Prenatal Yoga: Poses for Pregnancy, Benefits, Safety Tips

yoga for pregnancy
Image: Canva

Prenatal yoga is a gentle form of exercise that focuses on stretching, mind-calming techniques, and deep breathing especially designed for pregnant women’s bodies. It improves the baby’s health and prepares women for labor.

Pregnancy changes a woman, both physically and emotionally, with so much going on with the hormones leading to leg cramps, backache, fatigue, mood swings, and whatnot that too for the complete nine months. Besides, it is the most crucial time to take extra care of yourself for the sake of a new life growing within you.

The best possible way to stay healthy and prepare the body for the journey of nine months and even during delivery is by opting for prenatal yoga classes.

When to start yoga during pregnancy?

prenatal yoga
Image: Canva

If you’ve been practicing yoga since before pregnancy, making some tweaks and customizing some poses will be easier for you. You ideally would not have to think about making a significant change in your daily life.

You would now need to include pregnancy-specific modifications and imbibe the use of props for Prenatal yoga. You would now need to avoid poses that put pressure on the abdomen or where you have to use your core strength.

However, if you are taking trying out yoga for the first time, you might start by taking meditation classes in the first trimester. Meditation will help you stay calm and prepare your mind and body for the changes that you will go through in the coming months.

From the second trimester of pregnancy, you can take up prenatal yoga classes as the body has become strong and capable enough to practice yoga. You might have also moved past the stage of constant morning sickness and the sudden effects of hormonal changes which can make your body sensitive and weak.

Prenatal Yoga Benefits

They say that pregnancy is a magical yet overwhelming time. It is like taking a long ride on a roller coaster full of emotions, bodily changes, and a lot of discomfort and disorders.

Prenatal Yoga helps the would-be mother by providing overall health benefits. These are enough to counter the side effects and discomfort that follow the pregnancy as mentioned below:

Alleviate stress and anxiety

Yoga along with breathing practices helps relieve any physical and emotional stress or anxiety. Purposeful activity along with controlled breathing can help with depressive symptoms. Slow, rhythmic breathing stimulates the neurological system and reduces cortisol levels.

According to a study published in 2015, where 34 depressed pregnant women underwent 10-week prenatal yoga, showed that yoga can have a significant positive impact on reducing depressive symptoms.

Reduced stress can also lead to an increase in the immune system’s functionality, as proven by another study published in 2017.

A 2017 meta-analysis also concluded that hatha yoga is a promising intervention for treating anxiety.

Aids in Toning the body

Yoga poses for pregnancy involve gentle stretches that strengthen the body while promoting flexibility and endurance in pregnant women. Certain yoga poses target the pelvic region which helps prepare the body for normal delivery and avoid complications.

A study published in 2020 suggested that prenatal yoga keeps your body active and provides better results in terms of labor, delivery, and pregnancy outcomes.

In addition to reducing aches and pains throughout pregnancy, maintaining muscle tone can help in returning your body to its pre-pregnancy state following delivery.

Addresses common pregnancy complaints

Yoga can alleviate lower backache and sciatica pain during pregnancy. It is effective in lowering nausea, morning sickness, leg cramps, and swollen ankles. Mood swings, which are the cause of extreme hormonal fluctuation, can also be reduced through the secretion of endorphins.

Some women, who were obese before pregnancy, are also prone to weight gain during their pregnancy due to multiple. Yoga can be incorporated as a preventive intervention to avoid this condition, as proven by a literature review published in 2022.

Other anecdotal benefits of prenatal yoga are:

  • Enhances blood circulation throughout the body.
  • Improves the sleep cycle which usually gets disturbed during pregnancy.
  • Can aid in relieving digestive disorders.
  • Can assist in managing labor pain.
  • Reduces the risk of preterm birth of the baby.
  • Helps the pregnant woman to recover faster post-delivery.
  • Connects and builds relationships with other pregnant mothers while attending a prenatal yoga class.

Safety tips for practicing yoga during pregnancy

Although practicing yoga during pregnancy is highly recommended for staying fit and healthy, there are certain precautions to keep in mind before stepping into the practice.

