By Diane Fine
Prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to feel greater ease and comfort during pregnancy, and is fabulous preparation for birth. Through this practice of physical movements, conscious use of breath, and mindfulness, you can stay tuned to your changing body and to your baby, while gaining strength, stamina, and flexibility. The poses strengthen your ability to relax into strong sensations, and to stay present with (and release the power of) thoughts and fears of the mind. These skills beautifully translate right onto the birthing experience.
Check with your care provider before practicing the following yoga poses. Remember to stay attuned to your body, and only do what feels right and comfortable. If you push yourself too much you could overstretch due to the increased hormones, which loosen the ligaments in the pelvic area and lower back. Practice the wisdom of balance: work hard enough to gain benefits, yet not too hard to create harm.
Be sure to breathe! As you hold the poses, continue your long, slow breaths. Stay tuned to the changing sensations in the body, and consciously relax the body where it doesn’t need to be engaged. Often this means to relax the jaw and shoulders! Only hold the pose as long as it feels right, and then release the pose slowly.
While practicing these poses on your own offers great benefit, attending a class offers the opportunity for alignment cues, further exploration of the poses, and becoming a part of the community of birthing parents sharing this same stage of life. No experience is necessary to practice prenatal yoga. It is a great and safe way to stay active and fit during pregnancy.
Although not a “pose”, breathing fully is essential during pregnancy. When we breathe deeply we utilize the entire capacity of the lungs, and send the message to the brain that everything is okay. The brain then stimulates the relaxation response throughout the entire body. The more we practice deep breathing in moments of calm, the more likely we are able to remember to use it as a tool in moments of stress or chaos. It doesn’t make pain or stress go away, but it helps us to release tension, to better relax into the moment, and to stay fluid with what is happening, rather than resisting it.
- Let the breath be smooth and even. Not too fast and not too slow.
- Breathe in and out through the nose, if possible.
- Inhaling, allow the belly to relax (don’t push it forward). Then allow the ribs to gently move forward, out to each side, and out the back body. Then draw the breath all the way up under the collarbones.
- Exhaling, release the breath from the top of the lungs, then the middle, and then at the end of the exhalation draw the navel gently toward the spine.
- Keep the jaw relaxed.
- The more you breathe deeply, the more benefits you will gain. One deep breath is better than none. Yet aim to do at least 5 full breaths, in and out. And 5 minutes of breathing will feel fabulous!
- Use this deep breathing on its own, and also during the following poses. Also utilize this skill during moments of stress.
- Focusing on the breath is a great anchor for being present, and for connecting with the baby within.
- Come onto your hands and knees. Hands under shoulders with straight arms, knees under hips. If wrists or forearms are uncomfortable, come onto your knuckles instead, with the palms facing inward.
- Exhaling, tuck the tailbone under (like a dog tucking its tail between its legs), round the lower back, middle back, upper back, and then bring the chin toward the chest.
- Inhaling, lift the tailbone, gently arch the lower back, middle back, upper back, and slightly lift the chin.
- Repeat many times, riding on the rhythm of your breath. Initiate each movement with the tailbone.
- This relieves low back tension, strengthens the uterus, and alternating strengthens and relaxes the pelvic floor muscles.
Right Angle Pose
- Stand facing a wall.
- Place hands onto wall, shoulder distance apart, fingers spread wide.
- Walk the feet back until the hips are over the heels, and the straight arms and straight torso are parallel to the floor.
- Feet hip distance apart, outside edges of feet parallel. Back of head in the same plane as the tailbone (eyes gazing toward floor). Tailbone heavy. Navel gently up toward spine.
- Press palms into wall, and reach the hips away from the wall. Feel the length across the back and shoulders.
- This eases low back discomfort and lengthens the spine.
Warrior I, using the Wall
- Stand facing a wall. Place the fingertips onto the wall, shoulder distance apart, with the hands like a tent or spider.
- Bring the right toes to (but not pressed into) the baseboard. Bend the right knee directly over the right ankle.
- Step the left foot far back, so the toes are tucked under. You are balancing on the ball of the foot, and the heel is up off of the floor. Heel is neutral, not tipped left or right.
- Square the pelvis to the wall. Both frontal hipbones equally face the wall.
- Lengthen the tailbone straight down toward the floor. Notice a slight lift of the front of the pubic bone toward the navel. Relax the pelvis toward the floor.
- Relax the shoulders down away from the ears, even as you lift the torso long and tall. Lift the crown of the head up toward the sky.
- If you want more intensity, lift the left arm overhead, palm facing right. Or, lift both arms overhead, palms facing one another. If any of the above alignment details get lost, bring the fingertips back to the wall.
- To release, bring hands to the wall. Simultaneously straighten the front leg while pivoting to the left, legs becoming parallel to one another. Bend the knees and step the feet together.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Fabulous posture for stretching and strengthening the legs and building stamina.
- Stand with legs wide apart from one another and a chair by the right foot.
