Yoga offers plenty of benefits—including improved flexibility, mindfulness, and more—to just about anyone who practices the activity; one advantage of yoga is that it can be modified for people in any condition or life stage, and pregnancy is no exception. However, certain types of poses should be avoided during pregnancy to keep you and your baby safe.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid poses that require lying on your stomach, lying on your back (supine poses), and certain twists. It is also generally advised to avoid abdominal compression poses, full inversions, and backbends.
There are many alternatives and modifications to achieve the same benefits that each of the contraindicated poses provides. Additionally, taking a prenatal yoga class is your best bet for learning how to modify your yoga practice safely during your pregnancy.
What Yoga Poses to Avoid When Pregnant
While many poses are perfectly safe to do while pregnant, there are certain poses you will not be doing in a prenatal yoga class—and are not recommended in general—as these poses are best avoided during pregnancy. Such poses include the following:
1. Prone Poses (Belly-Down)
This one seems like a no-brainer once your belly begins to show; you won’t want to lie on your stomach as it won’t be comfortable for you or the baby.
What to do Instead: Child’s Pose is a good alternative, as well as Upward Dog. You can place blocks under your hands to elevate your body as your belly grows. If this is too uncomfortable, you can also do Cow Pose, a great back pain reliever.
2. Supine Poses (Lying Flat on Back)
Once you reach your halfway mark at 20 weeks, it is advised that you avoid all poses that require lying on your back for an extended amount of time; this is because your uterus’s growing weight places extra pressure on your vena cava and can lower your blood pressure enough to cause dizziness.
What to do Instead: Propping yourself up at a slight angle to your preference using rolled up blankets or a bolster pillow are sufficient modifications to supine poses like Savasana. Alternatively, you may also lie on your side.
3. Certain Twists
Back pain is a big complaint during pregnancy, and rightfully so! Twisting can be a major relief for back pain, but make sure you aren’t twisting your abdomen with it. Twisting can restrict blood flow and oxygen traveling to the baby, so be sure the baby is facing forward as you turn from your shoulders, creating space and opening the upper back.
What to do Instead: Open seated twists are great during pregnancy, relieving that tension in your back while keeping the baby safe.
4. Certain Inversions
Inversions such as Plow Pose should be avoided during pregnancy as it requires too much compression of the belly. Forward folds are another inversion that will become increasingly difficult to do without compressing the baby. Backbends can cause back pain, decrease blood pressure, and contribute to heartburn.
What to do Instead: Widening your stance in Forward Fold to allow room for your belly is a great way to alleviate lower back pain. Be sure to pause and do a halfway lift before coming all the way up, and rise slowly to reduce the risk of dizziness and lightheadedness.
Bridge Pose instead of Full Wheel is a safe alternative as it emphasizes opening the upper back and chest. Legs Up the Wall is another excellent pregnancy-safe inversion that can relieve tired, achy legs and swollen ankles.
5. Balance Poses Headstands/Handstands
As your center of gravity shifts due to a growing belly, you will want to avoid poses that rely heavily on balance, such as headstands and handstands, as dizziness and falling becomes a greater risk to you and your baby. Generally speaking, any pose that puts you at risk of falling should be avoided.
What to do Instead: Downward Dog or Child’s Pose are safe alternatives when you feel the need to reach down and connect with the earth and create space by lengthening the body.
6. Abdominal Compression Poses
Compression poses such as Boat Pose put too much pressure on the abdomen and are not considered safe during pregnancy.
What to do Instead: If you want to strengthen your core during pregnancy, engage your core muscles in all yoga poses that you do. You can also practice Plank Pose, with or without modifying it by dropping your knees. Tabletop Pose and Extended Table are also great gentle core poses that are safe for babies.
Best Yoga Poses During Pregnancy
Here are some of the best yoga poses to relieve the most common aches and pains of pregnancy:
Hands down, this pose is a winner. Back pain is the single most common physical pregnancy complaint, and this set of poses is the best to battle it.
Begin in tabletop with fingers pointed forward, toes curled under. On the inhalation, drop your belly and arch the spine upward as you lift your chin and chest into Cow Pose. As you exhale, tuck your tail, bring chin to chest, and round your back as you tuck your belly into your spine for Cat Pose. Flow in and out of this pose with your breath for as long as it feels good.
Modified Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is exceptional at opening the hips, which not only feels fantastic by releasing tension in the lower back but prepares the body for labor and birth.
The standard Pigeon Pose is safe to perform during pregnancy, but a modified pigeon may be more accessible to you. Begin while seated in a chair, feet flat on the ground. Lift one foot and bring the heel to the opposite knee, allowing the leg and hip to open out to the side. You can play around with leaning forward to adjust the stretch’s intensity and depth, keeping a straight and lengthened spine.
