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This post is not written by a physician and should not be perceived as medical advice. Before beginning any exercise/yoga regimen, please consult your doctor.
The miracle of pregnancy can bring with it discomfort, which for many women includes joint and muscle pain. Fortunately, prenatal yoga can help to alleviate some of the discomforts of pregnancy, and help expectant mothers stay strong and prepare for childbirth. But if you’re practicing yoga during pregnancy, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Things to Avoid while Pregnant
The things that need to be avoided will vary by person, and they also change throughout the course of pregnancy.
One of the top things most pregnant women should avoid is twisting, especially “closed” twists like revolved triangle and half Lord of the Fishes pose, which compress the abdomen. Deep backbends also need to avoided during pregnancy, because they create an excessive stretch across the abdominals.
In addition, pregnant yogis should avoid crunching the abdomen, including abdominal exercises done on the back, which can contribute to diastasis recti. Lastly, pregnant women should avoid lying flat on their back for extended periods of time, including in savasana, happy baby, and other reclined poses. Many will also want to avoid lying flat on their stomach and skip poses like low cobra and sphinx.
While this might seem like a lot of restrictions, pregnant women can enjoy a robust yoga practice using the many poses better suited to pregnancy and some specific prenatal modifications.
Prenatal Yoga Modifications
Though there are some common yoga postures that pregnant women cannot safely practice, a number of them can be easily modified for pregnancy. These are typically the poses you’ll find labeled as “prenatal yoga poses” or “maternity yoga poses”.
Practicing sun salutations presents several issues for pregnant women, as Chaturanga and upward facing dog should generally be avoided. However, students can take tabletop or modified plank (with knees on the mat) instead, and also have the option of doing a modified push-up instead of Chaturanga. This sequence won’t provide a back bend like a standard flow, but it does work the upper body and core.
Most pregnant women will want to practice plank pose with their knees, instead of feet, on the mat. That said, all types of modified planks are suitable for pregnant women, including side plank and forearm plank. If you have concerns about Diastasis Recti though, these should be done in moderation.
Downward Facing Dog
This pose is the source of some controversy in prenatal yoga, though the prevailing thought is that it’s generally safe. Of course, it should be avoided if it’s uncomfortable or if a doctor has warned against it, in which case tabletop and puppy dog pose make good alternatives.
While deep backbends like wheel are not safe during pregnancy, supported bridge pose is an good option for most pregnant women. With the feet planted on the mat, place a block or bolster under the sacrum to enjoy a very mild back bend.
This pose is usually practiced in a supine position, but it doesn’t have to be. Pregnant women can prop themselves up on their forearms and take figure-four with the bottom foot planted on the floor.
Dedicated yogis may be disheartened to not be able to practice regular savasana during pregnancy. However, pregnant students can enjoy similar benefits by taking savasana on the left side; placing a bolster or cushion between the knees will provide additional comfort.
Best Prenatal Yoga Poses
Fortunately, there are also many yoga poses that expectant mothers can safely practice without modification.
Since many pregnant women experience back pain, the stretching and lengthening of the spine that happens in cat/cow can feel especially good.
As long as they’re sitting up on a cushion or blanket, pregnant women can practice many seated poses like sukhasana, butterfly, and head-to-knee pose.
Lunges and Standing Poses
Other than those with a twist, lunges and standing poses are great to practice during pregnancy. Most pregnant women find low lunge, lizard, crescent lunge, warrior I, warrior II, and extended side angle comfortable to practice. Chair pose and balancing poses like tree and warrior III are also suitable.
Goddess pose is practiced relatively rarely, but the wide stance and neutral spine position make it an ideal pose during pregnancy.
More Pre-Natal Tips
In addition to making modifications and avoiding certain positions, pregnant women should take some other precautions to make their practice safer and more comfortable.
The most important thing is to take it fairly easy. Pregnancy is not the time to push your body to its limits. Pregnant woman should pay careful attention to how they feel, and should feel free to take breaks and drink water at any point. Practicing in cool, dry environments is ideal when pregnant, and heated yoga should be avoided. While experienced yogis often choose to continue with regular classes and make their own modifications, if you’ve never practiced yoga before, sticking with specialized pre-natal yoga classes is a better idea.
Because pregnancy releases the hormone relaxin, which increases flexibility, it’s important to be careful about overstretching. Excessive stretching can lead to pulled muscles and ligaments, so pregnant women should focus more on strength and stability in their yoga practice.
In addition to the specific modifications listed above, pregnant women may want to make some slight adjustments to other poses. Taking a wider stance in standing poses can help with comfort and stability, as will using one hand to support the belly. Elevating the hips on a cushion or blanket also makes seated poses more comfortable.
Lastly, pregnant women will benefit from including wrist stretches in their practice. Weight-bearing poses like tabletop and modified plank can cause increased wrist pain during pregnancy, and a few simple stretches for the wrists and forearms will help alleviate it.
Of course, every woman and every pregnancy is different. Some yogis may find themselves perfectly comfortable doing poses that are cautioned against, while others may need to make more modifications than normal. The most important thing is to practice in a way that’s comfortable and that your doctor is on board with. While practicing yoga during pregnancy might feel intimidating, it can be done in a way that’s not only safe but also beneficial, even if you’ve never done yoga before.
For more pregnancy related exercise tips, check out this post!
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