Pregnancy is a time where expectant mothers are experiencing more stress than usual: discomfort from morning sickness, pelvic pain from the loosening of connective tissues, and fear about the upcoming labor and delivery process. The third trimester can be especially difficult for women who want to continue to work out to keep their stress levels down, but feel their core strength and energy waning.
This is exactly the time to make prenatal yoga (and postnatal yoga!) a daily practice. Yoga during pregnancy — whether in a yoga studio with a yoga instructor, in a prenatal yoga center, or in the comfort of your own home — is relaxing, rejuvenating, and healthy for you and baby.
If you’re really inspired by yoga, and already have a solid practice, join me in my online yoga teacher training! It’s personalized, powerful, and includes a prenatal yoga module.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Prenatal yoga can benefit your pregnancy and childbirth process in a ton of positive ways.
You can strengthen your pelvic floor, practice breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that will help with labor and delivery, gain strength and flexibility that will benefit a vaginal birth, and reduce some of the discomforts many women experience during postpartum recovery.
Yoga during pregnancy can also help strengthen your rectus abdominus muscles (or your abs) making recovery (nad getting back to your work out) faster and easier. The birthing process is hard on your body, mind, and spirit, and the yogic breathing exercises and relaxation techniques taught in prenatal yoga classes can significantly benefit your postpartum wellbeing.
Best Prenatal Yoga Poses
I’ve compiled the best yoga poses that I not only teach to mothers in my prenatal yoga course but also used religiously during my own pregnancy and childbirth. These deep, rejuvenating stretches help you relax your connective tissues at the hips bringing strength and flexibility to the body, while also deepening your yogic breathing.
1. Side stretch (Parsva Urdhva Hastasana)
From standing or Mountain Pose, place your right foot behind the left, and reach your right arm up and over. Reach through and extend through the right fingertips, keeping the fingertips active. Let your right ribs expand and move up on a diagonal to the corner of the room.
You’re really waking up the interconnective tissue here. I’ve found that the side body can get so tight, especially in the later trimesters when side-sleeping is the only comfortable way to relax! You can stretch on each side for five to six breaths, to really awaken your side body.
2. Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) or Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
From a standing position, roll down gently until your hands meet the floor. Step back one leg at a time, letting your hamstrings gently open, aiming the sitbones back and up to the ceiling.
Take five breaths here, breathing into the back of the legs, relaxing the heels into the floor. Try to keep inhales and exhales equal length.
If you’re feeling nauseous from morning sickness, tired, or you’re later in your pregnancy, modify to puppy pose: Bringing your knees to the mat, stack your hips over the knees. Let the chest fall to the floor while you reach your arms forward. Breathe into the back of the heart. This is a great pose to add into postnatal yoga as well, for when you’re not feeling at your best.
3. Modified Cow pose (Bitilasana) and Cat pose (Marjaiasana)
From tabletop position with shoulders over wrists and his over knees, come into Cow pose by inhaling and opening the heart forward. Draw baby up and in, and think about expanding across the upper chest, instead of letting lower back stretch. The low back barely moves — this is an upper chest expansion instead of fully letting belly and baby sag to the floor.
Then exhale, round the lower back and shoulders, and draw baby in. Drop your head to the floor as you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as you round. This is a deep stretch as you squeeze and find strength in your kegel muscles. This will help you avoid later pelvic pain!
Move gently back and forth between Cat and Cow three to four times.
4. Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana), with variations
From the tabletop position, step right foot to the outside of the right hand, and let the left knee drop to the mat. Let the pelvis drop, allowing the hips to open. Rock side to side, shifting weight and pelvis forward, pressing hands into the floor and opening the chest gently. You can be on then hands, or come onto your elbows here; whatever feels good. Taking two or three breaths here.
From here, you can walk your hands over to the left side of your mat to get a sidebody stretch that is truly relaxing.
Bringing your hands back to inside the front foot, press the hips back so more weight is on your back knee. Walk the hands forward, spreading the fingers wide, keeping your front knee at a ninety degree angle and letting the head bow down. Breathe into the lower back here, letting it get wider with breath. Think of the lower back rounding, finding length through the spine and lengthening the tailbone back.
5. Earthbound warrior II pose – Virabhadrasana
Bringing torso up, still on the knees, come up into Earthbound warrior 2 shape. You’re bending deeply into front knee at a 90 degree angle, with your back shin coming into a parallel shape with the back of your mat. Reach your right arm up and over, taking left hand to the thigh (or even to the floor or a block if you have a lot of range of motion). Activate your core strength here!
Open through the side body again, slowly and gently. You can keep the range modified and still get a lot out of this pose by really stretching the fingers.
6. Squat – Malasana
Roll your mat up halfway (or more, if your mat is thinner) to start. Place the heels on the folded part of the mat, balls of the feet on the lower part of the mat. Widen your stance so you have a lot of stability.
Inhale from standing, bringing hands up and through prayer position, then imagine you are sliding down a wall as you drop down into squat, with your elbows inside of your knees. Try not to stick your seat out. Drop your palms to the mat and shift your weight into your palms, let the head drop, and then roll up genty and slow through the spine back up to standing. Repeat up to 15 times.
Add some intention if you’d like! Cultivate gratitude for your belly and baby each time you see them, and greet the day with your arms up. This a great pose for strengthening and lengthening pelvic floor and leg muscles you’ll need for labor and delivery during a vaginal birth.