I often call prenatal yoga the gateway drug to a lifelong yoga practice, as many moms-to-be are referred to it by their friends or doctors before discovering the many benefits of a well-rounded yoga lifestyle. Whether you are a practiced yogi or just beginning the journey, yoga is a beautiful, powerful and effective support of pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum health. From pregnancy symptom soothing to postpartum recovery and comfort for you and baby, strategic breathing techniques to tools for a healthy delivery, yoga can support you through pregnancy, birth and beyond.
A few physiological changes to note when practicing yoga during pregnancy:
The synovial fluid that lubricates our joints decreases when pregnant, so a longer warm-up than usual is suggested. Take 8-12 minutes at the beginning of your practice to move slowly, focusing on hips, shoulders, spine, knees, ankles and wrists.
Conversely, the hormone Relaxin responsible for stretchiness of ligaments and tendons presents throughout pregnancy and lactation. This enables joints to relax but also increases the potential for overstretching. I advise clients to go in to yoga postures halfway then just a bit deeper to avoid overstretching and permanent joint damage.
Keep these in mind during yoga and any fitness regimen to ensure both safety and comfort. As with any fitness regimen, be sure to check with your doctor before beginning this or any other yoga practice.
Setting aside a sacred time to connect with your body, mind and baby, and quiet moments of stillness can set the tone for your practice, probably more than just a particular physical posture. Begin in a comfortable seat. A few options include squatting with the support of a block under your seat, sitting cross-legged, or sitting with soles of the feet together or several inches apart. Depending on how far along you are, you may enjoy sitting on the folded edge of a blanket or a yoga block for support. Hands may rest on your knees, at your heart, third eye center or on heart and belly as you close your eyes. Begin to observe your body without judgment, envisioning your breath softening any areas of tension or fatigue. Then shift your awareness to still the mind and even the pace of breath. Finally, bring to mind something of meaning that you’d like to share with your baby.
After several minutes sitting in quiet, open your practice with three rounds of Om. Even if this is new to you, chanting the sound of Om connects you with your baby as he or she shares the vibration with you now and will continue to do so once born. Chanting Om offers comfort to you during labor as well as to both you and your newborn during the wee hours, feedings or fussiness that may come.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Move from your seated position onto hands and knees. Place your knees at the edges of your mat and draw big toes to touch behind you. Sink your seat to your heels, extending arms forward and forehead to rest on the mat. A block or bolster under the forehead can prevent neck tension, as can one underneath forearms should you have tightness in the hips. Rest here for 10 breaths. Exit the pose by returning to hands and knees with a neutral spine.
Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
From hands and knees, draw the right knee forward to rest behind the right wrist. Slide your right foot toward your left wrist. Supporting yourself with your hands, slowly extend the left leg straight behind you. If there is significant space between your right hip and the mat, use a folded blanket between them for additional support. Inhale, press into your hands to gently lift the chest. Exhale, walking the hands forward and rest on your hands, forearms or forehead. You may rest your forehead or forearms on a block or two, blanket or pillow for further comfort. Rest in the posture for 10 breaths to several minutes. Come out of the posture by lifting your head and torso, returning weight to your hands as you walk them in line with shoulders. Press into hands, lift the right leg and draw it back in line with the right hip as you tuck the left toes and slide the left knee forward. Returning to hands and knees, repeat on the opposite side.
Reverse Warrior Pose (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
From hands and knees, slowly make your way to standing. Step your right foot forward into a wide stance, bending the right knee and turning your left heel down to parallel the back edge of your mat. Hips are open and facing the left. Inhale, extend arms in line with legs in a Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) posture. Turn the right palm to face up; exhale and reach right arm up and left arm toward back of left thigh or calf. Another option is to cradle your belly with the left arm. Hold for 5 breaths. Exit the pose by inhaling to Warrior II and exhaling to release. Repeat on opposite side.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet hip distance apart and flat on the floor near your seat. Rest hands at your sides. Lift your hips as you inhale, and continue lifting up the spine until your navel is in line with both shoulders and hips. Rock your shoulders and arms underneath you to interlace the hands under your back, drawing wrists toward each other. Press the arms and fist into the mat as you continue to lift your hips toward the sky. Hold for 5 breaths, releasing the hands and arms from underneath you before lowering the spine down top to bottom on an exhalation, one vertebra at a time. Repeat 3-5 times.
Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Lying on your back, extend both legs straight out in front of you. Bend both legs, walking the feet in toward you. Allow both knees to fall away from each other such that the soles of your feet come together, making a butterfly shape with the legs. Place a bolster or folded blanket under each knee for extra padding. Close the eyes. Soften into the posture and remain here for ten breaths to several minutes. To release, fold the knees together and straighten the legs.
Legs-up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Moving near a wall if you’re not already, continue to rest on your back to enter into your final resting posture. Extend legs upward to rest against the wall, placing them comfortably hip distance apart and reclining on your mat.
Draw one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. Breathing comfortably, hold the pose for up to five minutes. For additional support and relaxation, you may place a folded blanket under the hips and a blanket over you as well. Return your attention to that thought, wish or memory you shared with your baby at the beginning of the practice. Allow yourself to rest, restore and relax here. Slowly hug knees to frame your belly and make your way to rest on your side, before pressing up to seated to conclude your practice.
Once seated, return to a comfortable seat. Take a moment to honor yourself for making time for your practice, and to honor the miracle of life that your body is supporting.
Elizabeth Rowan is a native Southerner with wanderlust. She has lived, practiced and studied yoga in the US, Europe and Asia. She received her teaching certificate from Anahata Yoga, Hong Kong, while studying under YogananthAndiappan, son of Dr. Asana Andiappan of Chennai, India. She is also a certified Pranakriya prenatal yoga teacher and Radiant Child Yoga teacher. Elizabeth teaches both private and group vinyasa, prenatal and children’s yoga. www.thealchemyofyoga.com