NOTE: Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a yoga practice while pregnant.
My pregnancy was a yoga practice in itself. When pregnant, I had so many expectations around what my practice “should” look like. And, I had a strong practice prior to pregnancy so did not think for a moment that I would have to modify my asana practice. From the very beginning, my pregnancy was difficult with chronic nausea and fatigue and swelling in the feet due to increased progesterone and slowed circulation. I had to practice nonattachment and surrender for nine months with so many things including refraining from favorite foods and drinks, significant shift in lifestyle and career, as well as modifying my asana practice. My practice was whittled down to basic yoga poses with restorative becoming the dominant theme. Over time, the focus of my practice shifted from physical to emotional, with an aim to develop and nurture the intuitive wisdom that would support pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond.
Why yoga is optimal for pregnant women
When your body is healthy, it provides a better atmosphere for your baby to grow and develop. Physically, a prenatal yoga practice is an amazing way to stay healthy and strong, especially with significant changes to the body due to hormonal fluctuations. From an emotional perspective, yoga supports us by turning off the rational, thinking mind and allowing the body to lead instead. Further, the connection with breath, a cornerstone of yoga, allows you to go within, dropping away from the mental chatter and gaining clarity on what really matters, especially as you traverse the magical journey of pregnancy.
Pregnancy’s effect on the body
During pregnancy, the body makes a hormone called relaxin that allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and the joints to become looser in preparation for the birth process. Muscle tissue begins to relax and joints start to loosen as early as the first trimester, allowing the uterus to stretch as the baby gets bigger. While it is important to address physical aspects with pregnancy poses first trimester, emotional fortitude during this time is equally if not more important to cultivate and nurture. With this in mind, following is a list of safe yoga poses for pregnancy. These are just suggestions and not by any means an exhaustive list of poses.
Best yoga poses for pregnancy: Basic yoga poses that emphasize building strength in the back and legs, lengthening the pelvis, and bolstering expectant mama’s sense of self and connection with her babe.
Here are a few suggestions for yoga postures that emphasize healthy prenatal exercise. These poses can be foundational for beginners just starting yoga, or poses to integrate with an already existing practice.
Safe Prenatal Yoga Poses
1. Cat-cow pose
Benefits: Helps to lengthen the spine and creates space in the upper back and stimulates the abdominal muscles. When practicing these poses, place emphasis on rounding of the upper (versus lower) part of the back.
2. Standing poses
- Warrior II pose
- Extended side angle pose
- Triangle pose
Benefits: These poses not only work to strengthen the legs, open the hips and relieve the back, but also encourage healthy circulation to prevent cramping as blood pressure starts to drop during pregnancy. Triangle creates an open twist, which relieves back pain and promote a healthy posture, especially with tendency to round shoulders and upper back due to increase in new breast tissue.
Benefits: Squats help to shorten the birth canal; baby has a shorter distance to travel when coming out of the body. Squats also help to strengthen the legs and open the hips. When doing squats, consider using a blanket, with heels on the blanket, toes off the blanket at a 45 angle. The support of the blanket maintains length in the spine and overarching in the lower back.
4. Balancing poses
- Tree pose
- Warrior III pose
- Standing half moon pose
Benefits: Similar to standing poses, these are great for building strength in the legs and increasing circulation to prevent swelling in the feet and ankles (Note: If you feel loss of balance or dizziness, consider practicing at the wall or with a chair).
5. Seated poses
- Sitting Side stretch pose
- Easy pose with twist (“Seated twist”)
Benefits: Open twists opens the sides of the waist, pelvis, and stretches the hips to create more space through the torso.
6. Hip openers (seated)
- Bound angle pose
- Wide-legged forward bend pose
Benefits: Relieves aches in the lower back, opens the hip joints, and creates space around the pelvis.
It is recommended to lie on the left side to encourage the baby into the optimum position for birth and supports the heart and blood flow. Around 34 weeks, expectant mamas should avoid lying flat on the back for any extended length of time due to the weight of the baby on the vena cava (a major vein carrying blood from the lower body to the heart). Savasana lends itself nicely to the theme of pregnancy, which is to slow down as the pregnancy progress, rest and sink into that place of stillness and relaxation.
While not considered a specific pose per se, facilitating connection with breath (think Ujjayi, alternate-nostril breathing) is powerful throughout pregnancy and a major player during childbirth. It not only facilitates the connection with physical sensations and the growing life force within, but also functions to support mindfulness as it serves as a focal point for us to come back to whenever we get sucked into the mental chatter of our minds. As if this isn’t enough, the breath also supports relaxation by slowing down the mind and body via activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (aka “relaxation response”).
The practice of yoga during pregnancy can support expectant mamas in tuning into their bodies and trusting their intuitive wisdom. Whether it’s the physical or emotional benefits you are deriving from your prenatal practice, work to stay open to the experience, living from a place of acceptance and nonattachment. Finally, self-compassion cultivated through your practice can be a pillar of strength as you traverse the many changes, both emotional and physical, that come with pregnancy and beyond.
If you would like to read more about how you can practice yoga in a healthy way during pregnancy, please read “What Yoga Poses to Avoid When Pregnant.”