  • Taking consent from the doctor keeping your health history in mind is a must-follow approach for practicing yoga for pregnancy.
  • Find a specialized class for practicing yoga for pregnancy and do not rely on yoga videos or tutorials.
  • Avoid yoga poses that involve inversion or exert stress on the body.
  • Do not overstretch the muscles that might cause injury.
  • Yoga for a pregnant lady in the third trimester must not include poses that put stress on the abdomen.
  • Also, reduce the duration of holding the poses as per your endurance.
  • Practicing yoga must be discontinued during the 10th to the 14th week of pregnancy.
  • You can always use the modification in the poses at your convenience.
  • If you have opted for IVF to get pregnant, then do not practice yoga until about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

12 Yoga Poses for Pregnancy

Pregnancy can affect each woman uniquely during all its phases. Hence, it is crucial to understand and listen to your body and recognize its limits while practicing yoga for pregnancy.

Follow this guide of different yoga poses for pregnancy classified as yoga practices for first, second, and third trimester.

5 Yoga Poses for Your First Trimester

During the first trimester, the chances of miscarriage are quite high as the fetus has just begun to grow. Hence it’s important to practice gentle poses that leave relaxing effects and helps in connecting you with a budding life within you.

Remember to avoid any pose which requires jumping, sudden movements, twists, inversions, extreme forwards and backward bending, or contraction in the abdominal and pelvis region.

Instead, perform some standing balancing poses and mild stretches that will make the initial stage of pregnancy health and prepare you for the upcoming months.

1. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)

tree pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

This is a balancing posture practiced by standing on one foot while the other foot is pressed against the standing thigh. The arms are generally raised and joined over the head which stretches the spine.

During pregnancy, you can alter this pose by taking support of the wall with your back or arms resting against it. You can also keep your lifted leg on a chair if you are not confident in keeping your balance.

Tree pose strengthens the hip, pelvic, and leg muscles. It improves the balance of the body and also strengthens lower back muscles, which can prove to be extremely beneficial in supporting your protruding belly.

Procedure

  • Stand tall on a yoga mat with the feet together in tadasana (mountain pose).
  • Spread your toes and place equal weight on your legs for proper balance and stability. Keep a folded yoga blanket under the feet for extra cushion if needed.
  • Shift the weight onto the left leg and slowly bend your knee to lift your right leg.
  • Place the sole of the right foot against the left inner thigh with toes pointing to the floor.
  • Push the right foot against the inner thigh and vice versa to maintain balance.
  • Gradually raise your arms and join them overhead. If not, then you can bring your hands in front of your chest in a namaste position.
  • Fix your gaze forward and hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.

2. Warrior Pose II (Virabhadrasana II)

warrior 2 pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

Warrior series poses are standing postures recommended during the first trimester of pregnancy to improve endurance and balance. It tones and strengthens the shoulders, lungs, and lower back while opening the hips and groins. It is also considered a pose to enhance the chances for normal delivery.

Procedure

  • Start by standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), facing the shorter end of the mat.
  • Step your left foot to the back, placing your feet firmly on the floor, and turn the toes to a 45-degree angle. The left leg should be straight without locking the knee.
  • The distance between the leg should be according to your stability and balancing capacity.
  • Bend the right knee to make a 90-degree angle so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knee is stacked over the ankle. Make sure your right heel is in line with the left foot arch.
  • Spread your arms sideways at the shoulder level keeping the spine erect and rotate the upper body, except the head, towards the right.
  • Place your gaze on the left-hand fingers and hold this pose for 3-5 breaths.

3. Cat-Cow stretch (Chakravakasana)

cat cow stretch pregnancy
Image: Canva

The cat-cow pose is a combination pose that stretches the arms, shoulders, spine, and abdominals by switching between arching and curling the back muscles.

This pose helps in pregnancy by stimulating the reproductive as well as the digestive systems that often get upset during the gestation period. Also, it makes the spine supple, thus alleviating backache.

Procedure

  • Come to the tabletop position.
  • Your shoulders should be stacked above your wrists and hips above your knees.
  • Ensure that the body weight is evenly distributed on all four limbs.
  • Inhale, allowing the stomach to dip, then push the sitting bones up, drawing the head, shoulders, and chest forward.
  • Exhale while curving your back like a cat, pulling your belly button closer to your spine and your pelvis closer to your rib cage, and dropping your head toward the floor.
  • Perform this movement slowly and gently at least 5-7 times.

4. Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)

butterfly pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

It is practiced in a seated position joining the soles of the feet and drawing them towards the groin.

