Pregnancy comes with a slew of changes — not just to your body, but also to your healthy lifestyle. For a big-time runner like myself, I’ve learned that as my bump grows, I’m not able to move as fast as I could pre-pregnancy. Other times, can’t-stay-awake fatigue is enough to keep me from working out altogether.
Fortunately, some kinds of fitness — ahem, prenatal yoga — can help with seemingly every pregnancy symptom out there, alleviating the aches and pains associated with growing a baby, helping you feel strong (and calm) and preparing your body for labor (seriously, research says so!).
Of course, not all yoga poses are pregnancy approved. That’s why we asked top instructors who work with mamas-to-be to share their go-to positions for the nine months before baby arrives. Here, the moves to work into your routine — plus, how they can help with hip tightness, low back pain, energy levels, stress and more.
But first: before you start any form of exercise in your pregnancy, you should be cleared by your doctor.
Seated Side Bend (Sukhasana variation)
Start in a comfortable upright seated position with legs crossed or knees wide and one heel in front of the other. Allow right hand to rest comfortably on the ground. Reach left arm straight up, and lean to right, allowing right elbow to soften toward the ground. Focus on rotating upper torso and staying open as you gaze up at left hand. Take several deep breaths then repeat on other side.
“This pose reduces back pain and creates space for the belly to expand with more ease,” Heidi Kristoffer, a New York-based yoga instructor, tells SheKnows.
Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Sit on a bolster or blanket to prevent rounding the lower back and to help release pelvis forward. Place soles of feet together and let knees fall out to sides. Hinging from hips, walk hands out in front of you, keep spine long, and leave enough space for baby. Hold for a few breaths. If you are experiencing lower back pain or pain on either side of sacrum, bring feet further away from groin and place blocks under knees. Skip this pose if you have pubic symphysis pain.
“Baddha Konasana can stretch the pelvic floor and inner thighs,” Jennifer Sbrocchi, a registered prenatal yoga teacher on Long Island, New York, tells SheKnows. “This is also a great position to labor in when you’re stuck in bed or opt for an epidural because gravity helps your baby descend and it opens the pelvis.”
Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)
Stand with legs approximately three feet apart or narrower. Turn feet out on the diagonal away from your body’s midline. Bend into knees by reaching hips back as if sitting into a chair. Keep spine upright over hips and knees stacked right over ankles. Hold for five slow breaths. Cradle belly for connection with baby.
“This pose builds stamina and strength and helps to prepare for the effort of labor,” Tatyana Souza, owner of owner of Coolidge Yoga studios in Boston, Massachusetts, tells SheKnows. Besides firming up your quads, calves, pelvic floor and outer hip muscles, it also opens up the inner thighs, building balance and stability, she says.
Reclining Goddess Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana variation)
Sit with knees bent and feet on ground, with a yoga bolster or firm pillow longways behind you. Using arms and elbows, gently lower back onto the length of the bolster, sitting bones stay on the ground. Once comfortable, take feet together and knees apart, place one hand on heart and one on belly and breathe for 10 deep breaths. If necessary (for vena cava compression), place a yoga block or two under the bolster to prop it up enough that your head is above your heart, or to your comfort level.
“This pose is the mother of all prenatal yoga poses,” says Kristoffer. “It promotes deeper breathing, relaxation, reduces back pain, and improves hip flexibility for easier delivery.”
Chair Pose at the wall variation (Utkatasana)
Stand in front of a wall about one to two feet away. With hands at the wall (for support) slowly lower hips down to wall so that knees stack over ankles and thighs become parallel to the floor. Lean back against the wall for support and keep spine upright. Hold for five slow breaths. To make more challenging, lift arms overhead.
“This pose builds some major stamina and strength yet feels safe because of the wall support,” says Souza. Specifically, it strengthens your quads, calves, hamstrings and pelvic floor muscles, releasing tension in the low back and building stability.
Cat/Cow (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana)
Start in a tabletop position on hands and knees, shoulders over wrists. Inhale and drop belly toward ground, lift head and tailbone toward ceiling as much or as little as comfortable. Exhale and round spine toward ceiling, dropping head and tailbone toward ground. Repeat several times, matching your breath to the movements.
“This alleviates back pain, aids in relaxation and, as your belly grows, you will appreciate more and more any position that allows it to ‘hang’ like this,” says Kristoffer.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Place one block on the lowest height and aim to sit on the block coming into a squat. Keep your feet parallel to widen your pelvic outlet. With each inhale, send your breath to your belly and feel your pelvic floor release down into the block.
“Squatting helps to open your hips, lengthen and soften your pelvic floor muscles, and help position the baby in your pelvis,” says Sbrocchi. “During labor, you may want to push in this position and most hospital beds come equipped with a squat bar.” Note: She suggests avoiding deep squats late in your pregnancy if baby isn’t head down and/or facing your back or if you have placenta previa. Instead, try supported squats, sitting on at least two blocks.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Walk your feet in towards your body until your ankles are stacked under your knees. Keep your feet parallel feet and separated at hip distance. Relax your neck rand gaze upwards. Press into your feet and lift your hips, low back, and middle back off ground. Keep your shoulders firmly on the ground and open your chest. Hold for five slow breaths while gazing upwards. For a more restorative version, place a block under the hips.
“This pose builds strength in the hamstrings and calves, while also opening up the shoulders and the chest,” says Souza. “This pose also takes some pressure of the pelvic floor as the baby and organs are in a slight inversion, with respect to gravity.”
Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama)
Find a comfortable seat on a bolster or blanket to raise your hips. Inhale deeply through the nose for four counts and exhale either out mouth or through thenose for four counts. When pregnant, do not practice breath retention on inhale or exhale.
“Equal breathing creates balance and focus, helping you stay in your body and calm your mind at the same time,” says Sbrocchi. “This breath can be used during contractions.”
Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Sit on ground (maybe with a blanket under hips). Stretch your legs out long in front of you and bend one knee to side while placing the foot inside the inner thigh of your straight leg. Lengthen your spine and fold forward toward straight knee. Hold for five breaths, breathing deeply and slowly. Repeat on the opposite side.
“This pose lengthens the hamstrings, the muscles of the spine and inner thighs and helps open up the lower back and outer hips,” says Souza. “These areas especially get tight during pregnancy.” As your belly grows, take it into a side stretch variation, side bending over your straight leg, she suggests.
This post is sponsored by Nature Made Prenatals.