We spoke to UK based Claire Saunders, an experienced Anusara-Inspired™ and Birthlight Perinatal Yoga teacher, on all you need to know about Pregnancy Yoga. Do make sure your consult your doctor through out the course of your pregnancy as a precaution.
1. Pregnancy Yoga: What is it?
Pregnancy yoga is more than just yoga. It is yoga specifically adapted for pregnant women, so in a class you can expect to do some yoga asana modified for pregnancy, to help your body cope with the demands of pregnancy and keep your pelvis and low back strong and stable - as well as helping you to create space for your baby and your own internal systems. You can expect to learn breathing techniques to help relax you during pregnancy as well as support you during labour and birthing.
2. Yoga for Pregnancy: What are the benefits?
Yoga has many benefits during pregnancy. It helps pregnant mamas to adapt to the changing needs of their body by helping to keep the joints stable, and create much needed space both physically and emotionally. Breathing techniques help mamas to relax, to cope with the additional stresses on their internal systems, and to prepare for birth and motherhood.
Practicing yoga helps a mama learn how to tune in to the messages in her body, to trust her body and to face the birthing journey with courage and grace. Practicing pregnancy yoga in group helps create friendship and a support network who are still there for you when your baby arrives.
3. Pregnancy Yoga: Is it good for early Pregnancy?
The best thing for early pregnancy is rest. It’s a really delicate time and around 10-13 weeks the placenta is taking over the nourishment of the baby. It’s generally best to wait until 14-16 weeks to start a yoga class. Practicing relaxation and breathwork is great during early pregnancy.
4. Yoga for Pregnancy: 32 weeks and beyond
This is a fabulous time to practice yoga, and yoga can help energise women at a time when they can feel really big and tired. Do plenty of all fours work and keep moving with the breath. I went to a pregnancy yoga class I hadn’t attended before when I was 39 weeks pregnant and learned a breath technique there that got me through 2 labours - so it’s never too late to go to class!
5. Pregnancy Yoga: Seated Poses
When sitting - always sit up on a block or a cushion so the hips are higher than the knees. This helps to prevent the baby from moving into a back to back position. If cross legged, I always advise cushions or bricks under the thighs to minimise stress on the hips and to avoid pelvic girdle pain.
I. Virasana (Hero Pose)
Doing Hero Pose up on blocks is a great pose for pregnancy, as it keeps the pelvis steady and aligned. Kneel using as many blocks as you need, and sit forward on the blocks to keep your legs parallel and your body upright, forward and open. If you still have knee pain then sit cross legged instead. Remember, if anything hurts or feels wrong - don’t do it - find an alternative. From this steady seat, roll in your thighs and move your flesh away from your sit bones. Take your hands to your baby and let your eyes close and bring your attention inwards to your breath. Breathe all the way down to your baby and all the way up to your heart, then let go of your breath from your chest all the way down to your belly.
Take three deep breaths here and keep your focus on your breath. On an in breath, open the eyes to half mast and slowly come back to the room. Keeping the breath steady, root your sit bones into your blocks and on your exhale, turn baby, ribs, and chest gently to the right, taking your left hand to your right thigh and your right hand to your sacrum. On your in breath return to centre, and on your exhale, repeat to the left. Repeat in your own time, with your breath, 3 times to each side then return to centre, close your eyes and reconnect with your breath. Move to all fours and stretch out your legs, one at a time before moving on.
II. Baddha Konasana (Cobblers Pose)
(Sitting on another block and having some cushioning under the knees will greatly assist the above pose.)
Sit on a foam block with the soles of your feet together - about an arms distance away. Sit with your sitbones to the edge of the block so your thigh bones can descend, and place cushions or cork bricks under your thighs for stability. Roll in your thighs and take your flesh away from the buttocks. Keep anchoring down through your pelvis as you reach your hands out to the side and up to the sky on an inbreath, getting long in the sides of the body. As you exhale, bring the palms together and down the centre line.
Repeat 4 more times. Focus on your breath with the movement and keep getting spacious in the sides of the body - this will give you space to breathe as your baby gets bigger. When you have finished, bring your hands to your belly and let your eyes close as you reconnect with your breath and your baby. Move onto all fours and circle the hips a few times in both directions before moving on.
III. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) Variation
Sit up on a foam block with your legs crossed at the shins. Place cushions or cork bricks under your thighs for stability. Allow your pelvis to settle and rest your awareness in your breath. On an inhale, interlink your hands in front of you and exhale and push them away, rounding the spine. On the inhale, stack the vertebra one on top of the other and reach the crown of your head high to the sky, as you bring your arms alongside your ears. Release the hands, reach the arms wide and down to your knees as you exhale. Repeat 3 more times, and remember to change the interlink of the fingers each time! When you are finished, bring your hands to your baby and breathe deeply.
Pregnancy Yoga: Standing Poses
Standing yoga poses are great for getting the circulation going but remember, easy does it. Try out these tried and tested postures.
I. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
I loved Tadasana (Mountain Pose) during pregnancy (and beyond!) I recommend to my students to do this every morning to greet the day as you get used to your new centre of gravity - at times during pregnancy, it seems to change daily! Stand on your mat with your feet hip width apart and your hands to your baby. As your baby grows, you might need to take the feet a little wider to make space for them. Check that your feet are parallel, and root down through the mound of the big toe, inner heel, baby toe and outer heel. Keep that and reach your head high to create space for the breath. Make sure you are even weighted across those four corners of each foot, and across the left and right. Stay steady here and take 3 deep breaths.