The butterfly pose helps promote flexibility of the spine and strengthen the pelvis, lower back, and leg muscles. It prepared the lower body to hold the weight of the belly in later months. It also opens up the hips and thus serves as one of the yoga poses for pregnancy. It helps ease the labor.

You can sit against a wall or on a cushion to keep your back straight. Placing blocks under the knees will provide support in case you cannot keep them elevated.

Procedure

  • Sit in Dandasana (Staff pose) with a straight spine and legs stretched comfortably. To add more cushion, you can sit on a folded blanket.
  • Bend your knees while turning the soles of both feet towards each other. 
  • Bring your feet as close to your groin as possible, depending on your hip tightness and flexibility. Make sure you are not experiencing any strain or discomfort in your thighs, groin, hips, and lower back.
  • In case of any discomfort, increase the distance between the feet and groin to ease the pain and work towards decreasing that gap gradually.
  • Keep your legs relaxed so that your knees are close to the ground, if possible. If you feel a strain, keep a block or a stack of folded blankets under each knee for support.
  • Hold your feet with your hands at the ankle or your toes. Make sure your spine is not curved/bent while holding your feet.
  • Stay in this pose for 3-5 breaths or as long as you can hold the pose.

5. Side Angle Pose I and II (Konasana I and II)

Both of these yoga poses for pregnancy are standing postures practiced stretching the arms overhead and bending sideways.

Konasana is beneficial in pregnancy to stretch the spine and release any accumulated tension in the back or neck muscles. Besides this, it stretches the abdominal organs and relieves constipation which is often a symptom seen in early pregnancy.

Procedure

  • Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), facing the longer side of the mat, with your legs hip distance apart.
  • Diagonally turn your left foot inwards and point the right foot towards the shorter end of the mat. The heels of your feet should be aligned.
  • Spread your arms to the side with your palms facing down. They should be parallel to the mat and your shoulders should be away from your ears.
  • Start bending down towards your right foot from your hips, bringing your right arm down with you and your left arm moving upwards. 
  • Bend as far as you can and use a yoga block at its highest setting to place your hands on it.
  • Keep your arms in a straight line with your left shoulder should be stacked on the right shoulder.
  • Turn your head to gaze at your left fingers.
  • Hold this pose for 5 breaths and repeat the with the other leg.
  • Once you have completed the pose on both sides, do the same process with both hands stretched overhead and palms joined. Repeat the same for 5 breaths.

4 Yoga Poses for Your Second Trimester

By the second trimester of pregnancy, the body regains some of its strength, and major discomforts like excessive nausea fatigue, or morning sickness are significantly reduced.

It is the golden period of your pregnancy wherein you can practice yoga and keep your hormones in check. Also, yoga during the second trimester stimulates the circulatory and digestive system and prepares the body well for the next coming six months safely.

For your second trimester, you should still avoid all poses as you did for the 1st trimester. Additionally, poses where you have to lie on your back should be done with extreme caution or avoided altogether.

1. Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)

extended puppy pose
Image: Canva

Practicing extended puppy pose requires the practitioner to come to all fours and from there the spine is further elongated extending the arms forward and extending the sit bone upwards.

It releases the spinal tension and stretches and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles. It can prepare your body for labor and childbirth. This pose also reduces neck, back, and shoulder pain.

Stretching in an extended puppy pose is a mild inversion that calms the mind and also stretches the abdominals, thereby, relieving digestive issues.

Procedure

  • Come to a tabletop position. You can place a folded blanket under your knees for extra cushion.
  • Adjust the distance between the legs to be slightly wider than hip-width. Spread your fingers wide for better weight distribution.
  • The top of your feet will be placed directly on the ground.
  • Maintaining some pressure on your knees, walk your hands forward as far as your stability allows.
  • Bring your head to the floor and place your forehead on the ground. Here you can place a cushion, yoga block, or folded blanket as well.
  • Raise your buttocks to the ceiling and draw the pelvis forward to increase the natural curve of your lumbar spine.
  • Stay in this pose for as long as you can.
  • Move forward and backward to increase or decrease the stretch.

2. Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)

thunderbolt pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

This is a relaxing pose to increase blood flow to the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Thunderbolt pose improves digestion and reduces the chances of constipation. It also prevents one of the major complaints of pregnant women, i.e. acid reflux. It strengthens the pelvic region which will assist the mother during childbirth. It also subtly stretches and strengthens the lower back muscles to bear the weight of the expanding belly.