Tree Pose lengthens the body, opens the hips, engages the core, and strengthens the legs. What more could you ask for in a pose?
From Standing Mountain Pose, lift one foot and bring it to the inside of your opposite leg, keeping hips facing forward. You may be able to get the foot to the inside of your inner thigh, but a modification may prove more accessible to you during pregnancy.
Try placing your foot on the inside of your calf instead, or placing your toes on the ground and just your heel against the inside of your opposite ankle for greater stability. Just be sure to avoid the knee area. Inhale your arms upward as you lengthen your “branches” and open your chest and upper back.
Bridge Pose is an excellent hip opener and core and leg strengthener and can be done instead of Wheel Pose.
While lying on your back momentarily with your feet flat on the ground close to your seat, knees up, inhale, and slowly raise your hips upward toward the sky, engaging the glutes, core, and leg muscles. Breathe for a few breath cycles and then slowly lower.
You can add blocks or a bolster beneath your hips for added support. Roll your knees over to one side before preparing to transition up to a seated position.
Warrior II is your go-to for lengthening, opening, and strengthening during pregnancy.
From Mountain Pose, widen your legs 3 to 4 feet apart and point one foot toward the front of your mat and the other at a right angle to it. Align your heels as though they were on the same plane. Inhale your arms out to your side, parallel to the floor. As you exhale, bend your front knee over your ankle so your shin is perpendicular to the floor and your thigh is close to parallel. Adjust your gaze out over your front hand.
Goddess Pose is phenomenal at strengthening your legs and pelvic floor muscles in preparation for labor, not to mention empowering to move through.
From Mountain Pose, step your feet 3 to 4 feet apart, toes pointing outward. Inhale, bringing your arms up, and then bend the knees, squatting so that your thighs are close to parallel to the mat. Cactus the arms at right angles with hands extended upward.
Since this particular pose has been the topic of many heated debates among prenatal yoga circles, let’s dive a little deeper into this one and why it is safe to perform during pregnancy.
Is Downward Dog Safe During Pregnancy?
The short answer to this question is “yes.” Downward Dog can offer immense relief during pregnancy as long as you consider your pregnant body and modify the pose accordingly.
Make sure your feet are hip-distance apart or wider. This will allow space for your belly as well as greater stability and balance. Additionally, be sure to internally rotate your thighs and spread your sit bones. You may wish to add a slight (or greater) bend in your knees to keep your spine from curving too much, as the goal of Downward Dog is to lengthen and stretch.
Keep in mind that Downward Dog is an inversion, and as such, it can contribute to heartburn and acid reflux. If you are suffering from this during your pregnancy, you may want to avoid any poses where your head goes below your chest. Downward Dog can also be hard on the wrists, and so can pregnancy, so you may want to avoid putting pressure on your wrists if you are experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Here are some ways you can modify Down Dog and still reap the benefits of this omnipresent pose:
- Downward Dog at the Wall: Space feet hip-width apart. Bring arms in front of you and place palms, fingers outstretched, against the wall. Breathe in, walk feet backward as you hinge at the hips, and slide hands down the wall, creating an upside-down L-shape with your body.
- Puppy Pose: This modified version of Downward Dog is excellent if you suffer from wrist pain. Begin in tabletop, and remain on your knees as you walk your hands forward into an extension. Keep arms active and lower forehead to the mat, pillow, or block.
- Extended Child’s Pose: Extended Child’s pose differs from Child’s pose in that it is active, not restorative. So instead of relaxing into the pose, you will extend your arms forward, similar to Puppy Pose, except that your hips are back, and your seat is between your feet.
Prenatal Yoga for Pregnant Women
Prenatal yoga is yoga, particularly suited for pregnant women. In a prenatal yoga class, the instructor has ideally completed specialized training and has acquired expansive knowledge of the pregnant woman’s body and limitations, and will design their practice accordingly.
How is Prenatal Yoga Different From “Regular” Yoga?
There are several differences between a typical yoga class and a prenatal yoga class. In prenatal yoga, the flow of the session is generally slower paced and gentle. You will never find a hot prenatal yoga class. Prenatal yoga is about slowing down, listening to your body, and connecting with your baby.
Most poses are modified to accommodate a growing and changing body. Your instructor will have various modifications to help you get the most out of each pose, no matter where you are in your pregnancy and your practice.
They will generally offer an array of props to help support your body in certain poses as well, and usually, the further along you are in your pregnancy, the more props you will use for support.
Why is Prenatal Yoga Different?
According to What to Expect, during pregnancy, “your body produces more of a hormone called relaxin, which loosens your ligaments.” This can make many poses uncomfortable or unsafe. Your growing baby is also adding pressure on your pelvis and bladder, and your center of gravity is offset by the weight and size of your growing baby.
