Prenatal yoga has so many benefits, mentally, physically and emotionally. Despite this, during my first pregnancy I was nervous to continue with my regular yoga practice, feeding into every warning I had heard about exercising during pregnancy. As a result, my lack of activity hindered my postpartum recovery, and I had an especially hard time getting moving again after my daughter was born.
Knowing that I wanted to have more children AND continue my yoga practice, I decided to take matters into my own hands by completing my 200 hour yoga teacher certification as well as specialized training to teach prenatal yoga classes.
Now not only am I way more confident to continue my own yoga practice during my second pregnancy, I am able to teach prenatal classes with confidence, knowing that the classes I offer are safe for women at any stage in their pregnancy.
The most important takeaway when practicing yoga during pregnancy is to listen to your body. Listening to what your body needs takes practice, and yoga is a great way to help connect your body and mind. If you are like me, you typically use your brain to make most decisions logically, forgetting about what your body is trying to tell you.
Perhaps you have experienced this before when you are super busy with no real end in sight . . . and then you get sick. This is an obvious sign that your body is telling you to slow down. In the same way, when you are exercising or in a yoga class, you may be following exactly what the teacher is instructing without checking in with yourself to see if it is working for your body that day, and setting yourself up for injury or illness.
Are you feeling a sharp pain in your knee during pigeon pose? Are you getting a dizzy sensation while in a forward fold? This is your body giving you little cues that something isn’t right. Take a moment to sit or lay down and breathe until it passes, instead of ignoring these feelings or thinking about how you may appear weak or inexperienced by sitting something out.
On the flip side, something may feel really good – these cues are usually easier to notice. if this is the case, don’t be shy to linger in the pose.
By practicing mindfulness during yoga class, you’re developing a self-awareness which can also be a great tool for getting you through labor, and life as a new mom.
Here are my five favourite poses to do during pregnancy. Doing these poses before bed will only take 5 – 10 minutes and can help you calm your mind, while preparing your body for labour and postpartum recovery.
1. Garland Pose
An excellent hip opener that can feel extra delicious to some, garland pose is great for toning your inner thighs and preparing your pelvis to opening during labour. This is also a very natural pose to come into during labour, so the more familiar it is for your body, the easier it will be on game day.
Coming into this pose from a standing position, bring your feet as wide as the mat or more, pointing your toes out (about 45 degrees), bending your knees and slowly sitting down between your feet, coming all the way down to fully bent knees. Keep you back as straight as possible, imagine your tailbone being pulled to the ground while the crown of your head is being lifted to the ceiling. You can bring your hands together in prayer using your elbows on your inner knees to gently encourage them to open, or shine your palms forward reaching them toward the ground and using your elbows as leverage on the inside of your knees.
Another great option is to use a block under your tailbone as a seat. Stay in this pose as long as you are comfortable, closing your eyes if that feels good.
2. Pigeon Pose
This pose is a great hip opener, and can also relieve low back pain. I always warn my students that if you feel any intense pain in your knees to come into a version of this pose lying on your back (Figure 4 Pose).
Coming from table top on your hands and knees, start walking your hands forward, bending your right knee and sliding it forward to come behind your right wrist, leaving your left leg relaxed and long behind you. Slightly flexing your right foot and angling it towards the left side of your mat. While maintaining lots of space for your belly, walk your hands forward and even come down onto your forearms or elbows, or relax onto a bolster or block if you need more height or space. Hold for as long as you are comfortable and repeat on the left side.
3. Cat-Table Pose
No doubt this pose with feel extra yummy, especially after sitting for long periods. Another natural position to come into during labour.
Come onto hands and knees, making sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and knees aligned under your hips. Connect to your inhale/exhale with each movement. (Start by inhaling and keeping your back straight, bringing your gaze forward, feel your core engage. Then with an exhale round your spine, gaze towards your belly and feel your tailbone tuck). Do a round of at least 10 cat/tables, and finish it off by doing nice wide circles with your hips, do this for as long as you’d like, then switch directions.
4. Child’s Pose
This one is simple, but oh so great for relaxation and restoration. Bringing your knees as wide as the mat and your toes to touch, walk your hands forward so your arms are extended in front of you and slowly release your forehead to the mat (or a block or bolster), sitting your hips back. Melt into this, it’s also a great time to close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
5. Legs Up The Wall
There are many misconceptions about lying on your back during pregnancy. The rule here is to listen to what your body is telling you. If you are feeling light headed when you are doing a pose on your back, roll over onto your left side and rest here until you feel ok again, but if it feels alright, it is absolutely safe. Our bodies are very clever and before anything harms your growing baby, you will get that dizzy feeling telling you to stop – so listen to that sign.
Come to the edge of a wall (or stack of wood in my case), then to get onto your back, slide down onto your side and roll over onto your back. We are trying to avoid rolling straight back like in a traditional crunch which can exacerbate diastasis recti later in pregnancy and postpartum.
Once you are on your back bring your bottom to the edge where the wall and floor meet, then bring your legs up the wall. Flex your feet towards the ceiling and relax your arms. You can even place your hands on your belly and say hello to baby. After all, another great advantage of prenatal yoga is to connect to your baby, feel their movements and send them loving thoughts while moving your body.
This is a great time to slip into bed, feeling nice and relaxed and ready for a night of restful sleep!