If you had a regular yoga practice for at least one year before getting pregnant, than this post is for you. Maintaining your yoga practice throughout your pregnancy will help you feel better physically by stretching out areas that are achy, keeping your body strong and limber, and allowing you to sleep better at night. More importantly, yoga will help you let go of stress, worry, anxiety, and will help you learn how to use your breath to stay calm, whether it is during a pose where your legs are shaking, or during your actual labor!
Pregnancy is not really the time to be trying to push new limits and explore new advanced poses. There are many classes specifically designed as “Prenatal Yoga” and will ensure that every pose is appropriate for all level students. This is a perfect option for any pregnant woman, especially beginning yogis. However for experienced yogis who may want a slightly more vigorous practice, you can easily continue practicing yoga in your regularly scheduled classes using the modifications below:
#1) Widen Your Stance
Since pregnancy can throw off your balance and center of gravity, create a more stable base by standing with feet almost mat-width apart versus together, such as in Mountain Pose.
This will also help during the transition into sun salutations, creating space for your belly during your Standing Forward Bend.
Even Chair Pose may feel better with the legs wide.
On the floor in Child’s Pose, separate the knees extra wide to allow the belly and chest to sink towards the floor.
And in seated poses, such as Seated Forward Bend, I often take a Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend since that just feels so good.
#2) Stay Off The Belly
Most classes will have students move through a Baby Cobra or Sphinx Pose, especially as part of a sun salutation. Obviously after the first half of pregnancy, it just doesn’t feel right “smooshing” the baby, so great modifications include doing Cat and Cow Pose, or if your spine and core feel strong, doing Upward Facing Dog.
Another example of a common pose in class that lies on the belly is Locust or Bow Pose. Cat and Cow Pose can again be an alternative, or some yogis who may feel comfortable in deeper backbends can do Camel Pose.
#3) Open Your Twists
As the baby gets bigger, the belly can get in the way during some twists. The general rule is to prevent the belly from compressing into another body part, i.e. usually your front or top leg. An example is in Twisting Chair, we normally bring our hands together and twist the opposite elbow to thigh. However, the belly will eventually have no room to twist, so a modification is to keep the torso upright and stay in an Open Arm Twisting Chair.
A similar example is in Revolved Crescent Lunge. Simply keep the torso upright and stay in an Open Arm Crescent Lunge Twist.
Some yogis may prefer not even twisting towards your midline, and will change the pose completely. For example, if in class the instructor says to do a Revolved Triangle, just perform a regular Triangle Pose, which opens the belly away from the rest of the body.
Similarly in any kind of Seated Twist, twist outwards to give the belly plenty of breathing room.
#4) Is Supine Right For You?
Lying on your back when pregnant is comfortable for some, and absolutely unbearable for others. Abdominal and Core Work on the back may feel fine for a few individuals, while other yogis may choose to hold a Supported Boat Pose in order to stay more upright. If either of those options are not appealing, skip abdominal work completely.
In Savasana, I prefer rolling to my left side for the last few minutes of class, but I have friends that have no issues lying on their back for 5-10 minutes. If you want to get really comfortable, take a Side-Lying Savasana. Those with access to props can try lying on your left side with a blanket underneath your head and a bolster between your legs, maybe even a blanket over your whole body and something to cover your eyes… Ahhh…
#5) Use Extra Support When Needed
At any point in your pregnancy, don’t be shy to use whatever extra support you may need. Blocks are commonly used in Prenatal Yoga classes such as during Sun Salutations when stepping back and forth from a Standing Forward Bend to Lunge.
During balance poses, it’s ok to move to a wall and allow yourself to have a little more assistance and stability. As the baby grows, our core also gets weaker. So if you are straining to keep good form in a Plank Pose, come to a Kneeling Plank and you will still work your core. In fact, the knees can always lower to the mat such as doing a Low Lunge versus a High Lunge, or during Chaturanga.
#6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) Listen To Your Body!!!
There are all sorts of recommendations for prenatal yoga “do’s and don’ts.” I am not an expert besides what I have experienced in my first pregnancy 3 years ago and what I am currently experiencing 8 months into my second pregnancy. But I do know that everyone is different and only you know what feels right and what doesn’t. All of the modifications above are safe and generally agreed upon by most prenatal yoga teachers.
However, traditionally, these would be off limits: Backbends, Jumping, and Inversions. As a yoga teacher, I would recommend avoiding all three to be on the safe side.
As a pregnant yogi currently… I admit to doing all three of these in my own practice, simply because I always move slowly, consciously, and am 100% sure of what I am doing before I do it. For the most part, if you were able to do Backbends like Wheel Pose before you became pregnant, then it is still fine to continue doing them. I personally love doing Extended Puppy Pose to stretch out my back.
Of course, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Plow Pose is an example of something that I could do before, but as my abdominal muscles and core have been disappearing these past few months, I am more and more carefully moving into Plow Pose without using any momentum, ie. swinging the legs. What we want to do is be careful not to force our bodies into a position because then we stop practicing with mindfulness and intention, and that’s where injuries could happen.
As for Jumping such as from a Standing Forward Bend into Chaturanga, continuously ask yourself how you are feeling and if it feels light and smooth, or not. That will be your answer to when you should stop jumping. And finally, Inversions… just be 100% confident that you know how to move in and out of the pose safely. OK, be 150% confident, or else use the wall, or skip them entirely.
One note about heat: Make sure the class you take is heated to a temperature you are comfortable in. Avoid becoming overheated, as this could cause additional dangers such as dizziness or even pre-term labor. Always stay hydrated before, during, and after class!
Listen. To. Your. Body.
I cannot emphasize this enough. No matter what you read or what anyone tells you, pregnancy is unique to each individual and you have to use your own intuition during your yoga practice. If it feels good, keep going! If it doesn’t feel good, stop! Let go of all ego, habits, and expectations, especially if you had a strong practice before pregnancy. Respect the changes your body is going through and approach each yoga practice with the simple intention of feeling better and staying healthy, and then let your body guide you.
Wishing you a happy, safe, and yoga-filled pregnancy!!!
All photo credits in this blog are given to Marin Power Yoga. Thank you Jamie Ginsberg for taking the time to help me not only capture this miraculous phase of my life, but also share my love of yoga with other pregnant women!