Therefore, you will likely not be doing very many balancing poses or inversions. Additionally, as your belly expands and your body begins to make more room for the baby, it is vital that you don’t do any poses that compress your abdomen. Prenatal yoga is about expansion, not compression.
What to Expect in a Prenatal Yoga Class
A prenatal yoga class is gentle in nature and may focus on any combination of the following:
- Breathwork and meditation
- Opening and stretching to prepare the physical body for labor and delivery and alleviate aches and pains of pregnancy
- Strengthening to support the physical demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum recovery period
- Savasana for total relaxation
Most instructors are willing to listen to their students and adjust their classes accordingly to meet them where they are. If you feel you need something specific in your practice that day, communicate that to the instructor either before the session or even during.
Many times, the prenatal yoga instructor will ask the women if there are any hot spots or areas they’d like to target or open up. Your practice is your own, so as always, be sure to listen to your body and go where it leads, and no further.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
The advantages of prenatal yoga are expansive, just like your miraculous body, as it makes room for a brand new human. The benefits span from physical and emotional to spiritual and may be unique to the individual practitioner. Here are just some of the many benefits of prenatal yoga:
The physical benefits of a prenatal yoga practice are well-documented and can not only help support a healthy pregnancy but a better labor and delivery experience.
- Relief from Aches and Pains of Pregnancy: Your instructor will choose poses that relieve many common physical complaints of pregnancy, including but not limited to back pain, round ligament pain, sciatic nerve pain, indigestion, carpal tunnel syndrome, and headaches.
- Support for a Restful Night’s Sleep: Yoga does wonders for sleep! Practicing a gentle yoga flow before bedtime can help relieve restless leg syndrome. It can also slow you down after a long day and wind the mind down in preparation for a peaceful night’s sleep.
- Circulation: Yoga helps increase blood flow and circulation and reduces swelling, a common complaint during pregnancy.
- Create Space for More Breath: As the baby grows and takes up space that was once only occupied by your organs, breathing may become more labored. Through breathwork and lengthening asanas, yoga can create more space and relieve shortness of breath during pregnancy.
- Tones and Strengthens: Yoga tones and strengthens important muscle groups, particularly the pelvic floor, which is essential during and after pregnancy. Yoga can help strengthen muscles and increase endurance that will aid in childbirth.
- Supports a Changing Body: By opening, stretching, and expanding, yoga can support your changing body as it grows to make room for the baby.
- Supports a Healthy Pregnancy: Research shows that women who practice yoga during pregnancy may have healthier pregnancies and deliveries overall.
- Prepares the Body for Labor and Delivery: Together, all these benefits of your prenatal yoga practice help prepare your body for a more positive pregnancy and birth experience.
Emotional & Spiritual Benefits
As is expected from a mind-body practice such as yoga, the benefits aren’t limited to the physical body. Yoga has far-reaching benefits that extend to your mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies as well. Here are some of the emotional and metaphysical ways prenatal yoga can support you during this incredible time of growth:
- Supports a Changing Mind: As you prepare to welcome a tiny new human into your life, your body is not the only thing undergoing massive changes. Your mind is, too. Your brain chemistry literally changes during pregnancy as your body produces surges of hormones not previously experienced. Yoga can help balance your emotions and stabilize your moods, supporting your emotional journey through this transitional time.
- Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Yoga is well known to reduce stress and anxiety. Prenatal yoga classes usually involve some level of breathwork and meditation, and these practices are scientifically shown to increase mindfulness and awareness and reduce anxiety.
- Increased Connection: Your prenatal yoga practice will encourage you to foster a growing connection to your unborn baby as you listen to your body and move with your baby. This can lead to greater bonding with your baby upon delivery. It also increases your connection to your own body, allowing for extraordinary intuition and trust in your body’s ability to know what to do and do great and challenging things.
- Community: In a prenatal yoga class, you are surrounded by other pregnant women who share a passion for physical and emotional health and wellness. What better way to begin building your support network than through this shared connection?
- Self-Care: Establishing a prenatal yoga practice is a wonderful way to practice self-care. Establishing a self-care routine before the baby arrives makes it much easier to resume and continue (when medically safe to do so) after the baby is here. Remember, taking care of yourself is taking care of the baby.
- Prepares for Labor and Delivery: By learning to listen to and trust your body through the practice of yoga, your routine can help prepare you emotionally and mentally for the experience of labor and childbirth.
As with any physical exercise regimen, and especially during pregnancy, it is always advised that you consult with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise.
Prenatal yoga can do wonders for your mind, body, and baby, and there are many ways you can achieve a healthy pregnancy through yoga. As always, your body and your intuition are your guides, so tune in and listen and trust what they are telling you. And most of all, have a happy, healthy pregnancy.