II. Hip Circles
Stand in Tadasana. Root down evenly across the four corners of both feet. Take your hands to your baby and make a heart shape around the belly button with your hands. Feel your belly rise as you inhale, and fall as you exhale (for those later on in pregnancy, you might need to visualise this). Keep the breath strong as you circle your hips to the right - with soft knees and your feet steady. Make these circles small - and then take it back in the other direction.
III. Pelvic Scoops
Stand in Tadasana, keep the knees soft and root down through your feet. Draw your attention to your pubic bone and with your inbreath, draw your pubic bone up towards you, lift your pelvic floor and lengthen your tailbone. As you exhale, release back gently. Rock your pelvis forwards and backwards in tune with your breath. Repeat a few times, then as you inhale, bend your knees, lengthen your tailbone and press down through your feet and scoop the pelvis forwards as if you are scooping a big pelvis full of ice cream. It’s like a mini body roll for your baby! This helps to strengthen the lower back to relieve lower back pain and I used this a LOT during labour when I had back contractions. It’s tiring, so do this 5-6 times then have a rest.
6. Yoga for Pregnancy: Yoga poses to avoid when pregnant
Firstly, avoid any poses that intuitively feel wrong - this will help your learn to tune into her body. Any belly down poses will soon feel wrong and should be avoided.
i. Avoid Supine Poses During Pregnancy
These should be avoided after 16 weeks. This used to be 28 weeks & the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) changed the advice about 7 or 8 years ago - I would tell a woman in my class she can lie on her back if it’s okay until 28 weeks, but if she feels sick, queasy, somehow wrong, not to. Always consult your doctor for what is best for you as every person is different.
ii. Avoid Twisting Poses During Pregnancy
You should avoid extreme twists as they place pressure on the abdominal area, and big backbends. You should also avoid going too far in your practice and stay well within your pre-pregnancy limits.
iii. Avoid Selected Pranayama (Breathing Exercises) During Pregnancy
Gentle breathing exercises such as full yogic breath, breathing in and out are fine but breath retentions in pranayama should be avoided as should Khappalabhati and Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) as they place too much pressure on the abdomen.
iv. Avoid or Modify Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) During Pregnancy
Some teachers offer a modification to Cobra Pose with a bolster under the thighs during pregnancy. If you are desperate to keep your cobra, this is a good way to keep doing it. We do suggest you back off a bit to keep the lower back safe.
v. Avoid or Modify Urhdva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) During Pregnancy
Wheel pose is contra-indicated during pregnancy - there is too big a stretch on the abdomen and risks separation of the abdominals and the stability of the lower back is at risk. A gentle Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) is a good modification.
You can use a brick under the sacrum for stability, keep the legs super strong and breath into the heart space - and keep it short. Don’t hang out there for hours. As the baby gets bigger, this will move the baby out of the pelvis and more into the abdomen so if your baby is in a good position - give it up! However, if you have a breech baby, it’s a great way to move the baby out of the pelvis to where he or she has more space to turn into a better position.
7. Pregnancy Yoga or Pilates: Which is better?
I think pilates is great, but pregnancy yoga is a great practice for the whole of the mind, body and spirit, and the inclusion of breathing practices and much needed relaxation are so beneficial for the pregnant woman.
8. Pregnancy Yoga: What to wear
Wear whatever is comfortable for you and obviously taking into account your climate. A t-shirt and yoga pants are fine, as is a bikini if you feel comfortable at home or on the beach. In a class you can wear shorts and a comfortable top. It would be best to avoid tight fitting clothes so that you don't feel constricted and remember you will have bare feet for yoga.
9. Pregnancy Yoga: What you will need
You don't really need anything that you wouldn't usually take to your normal yoga class but we definitely recommend bringing the following things with you: -
- Yoga Mat/Mat Towel. You may want to take your own mat and perhaps a mat towel, whatever you feel most comfortable working out on.
- Water. It is important to stay hydrated during exersise and even more so when you are pregnant. Even though drinking water is not usually recommended during yoga, when you are pregnant these rules can go out of the window and you should listen to your body if it is asking for hydration.
- Props. Even if you didn't need yoga props before you were pregnant, your changing body may tell you otherwise. Blocks, straps and bolsters should all be available in a yoga class but if you are practising alone, make sure you have these items handy. See how you can make your own DIY bolster with things you have at home in 3 minutes!
About Claire Saunders
"My highest vision of sharing yoga," Claire says, "is to connect and serve as over the years I've come to see that not only does yoga help us to connect with spirit, but also enhances our connection to the world around us. Pregnancy yoga classes are designed to help the mother connect with and cope with her changing body and emotions and prepare her for birth and mothering."
Claire also teaches mums and babies as well as childrens' classes and is especially passionate about teaching families to practice together to enhance bonding and connection. For more information and details of the next course, check out her website or Facebook page.
**The beautiful Instagram pictures used in this article have been curated from our lovely yogi community by Lots of Yoga and are not meant as suggestions for Pregnancy Yoga. Please practise with care.