Everything You Need To Know About Prenatal Yoga (Pregnancy Yoga)
You’re embarking on the journey of a lifetime into motherhood.
There are many changes and transformations ahead, so you must nurture yourself and learn to cultivate the energy of calm balance, mindful awareness, and internal strength.
Prenatal yoga (pregnancy yoga) is a great way to take care of yourself and your baby as you go through this time.
Here’s everything you need to know about how adopting a regular prenatal yoga practice can help you on your journey.
What is prenatal yoga?
Like regular yoga, prenatal yoga is considered a mind-body practice that incorporates physical poses (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditative practices designed to help you manage stress, strengthen the body, and calm your nervous system.
What is different about prenatal yoga?
The main difference in prenatal yoga is that many poses are adapted to accommodate the many changes and demands of a pregnant woman’s body.
Some poses are omitted entirely, while others are modified.
For example, Savasana is usually practiced lying on your back, but since lying on your back is contraindicated for pregnant women (especially in the later stages of pregnancy), you might be instructed to lay on your side instead.
Another unique aspect of prenatal yoga is its focus on preparing you for labor by strengthening the body via hip openers and specific standing postures.
The yogic breathwork portion of your practice is beneficial.
There’s also postnatal yoga that can help postpartum women ease their way back into their yoga practices.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
“Yoga reduces stress, improves flexibility, and encourages stretching and focused breathing.
There are prenatal yoga and Pilates classes designed for pregnant women.
These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance.”
Most medical professionals recommend safe exercise during pregnancy because it helps the mother-to-be stay on track with her wellness goals.
Here’s are 21 mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual benefits of adopting a regular yoga practice:
- Lowered stress and anxiety levels
- More balanced moods
- Increased mindful awareness
- Increased body perception and intelligence
- Strengthened intuition
- Reduced irritability
- Improved sleep
- Lowered blood pressure
- Increased heart rate variability
- Less lower back pain
- Improved nausea
- Decreased inflammation
- Hormonal balance
- Healthy nervous system function
- Less shortness of breath
- Healthy weight management
- Strengthened pelvic floor and hips
- Increased endurance for labor and birthing
- Increased gratitude and meaning for your experience
- Increased inner peace
- A spiritual connection to yourself and your baby
I’ve never practiced yoga before. Can I still practice prenatal yoga?
You don’t need to be an experienced yogi to practice this yoga style; you just need to be pregnant!
Although you may like your first time experience so much, you might decide to stick with yoga even after you’ve given birth. 🙂
Just make sure you get the go-ahead from your doctor before starting this or any form of exercise during pregnancy.
What’s a typical prenatal yoga class like?
It depends on the yoga instructor and the setting.
Are you doing an in-person class, a live online class, or a do-it-at-your-own time online class?
Are you doing a one-off class or an entire yoga program?
Private or group classes?
Different teachers have different styles and may sequence the classes differently.
You’ll then move onto the warm-up phase, which is very important in pregnancy since a woman’s body is continuously changing.
There may be stiffness in the body and aches, inflammation, problems with joints, etc.
Diving into a yoga practice without any warm-up can shock the body, and it can feel like a lot. Warm-ups help the body get ready for the heavier portions of asana practice.
After the warm-up, you’ll move onto some modified Sun Salutations then transition into standing postures, many of which can be modified using a wall.
You might then move into floor postures and end the session with a modified Savasana (corpse pose).
What styles of yoga aren’t recommended for pregnant women?
Both Bikram yoga and hot yoga are contraindicated in pregnancy as these styles are rigorous and practiced in a heated room, often up to 105 degrees.
A pregnant woman’s core temperature should never rise above about 98 degrees as doing so can harm her and baby.
If you’re new to yoga and don’t have an existing regular practice, you should stick to gentler styles like restorative yoga, yin yoga (with caution and guidance), and prenatal yoga.
Other styles like Ashtanga and power yoga might be more intense and not as optimal for this time.
Can yoga cause a miscarriage?
While there’s no scientific evidence that this is true, anecdotal evidence suggests that pregnant women avoid certain poses that might contract the uterus or otherwise upset the delicate balance that’s happening in your womb.
