching and strengthening your body during pregnancy helps protect your freedom of movement and prevent muscle injury. It’s important to keep your muscles and joints lubricated, strong and flexible. This is the secret recipe for an easier pregnancy, labour, and postpartum recovery period.
Learn more about our yoga classes – we’d love for you to join us!