What Can Pregnancy Yoga Do for You?
If you're thinking of rolling out your mat for pregnancy yoga, here's what you need to know before starting your practice, plus 5 key prenatal poses to try at home.
Whether you're a seasoned yogi or you've never uttered the word "om" before, pregnancy yoga can help you stay active with your baby bump. "Practicing yoga during pregnancy is the perfect gentle yet effective way of preparing for the demands of childbirth," says Rebekah Borucki, a birth doula, yoga and meditation guide and TV host.
Prenatal yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety, meaning a healthier pregnancy for you and baby. It offers other health benefits, as well. For example, the diaphragmatic breathing and gentle repetitive movements of pregnancy yoga help circulate your blood and balance your digestive system, says Beth Donnelly Caban, a registered nurse and prenatal yoga teacher.
What Happens In Prenatal Yoga Class?
Poses are modified to protect you and your growing belly and bring awareness to your posture in a pregnancy yoga class. "That kind of mindfulness can prevent, minimize or relieve many of the common pregnancy discomforts," says Caban. You'll focus on restorative poses, promoting relaxation in body and mind. Most classes also offer a chance for expecting mamas to share how they're feeling that week within a supportive environment.
Before you unroll your mat, make sure to get your health care provider's OK. If you haven't practiced yoga before, go slowly and consider private lessons, advises Christine Chen, a yoga instructor and author of Happy-Go-Yoga. If you have an existing practice, avoid poses that feel too challenging or are uncomfortable.
While there are few precautions during your first trimester, remember your body is changing dramatically, so take it easy. Caban says your second trimester is a great time for a pregnancy yoga practice that balances strength, alignment and movement, since you've most likely left the morning sickness behind and your energy has returned. Let your body be your guide and modify your poses. For example, Chen suggests taking a wider stance to accommodate your belly and bending your knees in forward folds. Avoid closed twists and positions where you are on your back or belly, she says.
During your last trimester, your larger belly makes balancing postures challenging. Your muscles and ligaments continue to soften in preparation for labor so be careful of over-stretching.
5 Key Prenatal Yoga Poses
- Cat Stretch
Begin on hands and knees. Curl your spine like a cat arching its back. This promotes spinal fluidity and strength and encourages good fetal position for birth according to Caban. While cat stretch is usually paired with cow pose, Caban notes that cow pose can accentuate the curve in your lower back that is already common in pregnancy. Focus on the rounding movement shown in the video.
- Child's Pose
Begin on hands and knees. Widen your knees to accommodate your belly. Draw your hips back toward your heels and drape your torso over your thighs, resting your head on the ground or a pillow. Place your arms alongside your body. This pose stretches your spine and pelvic floor muscles.
- Goddess Pose
Goddess pose strengthens your legs, back and core and is safe throughout pregnancy. Stand with your feet apart and toes turned out slightly. Gently tuck your tailbone, bend your knees and squat. Bring your hands together in front of your heart and breathe.
- Side-Lying Savasana
This is a great alternative to savasana when you can't lie on your back. Lay on your left side. Place pillows under your head and between your knees to keep your cervical spine and pelvis aligned. You can place a pillow in front of you to support your top arm and shoulder.
- Reclined Bound Angle Pose
This pose helps you relax and opens your hips. Place one block on its highest height toward the back of the mat and one on its middle height in front of the first block. Rest a bolster over the blocks, creating a gentle slope. Sit with your lower back flush with the bolster. Bring your feet together and knees apart. Roll a blanket, wrap it over the top of your feet and tuck it under your shins. Slowly recline on the bolster, taking any additional props or pillows to make yourself comfortable. If you don't have yoga props, you can use pillows, blankets or even a couch cushion.
Remember to listen to your body. "Pregnancy is never a time to start a new or more challenging fitness routine," says Borucki. Rather than trying new things, it's a time to focus on "maintaining healthy routines," she notes.
Christine Yu is a freelance writer, yoga teacher and mom to two boys living in Brooklyn.