Procedure

  • Come to an upright kneeling position with your upper feet flat on the mat. Your legs should be placed together.
  • Place a folded blanket under the knees for enhanced cushion and support to the joint.
  • Keep your hands on the ground and lower down to place your buttocks on the heels.
  • You can keep a folded blanket between your thighs and your shins can alleviate some discomfort.
  • Bring your hands to the thighs with palms facing down and keep the back straight.
  • Hold the pose and breathe slowly for 30 seconds.

3. Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)

goddess pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

This is a standing pose that is practiced as squatting gently and slowly bending the knees slightly.

Along with opening the hips and groins, it strengthens the uterus. It is considered extremely beneficial for relieving leg cramps by improving the strength of the thighs, knees, and ankles. This pose will also strengthen the lower body muscle to bear the weight of the belly in the upcoming months.

Procedure

  • Stand straight in mountain pose.
  • Spread your legs slightly more than hip-width apart. The distance between the legs depends on your stability.
  • Place your palms on the belly or your hips for support. Turn the toes of both feet outwards at an angle.
  • You can keep your back against a wall for better support.
  • Bend down while keeping a straight spine.
  • Keep bending till the thighs are parallel to the floor and knees are stacked on top of the ankles.
  • Extend your spine and lift through the crown of the head to keep your back straight.
  • Stay in this pose for at least 3 breaths and slowly come to the original position.
  • Repeat this squat and rise motion about 5-7 times

4. Side Reclining Leg Lift Pose (Anantasana)

Anantasana - side reclining leg lift pose
Source: canva

This pose requires balancing the body on one while reclining on the floor with the head and one leg raised off the floor.

It comes in handy during pregnancy because it has relaxing effects on the abdominals and it stretches the sides of the body. It helps in making your womb a bit more spacious place for the growing baby. Lifting the leg will also open your hips and groin and strengthen your pelvic region.

Procedure

  • Lie on your right side stacking the left leg over the right. Placing a folded blanket under your belly and hips can reduce discomfort.
  • Bending your right arm to place your right elbow on the floor and rest the side of your head on the right palm. Keep the left arm by the side. You can also use a yoga block or cushion to place your head.
  • Slowly and gradually, lift your left leg as high as possible as you extend the left arm to grasp the left big toe.
  • You can use a strap if it is not possible for your to lift your leg high enough to hold. Before lying down, loop the strap on the balls of your feet and hold both ends with your left hand. Pull the strap towards you to lift your leg as far as you can.
  • Once the leg is lifted as per your convenience, remain in the pose for about 6 breaths.
  • Release the leg down slowly and repeat it on the other leg.

3 Yoga Poses for Your Third Trimester

Third-trimester yoga poses are great to get a sense of complete groundedness and control those mixed emotions. Using yoga props is highly recommended while practicing yoga poses during your third trimester.

In this stage, you need to be extra cautious of the poses you perform. Moreover, your belly will be protruded significantly making breathing slightly difficult. You need to maintain even breathing throughout the practice. You should also not practice any balancing poses, full inversions, or squats as you are prone to falling.

1. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

bridge pose pregnancy
Image: Canva

During pregnancy, you do not have to lift as if you would in the traditional practice. The lift should be as per your convenience and ease of performing the pose.

As you reach the third trimester, your pelvis and lower back are under immense pressure. Therefore, elevating the hips in bridge pose along with opening the vertebrae helps relieve some of the pressure from the pelvic bowl. The slight inversion can also give calming effects to the mind.

If you cannot lift your hips on your own, use props such as a cushion or a stack of yoga blocks to support your lower back and pelvis. Placing a folded blanket under the head and neck might alleviate some tension in the area.

Procedure

  • Lie down on your mat with your legs bent at the knees. Spread them hip-width apart and press your soles firmly on the mat.
  • Your lower legs should be parallel to each other with your knees stacked on top of the ankles. 
  • Place your arms beside you with palms facing down.
  • Engage your core and using your arms, push your hips off the mat and lift them.
  • Keep pressing down from your feet and lift your thighs, hips, lower back, and upper back. 
  • Your shoulder blades and head should be on the mat at all times.
  • Hold this position for 3-5 breaths.

