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Prenatal Yoga

As a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and long-time Yoga student, I have been captivated by the many benefits of yoga for physical and mental health. I recently decided to meld my personal and professional interests by furthering my yoga studies through a 200-hour yoga teacher training program. I have learned far more than I am able to share in a single blog post, and I am certain I have much more still to learn. With that said, I am honored to share my knowledge about yoga and pregnancy with you!

WHY SHOULD I PRACTICE YOGA DURING PREGNANCY?

Emotional well-being during pregnancy is something I spend a good deal of time talking with my patients about, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more awareness to this need- Perhaps one good thing to come of COVID. Pregnancy is a time of incredible change as your body adapts and your baby grows! You may notice some new physical sensations, even aches and pains, during pregnancy. At the same time, hormonal shifts and normal worries can become exacerbated during pregnancy, increasing mental anguish and even leading to anxiety and depression in some expectant parents.

Several studies have shown that, when practiced regularly, prenatal yoga may provide the following benefits:

  • Easing pregnancy-related physical discomforts
  • Stress and anxiety reduction
  • Improved fitness and muscle tone
  • Enhanced pain tolerance and endurance during labor
  • Reduced maternal anxiety specifically regarding labor

WHAT ABOUT SAFETY?

Most yoga and other forms of exercise are generally considered safe during pregnancy (see Dr. Kalinowski’s prior blog post for more on this). However, if you are new to yoga, starting gradually is the key! I recommend practicing yoga specifically geared for prenatal practice, especially if you are new to yoga.

There are certain yoga postures that are part of a “traditional” practice that are not recommended during pregnancy–More on that later! If you already practice yoga regularly, you may be familiar with some of its many benefits. In this case, you are probably okay to make some adjustments to most of your regular practice, and again, avoid certain poses.

Like traditional yoga, prenatal yoga focuses on breath work and physical asana.

  • Pranayama, also known as breath work, in prenatal yoga helps to regulate the nervous system, promoting relaxation and easing anxiety, which in turn can help to relieve physical aches and pains that may occur during pregnancy.
  • Asana, the physical poses of yoga, aids in the maintenance of muscle tone, strength, and promotes relief of common physical discomforts like back pain.

WHICH POSES ARE BEST DURING PREGNANCY?

I recommend focusing on poses to help ease low back pain, open the hips, and support the core during pregnancy. Glutes, hip adductors/abductors, back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles are good areas to target during prenatal yoga. There are a number of excellent online platforms for virtual prenatal yoga classes, and I highly recommend starting out this way until it is safe to resume in-person classes.

There are MANY excellent yoga poses to incorporate during your prenatal practice! These are just a few of my favorite asanas and their associated benefits, along with recommended variations specifically for pregnancy.

  • Cat and Cow stretches: Marjaryasna Bitilasana
    • Warm up, connect with breath
    • Ease discomfort in hips, back, shoulders, neck
    • Avoid dropping belly too much towards the floor, instead focus on opening across shoulders and shift gaze slightly up, keeping spine mostly neutral
  • Puppy pose: Uttana Shishosana
    • Stretch shoulders, open spine and paraspinal muscles
    • I recommended a standing variation of puppy pose against a wall during late 2nd and 3rd trimesters to allow space for the baby
  • Warrior 2: Virabhadrasana II
    • Strengthen legs and pelvic floor, open hips
    • A narrow stance will be more accessible– Avoid a very wide stance due to increased stress on the pelvis
    • VARIATION: Drop your back knee to the floor and shift your back shin behind you to a 90 degree angle for support.
      • I recommend this variation during late 2nd and 3rd trimesters!
    • Option to use a chair to support hips and pelvis in the standing variation
      • Entire pelvis on the chair
      • Can add a folded up blanket on top of chair for additional support
  • Reverse Warrior: Viparita Virabhadrasna
    • Open side body and expand ribs, connect with breath
    • Keep top arm straight up towards the ceiling- Avoid overextending top arm back and hyperextending your back
    • VARIATION: Drop your back knee to the floor and shift your back shin behind you to a 90 degree angle for support
  • Tree Pose: Vrikasana
    • Strengthen leg muscles, pelvic floor, improve balance
    • Perform next to a wall for balance and support
  • Yogic squat: Malasana
    • Strengthen legs, open hips, release lower back
    • VARIATION: Elevate hips into more of a squat stance, similar to Goddess Pose
  • Goddess Pose: Utkana Konasana
    • More accessible than Yogic squat for many
    • Strengthen legs, open hips, release lower back
    • Option to use a chair to support hips/pelvis
  • Seated Wide Legged Forward Bend: Upavistha Konasana
    • Release lower back, open hips and pelvis
  • Easy Pose: Sukhasana
    • Release inner thigh muscles, strengthen paraspinal muscles
    • Connect with breath, meditation
    • Sit on a bolster or folded blanket to elevate hips and pelvis
  • Side Lying Savasana
    • Promote rest and relaxation
    • Option to add folded blankets or bolsters behind for added support and comfort

WHAT POSES SHOULD I AVOID DURING PREGNANCY?

I recommend avoiding the flying poses, inversions, and poses which restrict the abdomen. In general, any pose that could result in loss of balance, divert blood flow away from the heart and the baby, and restrict mobility should not be performed during pregnancy. Downward facing dog pose, which is technically an inversion, is one exception to this and may be performed safely during pregnancy for short periods of time.

Some of the more “common” poses to avoid are listed here:
**Please note, this is NOT an exhaustive list of poses to avoid**

  • Plank variations, including Chaturanga
  • Cobra Pose or Upward facing dog Pose – Bhujangasana or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
  • Handstand – Adho Mukha Vrksasana
  • Headstand – Sirsasana
  • Shoulder stand – Sarvangasana
  • Warrior 3 – Virabhadrasana III
  • Airplane pose – Dekasana
  • Twisted triangle pose – Parivrtta Trikonasana
  • Crow pose – Bakasana
  • Boat pose – Navasana
  • Locust pose – Salabhasana
  • Bow pose – Dhanurasana

As always, do not hesitate to check with your obstetrical care team at Kamm McKenzie about your individual circumstances before beginning any new regimen. I hope many of you will find this beneficial as you embark on your pregnancy journey, and maybe even inspire you to practice a little yoga!

With gratitude, Namaskar.

Written by Erica Howard, WHNP

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