Essential Yoga Poses for a Healthy Pregnancy
Prenatal yoga is a great way to add exercise and mindfulness to your pregnancy journey. This may help you enjoy a more peaceful pregnancy as well as help prepare your body for labor. There are many different types of yoga, but yoga asana, or the physical postures, is the most popular type of yoga practiced in the West, and there are some definite prenatal yoga postures that can help you prepare for birth.
Among yoga asana, there are also many different styles of practice from Ashtanga yoga to hot yoga, yin yoga, restorative, and more. Each of these types of physical practice has multiple different postures that achieve different sensations and results in the body. Some would say that prenatal yoga is yet another style of yoga practice, but I disagree. Any yoga practice can be adapted for a pregnant woman, so prenatal yoga is truly a modification of any other style that someone wants to practice. That being said, there are some definite postures that are very advantageous for pregnancy and birth preparation. We’ll go through some of those now!
Safety Considerations for Prenatal Yoga
First, a brief word on safety. Prenatal yoga can be as safe as walking for most low-risk pregnancies. There are certain postures that are normally not taught, and while some teachers say they are unsafe, I believe them to be just impractical. Safety in pregnancy is such a relative and personal thing to consider. I’ve found that most pregnant women can continue doing whatever exercise they were doing before pregnancy throughout pregnancy, with modifications.
Yoga is not as invasive as other exercises such as running or weightlifting, and in my opinion, can be started by anyone in pregnancy for the first time.
The bottom line when it comes to safety is to confer with your own birth team on what is appropriate for your unique pregnancy and to learn to be in tune with your body. If you feel tired rest, if something feels too much, back off. Trusting your body will lend a hand in labor as well.
Warm-Up Poses for Prenatal Yoga
I begin most classes in a seated position with some simple seated postures to warm up the body to prepare for class. These postures are appropriate for all trimesters in most cases and can be modified or swapped out if need be. Some standard go-to warm-up postures are:
- Seated breathing practice (pranayama) – brings the mind to the present moment
- Neck and shoulder rolls – help relieve stress and tension
- Side stretches – open up the side body, relieve tension in the belly area
- Easy twist (as far as you can comfortably go) – warms up the spine
- Seated cat/cow – warms up and flexes the spine
- Table top with cat/cow – warms up the spine and abdominal muscles
- Downward facing dog – stretches and warms up the back of the legs, hamstrings and calves
- Forward fold – Open up the back of the legs further
Standing Poses for Strength and Balance
Warm-up postures in a yoga class are typically followed by a series or sequence of standing postures that help with balance and strength building. As mentioned above, almost any yoga posture can be adapted for pregnancy, but these are some standards that I teach in almost every yoga class, prenatal or otherwise:
- Sun salutation A
- Sun salutation B
- Chair pose
- Triangle pose
- Pyramid pose
- Warrior 1
- Warrior 2
- Wide-legged forward fold
Gluteus and core strength in particular are important to develop during pregnancy. As your belly grows and your weight shifts, your glutes will take over doing extra work to carry you around. Most people sit for longer than they stand these days, so our glutes are already weaker. Many of these standing postures can help strengthen the glutes, especially when held for a long time, 10 breaths or more.
The core is also important as our abdominal muscles stretch and spread out as our belly expands, growing weaker. Keeping the transverse (deep) core strong can aid in compensating for back pain as well as help in an easier recovery after birth. Core activation can be worked into any of the standing postures above.
Prenatal Yoga Poses to Open the Hips
The pelvis and hips are areas of high attention when it comes to birth prep and for obvious reasons! As the baby works their way down through the pelvic girdle or birth canal, the hips widen, the pelvis moves in multiple different ways, and then the baby emerges. The female body is made to do this amazing work as is, but the process can be made a little easier by having a balanced pelvis and flexible hips. This will allow the mother to move easily and comfortably in labor to various different positions, and a balanced pelvis will help the baby navigate this gate.
Here are some postures that may help open tighter hips and help balance the pelvis:
- Low lunge
- Lizard pose
- Gate pose
- Pigeon pose
- Head-to-knee pose
- Butterfly pose
- Heros pose
It’s important when practicing hip opening postures to focus on both external and internal hip rotation. Postures like butterfly pose can help open the top of the pelvis, where baby would engage earlier in labor, while hero pose may help open up the bottom of the pelvis, where baby engages toward the end of labor, right before emerging.
Pelvic Floor Exercises and Modifications
The pelvic floor is the group of muscles that sit in the bottom of the pelvis and will open, stretch, and relax as the baby moves through the birth canal. A tight pelvic floor can make movement more difficult for the baby, so learning to relax it and breathe into it can help with a smoother labor. There are cases of certain physical activities (such as dancing and yoga itself, as well as other high-impact sports) that can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. So tending to the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy is a must!
The following postures can help relax the pelvic floor, though this can be practiced at any time. To tighten the pelvic floor muscles, you pull up and in as if you are restricting the flow of urine. To relax them, do the opposite! These postures may help you learn to relax the pelvic floor:
- Deep squat – relaxes pelvic floor muscles downward
- Goddess pose – relaxes the pelvic floor muscles
- Yoga ball postures – massages the pelvic floor by sitting on a softer, supple surface
- Seated posture – focused breathing while relaxing the pelvic floor
Postures for Relaxation
Finally, pregnancy is like running a marathon – literally every day! Pregnant women expend about 30% more energy than your average person while growing their babies, so you can imagine how much more rest they need! These postures promote rest, relaxation, and a calmer nervous system:
- Supported reclined butterfly – use props to elevate your torso so you aren’t uncomfortable lying on your back
- Side savasana – lie on your left side to promote better digestion and an optimal position for the baby
- Supported legs up the wall – help with ankle swelling and nervous system regulating
Any yoga postures that you practice during pregnancy that feel good in your body are helping you in some way! When you practice yoga, you connect with your breath, warm the muscles, relax the nervous system and so much more. These are some examples of postures you may want to try, but any yoga class can offer a variety of additional poses.
How to Get Started Practicing Prenatal Yoga
You can practice online with me, check out my free online yoga classes here. You can also dive into a more holistic approach via my Soulful Pregnancy Journal, which includes postures, classes, philosophy lessons, and more for every week of pregnancy. You can also look on Facebook and other social media platforms for prenatal yoga classes near you!
Heal the mothers, heal the world.