It can sometimes be difficult to continue practicing yoga while pregnant. We wonder which postures to do and are sometimes tempted to stop practicing altogether. Numerous studies demonstrate the benefits of practicing yoga during pregnancy: it helps to release lumbar tensions and calm the nervous system- all of which greatly benefit baby, mother, and father alike. Here are a few staple postures (because we really need them!) and tips for getting at it, or getting back at it!
First and foremost, you will have noticed that, thanks to pregnancy hormones, we are more flexible when we are pregnant. That being said, instead of pushing ourselves further into the postures, there are a few basic rules to follow:
1) Try not to push yourself as far; strike a better balance. You can instead focus your attention on your inner-self and on your breathing; you should feel absolutely no pain whatsoever.
2) Forget about performance! It’s the best time to think about yourself, to be present: no guilt, no comparing with the person on the mat beside you.
3) You can do the following postures at any time of the day. I have done them while travelling and even on the grass, no mat necessary! There is no prescribed time or mandatory equipment. Listen to your body, and be aware of what you feel.
1. Marjariasana (Cat-Cow)
If you do just one posture, make it this one. Among other benefits, it helps relieve tension in the back and spinal column, it slowly encourages blood circulation, and helps with digestion. Furthermore, it helps prevent injuries during pregnancy and is therefore an excellent posture to begin your warm-up.
With hands aligned under the shoulders and knees squarely below the hips, as you breathe in, gently arch your back and stretch the skin in the neck and stomach areas. Be careful not to over arch the back or neck. To help illustrate the proper posture, imagine that a string is pulling you up from the top of your head and from the coccyx- this allows you to elongate the spinal column at the same time. As you breathe out, press your hands against the floor to round your back, tuck your chin into your chest and aim your coccyx downward.
Repeat in synchronisation with your breathing.
Keep the back arched as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, round your back and sit on your heels. Make sure to keep your knees apart.
2. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported bridge)
Lay down on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor at a distance of about a foot to a foot and a half from your buttocks. The toes can be pointed slightly inward. As you breathe in, lift your buttocks, aligning the coccyx with the knees, and stretch out your spinal column. As you exhale, first rest your shoulder blades, then your back and your vertebrae.
Remain immobile in this posture for a few moments.
Release all your spinal column’s tensions in the ground. As of 24 weeks, being on the back can be uncomfortable for some mothers; it’s important to listen to your body.
Make large circles with your pelvis. As you exhale, allow your hips to fall to the right and brush against the ground. As you inhale, move the hips toward the left and raise your pelvis up again. Continue the movements a few times and then move in the opposite direction. It is a beautiful posture to do at the beginning of the pregnancy to prepare for delivery.
3. Restorative – knees
Lay on your back, knees together, feet at the extremity of the mat. Without moving your feet, let your knees fall to the right. Be sure to keep your shoulders on the ground and to release your diaphragm. Concentrate on being open and on the space created by the left shoulder and hip. Hold the posture for 20 to 30 seconds.
Repeat on the other side.
As needed, move the legs from left to right in harmony with your breathing, just like windshield wipers.
4. Ardha matsyendrasana (seated twist, modified version)
I didn’t feel the need to use a cushion or a blanket in the photo, but these accessories can be used under the buttocks to lessen the pressure on the vertebrae for postures 4 & 5. Once again, listen to your body.
Begin in Dandasana (stick posture), place the sole of your right foot on the left side of the left knee. As you breathe in, raise your arms up to the sky and stretch out from your sides to your shoulders, all the while pressing your left leg firmly into the ground. As you exhale deeply, place your left hand in front of your left hip (and not the right, as is usually the case), and press down against the ground with your hand to continue elongating your body toward the sky. Place your right hand on your right knee as needed. Do not force the posture, but open the shoulders and breathe deeply.
It might seem counter intuitive to twist the body while pregnant. The goal here is not at all to create more pressure on the abdomen, but rather to stretch toward the sky and thus allow the spinal column to relax, to stretch, and to activate renal and digestive function in a gentle and safe manner. Opening occurs in the opposite direction. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds, or until you no longer feel the need.
Repeat on the right side.
5. Pashimottanasana (Forward flexion, legs apart)
Given that I have been practicing yoga for years and am quite flexible, I do the exercise with my legs apart. I strongly urge women who are new to yoga, or who are less flexible, to do this exercise one leg at a time: with one leg extended and the other bent, foot placed in the groin, bring your hands to your feet.
Roll the shoulders backward and forward. Extend the spine toward the sky, elongate your side and spine, and tilt your body forward. To make it easier, you can use a strap to pull your leg toward you. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Visualize all the space you are creating for your own well-being and for your baby’s.
There you go! You can now stand up, or you may perhaps be tempted by a little Shavasanna, with your knees supported by a cushion.
Standing Boni posture – Uttanasana
If you have back pain like I do, here is a posture that will be very beneficial to you. Standing up with the legs spread out beyond the hips, tilt your body forward while carefully extending the spinal column. Make sure your feet, including the arches, are placed firmly on the ground and press them into the mat. Keep your feet anchored. Try now to widen the space between your feet without moving them (as though you were attempting to tear the mat). Feel the space created in the sacrum and the pelvis. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat as needed.
This is a more technical exercise, so give yourself time to master it. Return to a standing position by unrolling the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae.
Special thanks to Jessica Dello Sbarba D.O., osteopath at the Spinal Movement clinic, for her contribution to this article.
A Lolë ambassador and wellness contributor to StromSpa magazine, Marie-Eve was trained in Yoga Sangha and has been practicing yoga for 18 years. A teacher at Atma Yoga, she is also the founder of Yogacamp.co.