You may have heard about the benefits of prenatal yoga, but you might not be sure about trying it, or may not have gotten around to signing up. Prenatal yoga provides many physical and mental health benefits, and understanding what benefits prenatal yoga can provide, as well as how to practice safely, is important before you start.
If you aren’t familiar with the practice, you maybe wonder what yoga is, and what makes prenatal yoga different. Yoga is a Hindu philosophy that teaches the suppression of mind and body activity, in order to disconnect the self, to attain liberation. In many cultures, it has been adapted as a system of posture and poses combined with breathing techniques and sometimes meditation. Yoga is often practiced solo as a form of self-care to promote physical and mental wellness, and can also be practiced as a group.
Prenatal yoga is only different in that it is specifically designed to be practiced during pregnancy, regardless of how far along you may be. The combination of stretching, breathing, and core exercises can help relax your body and even prepare you for labor.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Better sleep – One of the many benefits of yoga is that it is relaxing and may lower cortisol levels. With lowered stress, it can be easier to slip into a peaceful sleep.
Increased strength and flexibility – The stretches and poses designed for prenatal yoga can help to strengthen your core muscles and increase flexibility. This is beneficial not only during pregnancy, but may also help you stay comfortable during labor and delivery.
Relief of lower back pain – Prenatal yoga can give you significant relief from the back pain caused by your growing bump and changing body. The movements take the tension out of your spine, as your hips tighten.
Decreased swelling – Regular movement during pregnancy can help to increase circulation, which can aid in reducing swelling or edema. It may also help to naturally lower your blood pressure.
Labor and delivery preparation – The deep breathing and meditative exercises incorporated into a yoga practice will be very useful when it comes time to deliver your baby. Studies show that slowed, intentional breathing can help with pain and stress management.
Connection with yourself and others – The practice of prenatal yoga gives your time to connect with yourself, as you work through the breathing exercises. You can take this time to think about how you are feeling, to think about (or even talk to) your baby, and to get in touch with your body.
It can also provide a connection to other pregnant mothers, and this community of peers can be a great support not only during pregnancy, but throughout the postpartum period as well.
Practicing Prenatal Yoga Safely
As with any new exercise or movement during pregnancy, it is important to discuss with your doctor before starting. If you are at high risk for premature labor, your pregnancy care provider may suggest a different type of movement.
It is currently recommended that pregnant women exercise for just about 30 minutes a day. Do not underestimate the power of short periods of movement throughout the day. You do not have to do all 30 minutes at one time. It is important to pace yourself, if any movements or positions feel uncomfortable skip or modify them. Listen to your body and moderate your practice so you don’t overdo it.
With any exercise, make sure that your space is at a comfortable temperature, to avoid overheating. Keep your water close by and make sure to hydrate throughout the activity. Hot yoga should be avoided while pregnant, as it can raise the body temperature too much.
Prenatal Yoga – Positions for All Trimesters
“Easy Pose” – Sit up straight with your legs crossed, either left or right in front (both ways work, so do what is most comfortable for you).
Benefits: This pose opens joints and brings feelings of peace.
You can modify by sitting up against a wall or placing a blanket or pillow underneath your hips.
“Down Dog”: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, as you exhale lift your knees and push your tailbone upwards.
Benefits: Stretches the back and helps bring oxygenated blood toward the brain
You can modify this move by keeping a slight bend in the knee or placing a foam block under your hands.
Warrior II: With your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, bend the front knee and turn your torso toward the bent knee.
Benefits: Opens hips and builds strength in the legs.
Seated Side Stretch: Sit comfortably, bringing one foot toward you and having the other stretched out. Raise your arm and on the exhale bend your torso toward the stretched leg.
Benefits: Opens the side of the waist, pelvis, and hips.
You can modify by sitting on a pillow or blanket, or against a wall.
“Cat/Cow” Pose: Start with your hands and knees on the ground and draw your belly up toward your back (cat pose). With an inhale, release and lift chest and gaze upward (cow pose). The movement should be slow and fluid – it is okay if you do not feel a stretch.
Benefits: Alternating between these two poses can relieve lower back pressure and pain, as well as help you get your body moving in a comfortable way.
You can modify this pose using a foam block between your knees for support.
“Legs Up a Wall” Pose – This pose is exactly how it sounds. Set your mat close to a wall, and lay on your back. Lift your legs and rest your heels on the wall, with your feet flexed toward the ceiling.
Benefits: Keeping your feet elevated while pregnant is a common suggestion, to help with swelling and to relieve achy joints.
You can modify this post by laying a pillow or bolster under you, so you are at an angle rather than flat on your back.
“Goddess Pose” or Yoga Squats – Spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. With your heels pressing into the ground, squat down towards the floor.
Benefits: Squats strengthen many of the muscles used when giving birth. This exercise also helps to open the hips and release pressure in the lower back.
You can modify with foam blocks, stacking them to provide support as you squat. A chair can be placed in front of you, to hold onto for support as you sit in the squat.
*Squats should not be done if you have a cervical cerclage, pubic symphysis pain, or vaginal varicose veins*
“Hip Circle” – With hands shoulder-width and knees hip-width apart on the floor, gently move your hips 360 degrees making a full circle. Be sure to keep a slight bend in your knees, and repeat in either direction.
Benefits: This is a dynamic stretch that opens the hips and engages the core.
You can also perform this movement by sitting on a stability or birthing ball. It is a great movement to perform during active labor and can give relief during contractions.
What to Expect from a Yoga Class
When deciding what class to take, look for an instructor who has special training in prenatal yoga. You may want to watch or observe a class before attending, to see if the instructor’s teaching style, as well as the class size and the environment, is one that you feel comfortable in.
Many instructors offer Virtual Prenatal Yoga courses that you can do online in the comfort and safety of your own home.
During the class you can expect breathing exercises, gentle movement, poses, and postures, as well as a cool down and relaxation period. The breathing exercises will help you to relax and to restore your heart rate before and after the session. You may also be encouraged to connect with your inner self, or to meditate – the instructor will guide you through and often will share a mantra or phrase to help bring inner peace.
Looking for a class?
Kiinde is proud to collaborate with small businesses and these studios offering prenatal yoga. Is one on the list is near you? If not, you can try out one of their virtual offerings!
We offer prenatal classes, postnatal classes, and women’s health coaching services. Our goal is to help take the mystery out of creating a healthy, more comfortable, and less isolating motherhood experience by providing classes, workshops, and coaching programs that are research-informed from Functional, Integrative, and Conventional health philosophies.