Practicing yoga during pregnancy can be extremely beneficial. According to American Pregnancy, prenatal yoga offers women the opportunity to develop breathing and relaxation techniques that can be used during labor, however practicing can also help in the months leading up to a due date. Practitioners report improved sleep, reduced stress, and a reduced risk of preterm labor.
Prenatal yoga classes also offer a “kula,” or what is known in Sanskrit as a community of the heart, an intentional community. With the support of both loved ones and a yoga community consisting of both pregnant and not pregnant women and men, prenatal yoga practitioners can feel a sense of support on many different levels.
As pregnancy progresses, aches and pains, a disturbed sense of balance, and lack of strength may increase due to the enlarged belly. However, practicing with a trained prenatal instructor can help you gain strength, reduce pain, and most importantly, reduce stress.
Below are some prenatal asanas (poses) that will help you gain strength, open the hips, and reduce stress. Or course, it’s important to speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise. Note that for pregnant women, twists, abdominal exercises, holding the breath, lying on the back, or hot yoga are not recommended. Additionally, remember to listen to your body, as a pose that may have felt great yesterday may not work for you today.
Opening the Hips
Pregnant women may find that they can stretch just a touch further thanks to the increased amount of relaxin in the body, which loosen joints as well as promote milk production, muscle contractions, with the side effect of heartburn.
When stretching, it’s important to engage the muscles so as not to over stretch (even though it’s tempting to touch your head to the ground!) A posture that allows you to both open your hips while engaging the pelvic floor and mulabhanda is Malasana, or “Garland Pose.” Bring your feet wider than hip width apart, toes turned out. Bring your hands to heart center as you slowly bend your knees, bringing your hips closer to the floor. Squeeze your hands together as you push your elbows into your inner thighs. Lengthen your tail bone down as you reach the crown of the head towards the sky. The opposing actions will help you lengthen your spine. If this is uncomfortable, you can sit on blocks or if your heels don’t touch, roll a blanket underneath them.
I’ve found that many pregnant women feel they have a lack of space, especially in between their lower ribs and their hips. To create a feeling of more space in the torso, practice Trikonasana, or “Triangle Pose.” By lengthening through the side body, engaging the core, and rooting down through the legs, you’ll feel like you can fit a human being in that belly!
Step your right foot back into a lunge so that your front knee is bent over your ankle. Then lower the back heel so that the foot is parallel to the front of your mat with toes slightly pointing at an angle toward the front of the mat. Straighten your front knee so the hips are now squared toward your right. Extend your arms to the sides, open the palms toward your right, and as you root down through your feet, lean towards the front of your mat as your right hip pushes backward. Release the left hand to the outside of the left foot so that it’s directly underneath the shoulder. Use a block or stay up on the fingertips. Lean back by engaging the core and expanding through the chest and torso. Repeat on the other side.
When you’re pregnant, your breath is not only supporting you, but also your unborn child. A relaxed pranayam practice, or “breathing practice,” can not only help reduce stress, but can come in handy during labor. One of my favorite breathing practices is Nadi Shodana, or “Alternate Nostril Breathing.” It helps balance the body and calm the mind, perfect for when you’re stressing about what the future holds.
Begin in a comfortable seated position, spine tall, shoulders relaxed. Bring your peace fingers (index and middle) to your forehead. Close your right nostril and breathe in through your left to a count of four, then close your left nostril and breathe out through your right to a count of four. Next, inhale through your right nostril, close it, and breathe out through your left. Continue switching nostrils and finish with an exhalation from the left nostril.
Finally, savasana has never tasted sweeter than when you’re pregnant. However, it’s important to modify this final relaxation pose for moms-to-be. Place a low block close to you, then another block higher behind it. Rest a bolster along the blocks and lean back. You can also place another bolster underneath the knees for additional support. (Lying on your back after the fourth month is not recommended as it puts pressure on the vena cava, a main vein, which if compressed can interfere with circulation.)
As always, listen to and respect your body, especially as it grows and changes during and after pregnancy.
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