Prenatal Modifications for Yoga Practice

Every pregnancy and pregnant person experiences the birth journey differently. Most individuals are able to continue a regular yoga practice through their first trimester with some slight modifications. Others really benefit from rest in their first trimester. The important thing is to turn to practices that meet your needs as your body, mind and spirit change during this deeply transformative time. The invitation is to listen in. Trust your intuition and your body is telling you something is not right, listen. 

Below you will find general gentle rules of thumb for practicing while pregnant, as well as some specific suggestions based on your trimester and the most important things to avoid or modify during pregnancy. 

Please note: It is important to discuss your mindful movement and exercise program with your doctor or midwife. 

Twists

In general, avoid strong closed twists while pregnant. A closed twist is when the legs are narrow and you are compressing in the belly. Practice open twists. This is when the legs are in a wide base in alignment with the hips, the low spine can remain long and there is no compression in the belly. Focus your twists in the upper spine.

First Trimester:

In the first trimester avoid twists below the thoracic spine. (middle and upper back) 

Second and Third Trimester:

In the second and third trimester, seek gentle open twists with no compression of the belly.  

It is good to avoid deep twists in the low spine, and any twists that compress the belly. But gentle open twists that mobilize the upper part of the spine are safe and beneficial during the second and third trimester as they are great ways to increase breath.

If you come across twists in a yoga practice:

Instead of a twist, you can use this time to align the spine tall and take 1-3 long, slow, deep breaths, then pick up after the twist.

You may also use the twist time to repeat a positive affirmation to yourself and babe, “I am flexible. I am safe. I love you.”

Core

In general, focus on core postures that tone the transverse abdominus and back and side lines of the body rather than exercises that focus on the superficial abdominal muscles. There are some safe and core strengtheners that can be done during pregnancy, based on your comfort level and where you are on your yoga journey.

If you come across abdominal core exercises in a practice like boat or plank:

You can modify with the following postures:

  • Table top position

  • Table Top with spinal balance/Bird Dog pose- opposite arm and leg extended for a few breaths.

  • Modified side plank

  • Wall plank

  • Wall push up

  • Kegels (contracting and releasing the pelvic floor)

  • You may also modify with cat cow, bird dog or child’s pose with a block or pillow under the head.

Instead of core work, you can also use this time to align the spine tall and take 1-3 long, slow, deep breaths, then pick up after the core routine.

You may also use the core exercise time to repeat a positive affirmation to yourself and babe, “I am strong. I am safe. I am loved.”

Hips

In general, pelvic work and hip openers are great in prenatal yoga, but it is advised that you go much easier in the third trimester, when the body is producing more hormones (relaxin) which is opening you naturally for birth. Overdoing it can lead to pelvic imbalance, pain and overstitching ligaments and tendons. As a general rule of thumb – when doing hip openers – practice hugging the outer hip (abductors) in order to stabilize.

It is also good to practice kegels or elevators in all to engage the core and support your hips in the yoga posture.

Practice cat/cow pelvic tilts to help soften and stretch the pelvic muscles and spine. This will also help alleviate strain in the muscles of the low back. (This is also a great way to encourage baby into a good birthing position!)

Practice Gentle Backbends

In pregnancy, the lower back is in increased extension because of the tilting of your pelvis and growing uterus. Avoid deep backbends unless they are part of your regular practice. Practice gentle backbends like baby camel pose or supported fish. These are wonderful to relieve shoulder and upper back tension and to deepen the breath.

Inversions

Gentle partial inversions like legs up the wall are wonderful for improving circulation and decreasing swelling in the ankles and feet. Downward dog becomes more difficult for the wrists in the second and third trimester. It’s also advisable to limit inversions after 20 weeks or when the baby is in the head down position unless under the guidance of an experienced teacher or advised by your primary healthcare provider.

Take Space & Create Stability

As you grow, take up more space in standing poses, starting with Mountain Pose. Step the feet a bit wider to ensure you have a stable base. 

Lunges are safe and best with a focus on pelvic floor lift. It is also great to focus on that outer hip hugging in during lunges. As you grow, take a wider stance for more stability in the posture. 

Relax & Find What Nurtures You

Take rest moments in Savasana or any reclined postures on your side when you need to. A pillow for the head and neck can offer just the right amount of support as well as blankets or a pillow between the knees, offering support for the legs, hips, belly, and spine.

Every expecting individual is different. Honor what your body is telling you and celebrate the process of finding what feels good for you.

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