Prenatal Yoga: My Top Postures for Pregnancy

Kaelie Harris- RYT 200, Doula


Yoga is a great way to stay healthy, relieve aches and pains, and learn about your body in preparation for childbirth. Some benefits to prenatal yoga include increased strength, decreased stress, and improved sleep. As with any exercise plans during pregnancy, it is important to speak with your care provider before beginning to make sure that there are no underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by practicing yoga.


When practicing yoga while pregnant, it is important to remember that the body is producing a hormone called relaxin, which allows the pelvis to open during labor. Relaxin relaxes the ligaments of the body and can cause hyper-flexibility. Be mindful of this as you practice yoga to avoid over stretching. It is also extremely important to listen to your body. If something feels wrong, don't do it. I would recommend taking at least one in person class with a trained yoga instructor to make sure you have correct form before beginning an at home practice.



While not exactly a posture, breathing is a hugely important aspect of both yoga and labor and delivery. I urge my students to practice different types of breath work to connect to their practice as well as to utilize during uncomfortable contractions and pushing. It is also beneficial during times of stress and anxiety. As a starting off point with breath work, I recommend Ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi Breathing is commonly used in yoga practice. This breath should be both relaxing and invigorating. To practice Ujjayi, breathe through the nose, taking a deep breath. Release the breath while constricting the throat, so that a whooshing sound is made. Once you are used to this, try constricting the throat on the in breath. This breathing should sound like the waves of the ocean, though some people compare the sound to Darth Vader. This breathing technique can be done while in meditation or yoga practice, or even while in labor.



Garland Pose

Garland Pose, also called Malasana, is one of my favorite postures for prenatal practice. This squat is a hip opener that releases tension in the hips and back. It also strengthens the legs and helps prepare the pelvis for childbirth. It is also a great option for pushing during labor, as gravity allows the baby to come down. Practicing this posture during pregnancy can help ease pregnancy pain, strengthen the lower body and and open the hips and pelvis. Contraindications: low back or knee injury.


How to do Garland:

  • Start with the feet hip width apart. 

  • Sink down into a squat with the hands at heart center.

  • If needed, widen your stance to accomodate your belly.

  • Toes can be pointed out or at the corners of the mat.

  • Heels should be touching the mat.

Modifications:

  • If heels do not touch the mat, slide a folded blanket under heels.

  • You can use a block or bolster under hips for support if it is uncomfortable to stay in this position.

  • You can do this postion against a wall for extra support.


Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is a great pregnancy stretch, especially if you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain. Sciatic nerve pain can be caused by a tight piriformis, which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.  Pigeon can help to stretch the piriformis and take pressure off of the nerve. Pigeon also helps to open the hips and stretch the thighs. It can help to release tension in the lower back. This posture can be modified in many ways to make it more accessible or to to increase the stretch. Contraindications: knee injury or Sacroiliac issues.


How to do Pigeon:

  • Start in table top or downward dog.

  • Bring the right knee toward right wrist and right ankle towards left wrist, so that the shin is diagonal on your mat. The straighter the shin is, the deeper the stretch.

  • Straighten the left leg behind you, slide it back and square the hips.

  • Stretch torso forward until desired stretch is achieved.

  • Optional (advanced): bend the left knee, bring the foot up and grab the left foot with the left hand, twisting the torso toward the left.

  • Repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

  • It is important that the weight is distributed evenly through the hips, so if it is uncomfortable, you can slide a block or stacked blankets under the hips to keep them even and give extra support.

  • This posture can also be done while seated in a chair, knees bent. Bring right ankle to left thigh with knee bent and lean forward.


Bound Angle Pose

Bound Angle pose is a great pose for stretching the hips and groin area, both of which tend to become tight during pregnancy. It can reduce low back pain and pressure in the groin from the growing uterus. This is a great pose to do at the end of your practice after more strenuous postures. Contraindications: knee or groin injury.


How to do Bound Angle:

  • Start seated with your legs in front of you.

  • Bring the soles of the feet together and pull them in towards the groin, far enough to feel a stretch but keeping them far enough away that the knees stay fairly level with the hips.

  • Hands can go to the feet, the knees, or next to the hips.

  • You may lean forward for a deeper stretch, making sure to leave enough room for your belly and keeping the back straight.

Modifications:

  • If tight hips or groin, use folded blanket under the hips for more elevation.

  • You can do a restorative version of this pose by reclining back onto a bolster.


Goddess Pose

Goddess pose helps to open the hips and stretch the groin while also strengthening the quadriceps and inner thigh muscles. There are different arm variations with this pose, so it is easy to create a gentle flow. Contraindications: hip, groin or leg injury.


How to do Goddess Pose:

  • Start standing with the legs far apart.

  • Turn the toes out, making sure that the knees are facing the same direction as the middle toes.

  • Sink the hips down in line with the knees.

  • Bring the hands to heart center.

Variations:

  • Clasp hands behind back, opening the chest.

  • Bring the right forearm to the thigh and bring the left arm up by the ear, bending to the right. Repeat on the left.

  • Bring the arms straight up by the ears, keeping shoulders down.


Cat/Cow Pose

Cat/Cow pose flows between an arched, rounded back (cat) and a flexed spine (cow). This posture links the movement with the breath, which can reduce anxiety and tension. Cat/Cow stretches the spine and can help with back pressure and pain. This is also a great flow to do during labor and can help make room for baby to get into a better position. Contraindications: if neck injury, keep head in line with body.


How to do Cat/Cow:

  • Start on hands and knees with the wrists, elbows and shoulders in line and perpendicular with the floor.

  • Knees should be directly under the hips.

  • On your inhale bring the head up and pull the belly button down toward the floor.

  • As you exhale, tuck the chin to the chest and pull the belly button up toward the spine, rounding the back and tucking the tailbone.

  • Repeat for a few rounds of breath.

Modifications:

  • If neck hurts, keep in line with body.

  • In later stages of pregnancy, cow may be uncomfortable. In this case, lower to table top instead.

  • Cat/Cow can also be done in a seated position.


I recommend beginning any yoga practice with meditation and end with Svasana. Meditation is a great time to work on your breathing and take some time to connect with your baby. For Svasana, find a comfortable position on your side. Allow your eyes to close, releasing any tension you are holding in your body and allow the mind to clear. Practice being still and find a place of rest.



Resources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org

https://nacams.org/yoga/

https://www.yogajournal.com

https://yogainternational.com


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