Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal yoga has grown in popularity over the past decade. Yoga is a gentle form of exercise (think happy joints) that can help women stay limber and toned while pregnant, while also improving one’s balance and circulation. Yoga also teaches the mom-to-be how to breathe more efficiently, which is very beneficial when progressing through the stages of labor. Yoga also helps moms stay relaxed as the delivery progresses- when the mother is afraid, anxious or in pain, the levels of oxytocin (the hormone that helps labor along) can decrease. Continued practice of yoga can teach women how to counteract the pain they may be feeling and encourage them to focus on breathing and relaxation instead.

Yoga can also…

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase the strength, endurance and flexibility of the muscles needed to aid in childbirth
  • Decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath
  • Decrease the risks of preterm labor and pregnancy-related hypertension

When practicing prenatal yoga, each trimester has its own safety guidelines. For example, in the first trimester, there may not be as many physical limitations; however, a mother should take care to stay hydrated before, during and after practicing yoga. A woman in her first trimester should also let her teacher know she is pregnant and listen to her body- poses that were favorites before may not feel as comfortable anymore. During the second trimester, a woman’s joints begin to relax, so proceed slowly into postures. Likewise, the changing body affects one’s balance, so tread lightly and take time to safely express the yoga pose. Throughout the second trimester, lying flat is also discouraged as doing so can affect blood flow to the uterus. In the third trimester, balance is even more challenging- so props, such as blocks and straps might be very beneficial. Other things to know when practicing prenatal yoga include avoiding poses that overstretch the abdominal muscles, such as certain backbends and deep twists. It is also best to avoid practicing yoga in rooms that are 90 degrees or higher, as it puts women at an increased risk of overheating.

Here are a few helpful yoga poses for pregnant women:

Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana)

This pose allows a pregnant woman to remain seated and is a great position for opening the pelvis.

To perform this pose:

  • Sit straight against a wall with the soles of the feet touching one another.
  • Gently press the knees down and away from each other- taking care not to force them apart.
  • Remain in the pose as long as it is comfortable.

Easy Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

This posture increases flexibility in the back and shoulders and stretches and releases tension in the neck. It also strengthens leg muscles.

To perform this pose:

  • Lie on the back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and close to the buttocks. Arms remain by the sides.
  • Begin by pressing the lower back into the floor so that the tailbone lifts up and away from the floor.
  • Slowly lift the lower back off of the floor, one vertebra at a time. Buttocks should be lifted a few inches from the floor. Take care that the weight is not on the shoulders and neck.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Lower the back one vertebra at a time. Relax with the legs outstretched or hug the knees gently to the body.
  • Repeat once more.

Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)

This posture strengthens and relaxes the lower back, which can decrease back pain- a condition that plagues most pregnant women. It also increases flexibility along the spine, improves circulation and stretches the muscles in the back, neck and arms.

To perform this pose:

  • Begin in a tabletop position with hands and knees on the floor. The arms should be shoulders-width apart and the knees should be hips-width apart. Keep the arms straight- taking care not to lock the elbows.
  • Round the back upwards (like a stretching cat) on an inhalation.
  • On an exhalation, release the spine and let the belly sink towards the floor.
  • Relax the back into a neutral position and repeat at one’s own pace.


Squats are a great way to open up the pelvis and strengthen the legs.

To perform squats:

  • Stand with the back facing the wall and the feet a little wider than hips-width apart with the toes pointed outward.
  • Contract the abdominal muscles and lift chest, while relaxing the shoulders. Lower the tailbone toward the floor. Find one’s balance and then place most of the weight toward the heels.
  • Take a nice, long inhalation. On an exhalation, rise to standing.

Sideways Swing (Parighasana)

This pose tones and strengthens muscles along the sides of the body, assists with digestion and increases flexibility of the spine.

To perform this pose:

  • Sit on a mat with legs bent to the right of the body.
  • Inhale and raise arms up, while interlacing the fingers over the head.
  • Bring the upper arms alongside the ears.
  • Slowly curve the body to the right while exhaling.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 seconds while breathing deeply.
  • Inhale and return to an upright position. Lower the arms, rest and breathe normally.
  • Move legs to the left side and repeat by curving to the left.
  • Repeat this sequence one more time on each side.

Easy Pose (Sukhasana)

This pose relaxes the muscles in general and allows the yogi to return to the present. It slows the mind, reduces heart rate and brings about calmness.

To perform this pose:

  • Sit in any comfortable seated position.
  • Place the arms are by the sides or keep them folded in the lap. Keep the shoulders down and away from ears.
  • Close the eyes and breathe deeply.
  • Exhale, allowing the muscles to relax completely.
  • Breathe deeply several times while continuing to relax and let go.

Side Lying Position

This pose is a nice way to rest at the end of a yoga practice.

To perform this pose:

  • Lie on whichever side is more comfortable with the head resting on the arm or a blanket.
  • Put a body pillow or blanket roll between the thighs to provide support to the hips.

The weekend of October 10, 2014, the Wilmington Yoga Center will be holding a prenatal yoga teacher training. The 3-day training is designed for yoga teachers, yoga teachers in training, midwives and doulas who work with pregnant women. The program will instruct teachers how to help their students prevent common discomforts of pregnancy and enrich the childbearing experience.

Register here!