Mama-to-be’s should also avoid increasing their core temperature, as mentioned.
This is especially true in the first trimester, which is the time when around 80% of miscarriages can occur.
It’s better to err on the safe side and proceed with much awareness and caution.
Seek the support and advice of your doctor and an experienced prenatal yoga teacher.
What yoga poses should you avoid when pregnant?
Overall, you’ll want to avoid deep backbends and deep twists during pregnancy.
You’ll also want to avoid strenuous standing poses without support, as a pregnant woman’s sense of balance is compromised.
You don’t want to have a fall in yoga class.
Deep backbends may overexert the abdominal muscles and lead to developing or worsening diastasis recti, the separation of the large abdominal muscles.
Those muscles are already being overworked and overstretched as the baby grows, so it’s not advised to work them any harder.
Twists, especially deep twists, might contract the uterus.
Twists should be especially avoided in the fragile first trimester, even if you’re not showing yet.
Here’s a list of yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy, especially as your bump grows*:
- Revolved side angle pose
- Full wheel pose
- Bridge pose
- Bow pose
- Cobra pose
- Locust pose
- Full camel pose
- Upward facing dog
- Forward fold
- Twisted chair
- Full inversions
- Boat pose
- Abdominal poses
- Jump-backs and transitions
- Breath-holding breathing techniques
*Modifications or substitutions for these poses are available in prenatal classes.
If inversions were part of your regular yoga asana practice before pregnancy, you might be able to keep at it if you don’t have a high-risk pregnancy.
Please check with your doctor first to make sure.
Is prenatal yoga safe?
Yes, if you stick to this style’s tenets and practice with an educated and experienced prenatal yoga instructor.
Keep in mind that your body is drastically and quickly changing each day in pregnancy.
Your hormone levels are rising as your body grows another human and prepares to birth this little human.
Your body produces more relaxin hormone during pregnancy, which helps your muscles, ligaments, and tendons… relax!
This “relaxing” effect is centered mainly around the pelvic area to facilitate delivery.
Relaxin production starts in the first trimester and peaks at the end of the first trimester and labor.
It’s essential to be careful not to overstretch your soft tissues or muscles in prenatal yoga, as you will find that thanks to Relaxin, you’re more bendy and flexible than usual.
Instead of going to 100% stretch and strain in poses, stick to only 70-80%.
Does prenatal yoga count as exercise?
Prenatal yoga is considered a low-impact, low-intensity form of exercise and physical activity specifically designed for you, mama.
Pregnancy isn’t the time to overexert yourself with strenuous workouts.
It’s a time to honor your body’s wisdom and listen to what it needs.
Many women experience fatigue and nausea or sickness in the first trimester. If that’s your case, rest, soothing breathwork, and meditative practices might be beneficial rather than a physical yoga practice.
Again, always consult with your doctor before embarking on any exercise regimen while pregnant.
When should you start prenatal yoga?
You can start prenatal yoga at any time in your pregnancy as long your doctor has given you the green light.
How often should I do prenatal yoga?
Your prenatal yoga practice’s physical portions (asanas) can be done as often as you feel you need it.
Some women like to stick to 3-4 times per week, although if you’re just starting, start with 1-2 times a week first and see how you get on.
Breathing exercises and meditative practices can be done daily.
Remember, listen to your body.
She’s wise and knows what she’s doing and what she needs to make this baby.
Get in the habit of constantly checking in with yourself and ask:
“What do I need?”
“What do I want?”
“What would bring me joy?”
How do I choose the best prenatal yoga classes?
It depends on your personal preferences and what you most resonate with.
Would you rather attend in-person group classes or do an in-person private class?
Are you into live zoom classes?
Or do you prefer yoga videos that you can do at your own pace?
Do you have an existing yoga routine?
Or is this your first rodeo?
Are you in your first, second, or third trimester?
Your first trimester is usually characterized by low energy and nausea, while your second trimester is characterized by an energy surge.
Things are usually uncomfortable in the third trimester, so your needs will vary.
It might take you a few tries to find a yoga teacher that you resonate with.
Don’t get discouraged.
There are many options for you online – whether you simply check out Youtube for free classes or hit up your local yoga studio.