- Turn the right foot to the right, so the toes face toward the right. Turn the left toes in slightly, so the left toes slightly face to the right.
- Bend the right knee directly over the ankle. Keep the knee over the ankle and also in line with the second and third toe (don’t let it float forward or sideways). Place the chair over the right foot, front of shinbone near the chair seat.
- Strengthen the left leg. Press down through the outside edge of the left foot, press the thigh muscles back, and zip up the inner leg all the way from the inner ankle up to the groin.
- Engage the right buttocks muscles and press them straight forward through the pelvis.
- Tip to the right, and rest the right forearm onto the right thigh, or place the right hand onto the chair seat.
- Left hand can rest on the left hip, or lengthen the left arm up overhead and diagonally to the right. Feel the length from the outside of the foot, up the leg, across the side body and armpit, and out through the fingertips.
- Repeat on other side.
- This pose energizes and strengthens the body, stretching inner thigh and groin. Builds stamina.
- Stand with feet wide apart from one another, toes slightly turned inward, outside edges of feet parallel.
- Have a chair or other prop in front of you.
- Engage the thigh muscles. Press the outside edges of the feet toward the floor. Lengthen the spine tall.
- Keeping the spine long and straight, exhale and hinge the pelvis forward and place the hands onto the chair, shoulder distance apart.
- Keep the legs and spine long. If the spine rounds, rest the hands on a higher prop. If you need more sensation, lower the hands closer to the floor, as long as the spine remains lengthened.
- Lift the sitz bones and tailbone up toward the sky. Lengthen the chest bones forward, away from the pubic bone, aiming for a concave back.
- Lengthens spine, relieves pressure off of lower back, stretches inner and back of leg muscles. Relaxes pelvic floor muscles.
Seated Twist, using a Chair
- Place a blanket onto the seat of a chair. Sit on the front half of the seat. Feet hip distance and flat on the floor.
- Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale and twist gently to the right. Right hand rests on side of chair, left hand on outside of right thigh.
- Shoulders stay down away from the ears (don’t hold high up on the chair; hand is low down, so shoulders stay relaxed).
- Don’t try to pull or push yourself deeper. Just breathe at your natural edge of stretch.
- Repeat on the other side
- Relieves low back pain, lubricates the spine, increases the flow of fresh blood to the uterus, and strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Squat, using the Wall
- Stand with your back to the wall. Feet apart, toes turned slightly out.
- Bend the knees and slide the buttocks down the wall, torso leaning forward a little. Knees bend in the same plane as the toes (make sure toes aren’t turned out too far).
- Once you squat down as far as feels comfortable, place folded blanket(s) under your pelvis so you are sitting lightly on them.
- Arms can rest on the legs, or place elbows inside the knees with the palms of the hands together.
- Lift chest bones away from pubic bone. Keep spine long, rather than rounded. Torso can be leaning forward, or lean the back against the wall (as long as the tailbone then doesn’t tuck under).
- Relaxes pelvic floor muscles, evenly stretches the birthing muscles, and increases the blood supply to the entire pelvic area. Opens up the mobility of the hips and pelvis.
- Do not squat if you are past 34 weeks pregnant with a breech baby. Also don’t squat if you are working with hemorrhoids, placenta previa, vulval varicosities, cervical stitches, or, if squatting produces sharp sensations anywhere.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Sit on the floor, onto a folded blanket. Right leg straight out in front. Left knee bent, sole of foot resting along the inside of the right thigh.
- Press hands or fingertips actively into floor next to hips. Lengthen spine long and tall.
- Staying here and breathing is good. Yet if you want more sensation, then inhale and lift the chest. Then with the exhalation rotate the pelvis, stretching the torso forward. Do not round the spine!
- Repeat on the other side.
- Stretches legs, relaxes pelvic floor, tones the uterus, and strengthens the back.
- Lie down on the floor or blanket, on one side of the body (switch sides as needed).
- Place a thin blanket under the head.
- Bend both knees and place a folded blanket between the knees and feet. Or, have the lower leg straight (in line with hips, shoulders, and ear), with the top leg bent and resting on a folded blanket.
- Rest the upper arm on a folded blanket. Make any adjustments needed so you are extremely comfortable.
- Close the eyes. Breathe effortlessly. Relax the entire body.
- This is the most important pose of all. If possible, stay here for 10-20 minutes, though even just 5 breaths here is better than not doing it at all.
Diane Fine, voted Ithaca’s “Best Yoga Teacher” by the Ithaca Times’ annual Best Of survey in 2013, was trained and certified at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in 1994. She owns Fine Spirit Studio in Ithaca, NY, where she teaches prenatal yoga, couples birth preparation workshops, private sessions, and yoga for the general public. She welcomes questions and discussion about yoga! Email Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note from Sandra: I’m so sorry about how white the images are, I searched so long and hard to find images with people of color performing the specific poses but couldn’t find any! Please send them to me if you find them!)