2. Wide-legged Child’s Pose

This yoga pose for pregnancy allows you to dive deep into relaxing mode and helps in regaining the energy in the body. Additionally, by stretching the back muscles and relieving neck and back pain, this pose helps to reduce stress and exhaustion.

To make it a bit easier and more relaxing, a bolster can be placed underneath the head and the head is turned to the right resting the left cheek on it. It helps in easy balancing while stretching the neck and shoulders in this pose.

Procedure

  • Sit in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose).
  • Place your buttocks on your heels and the top of your feet on the floor. Make sure both your big toe is touching. You can also sit on a cushion, bolster, or yoga block to keep your spine straight.
  • A yoga block, folded blanket, cushion, and bolster can also be placed in the front to place your head.
  • Spread your knees apart such that you can easily accommodate your belly while bending.
  • Start bending forward while keeping your hands on the ground for support. 
  • Continue bending till your belly touches the ground. Bring your forehead rest on the prop you have placed. Alternatively, you can place one side of your face and change the direction after a few seconds. 
  • You can keep the arms beside the head either straight or folded.
  • Stay in this position for as long as you are comfortable.

3. Side-lying Corpse Pose (Shavasana)

Side-lying Corpse Pose
Image: Canva

This position is excellent for unwinding and resting during your third trimester and also helps to disperse extra weight around your waist. This rejuvenating pose helps you feel more relaxed and eliminates fatigue.

It also helps you relax and leave calming effects when practiced between contractions during labor.

Procedure

  • Lie down on your mat on your left side with your knees bent as much as possible. You also have the option to keep the left leg straight with the right leg bent.
  • Place a bolster or a folded blanket between your legs horizontally. A folded blanket can also be placed under the head and hips for more support.
  • Extend your left arm with palms down
  • Close your eyes and relax your body for 5-10 minutes.

Yoga Poses to avoid during pregnancy

Though prenatal yoga is in itself a gentle practice providing relaxing, energetic, and other health benefits, some poses might not be feasible to practice during pregnancy or can cause adverse effects.

Avoid the below-mentioned poses from your yoga practice while you are pregnant.

  • Do not practice twisting poses like Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, as it compresses the abdominal organs as well as the uterus.
  • Avoid deep backbends such as Wheel Pose or Bow Pose. These poses stretch the abdomen intensely and bend the back to the maximum range.
  • Avoid poses like Cobra and Locust that requires involves backbend while lying on your belly.
  • It is best to avoid inversions like headstands or shoulder stand.
  • Poses such as Boat and Plow pose also put pressure on the internal organs, especially your belly.
  • Hot yoga poses that raise the temperature of the body must be stopped/avoided while you are pregnant.
  • It is best not to engage in any such poses that involve sudden transitions or jumps.

Conclusion

Make your pregnancy journey an enjoyable time practicing yoga and helping your would-be child to enter the world safely. Yoga for pregnancy helps both the mother and child to stay healthy and strong.

Take this article as your helping guide and join the pre-natal yoga classes for staying fit during and post-delivery along with providing your child the best health that you possibly can.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many times a week should I do prenatal yoga?

The time you spend on your yoga mat depends on your health condition and the stage of pregnancy. As the pregnancy advances, the time should be reduced significantly to avoid any unfortunate events.

Typically, you can start by spending 30 minutes in your first trimester By the third trimester, the time should reduce as per your convenience, endurance, and strength to hold poses.

When should I stop prenatal yoga?

Practicing yoga must be reduced or discontinued as your due date nears. However, if you feel you can handle spending a small amount of time for prenatal yoga practice you should continue to do so but with extreme caution. Make sure you are following the dos and don’ts that come with the third trimester and always consult your doctor and yoga teacher before starting any practice.

Is Downward-facing Dog pose safe during pregnancy?

The consensus is that downward dog is considered safe, provided you have no health complications in your pregnancy. The same was also established in a 2015 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. You should just remember to hold this pose for only 30 seconds after the 30th week of your pregnancy.

However, all sorts of inversions should be avoided during the first trimester. some other conditions where you shouldn’t practice downward facing dog pose are:

  • When you have been diagnosed with high or low blood pressure.
  • you face problems with your placenta and/or have excessive amniotic fluid.
  • you are feeling nauseous, queasy, and experiencing acid reflux.
  • if you have carpel tunnel syndrome which can cause pain, numbness, and tingle in the wrists.

You must listen to your body and look for other options because safe doesn’t automatically translate to comfortable.

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