Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or new to yoga, navigating the mat during pregnancy can feel daunting.
Changes in balance, increased laxity in muscles and ligaments due to pregnancy hormones plus fluctuations in energy all affect the way our body feels.
For many expectant mothers, Pregnancy yoga can be a great way to reconnect with your body and bond with your growing baby.
While those who have a strong and consistent yoga practice prior to pregnancy may be able to continue with little modification right up to their due date, even the most dedicated yogi may consider modifying their practice to accommodate their growing baby; especially in the third trimester.
In fact, many women try yoga for the first time during pregnancy to help them prepare for pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period.
This article will explore what to expect when attending pregnancy yoga classes and help you to find classes to accommodate you and your growing bump!
Read on to learn more about:
- Guidance from specially trained instructors
- Slower paced classes
- Modified postures
- Pelvic floor strengthening
- Preparing for childbirth
- Meeting other Moms-to-be
- Do I really need a specific prenatal yoga class?
- How to find pregnancy yoga classes near me
Benefits of pregnancy yoga
The benefits of practicing yoga during pregnancy can include:
- A reduction in back and leg pain
- Reduced risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure)
- Ability to cope better with labor pain
- An easier recovery from childbirth
- Reduced risk of postpartum depression
Guidance from specially trained instructors
Pregnancy yoga classes are typically led by certified yoga instructors who also have specific training in prenatal yoga.
When choosing an instructor, it is important to know that while prenatal yoga teacher training is usually only 85 hours long, a foundational 200 hour yoga teacher training certification is a pre-requisite.A prenatal teacher will be instructed in how to teach a general class for the majority of pregnant women and therefore tend to err on the side of caution. Expect a slower, more basic practice supported by breath-work and relaxation.
Especially if you are new to the yoga practice, it is advisable to choose an experienced prenatal teacher who can guide you through proper alignment and technique.
Slower Paced Classes
Pregnancy yoga tends to be slower, more simple and less intense that your regular vinyasa flow classes.
A typical prenatal class will often begin with breath-work followed by gentle mobility exercises (often focusing on the hips) before moving on to forward folds to release lower back pain and warrior poses to strengthen the legs.
A good prenatal class should also include pelvic floor strengthening exercises and gentle core work, depending on the trimester.
Moving slowly is a wonderful way to practice lengthening and deepening your breath and focusing on the sensations in your body.
In this way, prenatal yoga helps you to connect deeply to your changing body and your growing baby.
It is also great practice for labor and delivery!
Prenatal yoga follows a basic set of alignment rules based on trimester.
It is useful to understand these whether you are practicing yoga in a group setting or continuing with your own practice at home.
As long as you have an uncomplicated pregnancy with no risk factors, you are usually given the go ahead to continue with your regular yoga practice.
For this reason, may existing practitioners choose to switch to prenatal yoga in their second trimester.
If you are continuing with your regular yoga classes in the first trimester, remember that hot yoga styles including Bikram are not recommended at any stage of pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga teaching advises the avoidance of certain twisted postures, backbends, core work and inversions:
- Avoiding ‘closed’ twists – a prenatal class may include gentle seated twists that encourage a mindful rotation from the ribcage upwards, but deep twists that compress the abdomen are out
- Avoiding intense core work – while variations of modified plank may be included in your classes, crunching movements and those that cause compression will be omitted
- Avoiding deep backbends – expect gentle camel’s pose (Ustrasana) in lieu of wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
- Avoiding inversions – most prenatal classes will avoid inversions except for downward facing dog (technically still an inversion because the head is below the heart)
- Avoiding lying on the belly or flat on the back for extended periods of time – from the second trimester onwards, pregnant people are advised to lie on their left side for savasana to allow for optimal blood flow from the vena cava
Prenatal yoga teaching advises following the same guidelines as in the second trimester plus:
- Widening the legs in forward folds and child’s pose – to make space for your growing bump
- Taking breaks as needed – in the third trimester as baby grows up into the diaphragm, breathing deeply can be difficult. It is common to feel out of breath with any physical exercise so rest and take breaks when you need to
One of the most beneficial aspects of prenatal yoga is the emphasis on breath-work.
Focusing on the breath is a proven de-stressor and a well used tool used during labor.
In prenatal yoga, you will likely practice deep abdominal breathing and perhaps Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing)
Note: if you are continuing with your regular yoga classes, it is important to stop practicing ‘forcefully ‘ pranayama like Kapalabhati and breath retention (Kumbhaka) while pregnant so that you can maintain the flow of oxygen to the placenta.
Hey, it’s totally fine to come just for the (side-lying) savasana!
Pregnancy can be a busy time; packing your hospital bag, wrapping up work, decorating the nursery, washing and folding all those adorable onesies. Sometimes, we just need to lie down.
Expect a blissfully long savasana supported with pillows and props at the end of every prenatal class …
Be sure to give your instructor an appreciative smile as you leave!
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises are an often overlooked but vitally important part of labor and postpartum preparation.
Pelvic floor exercises aren’t just for post-delivery.
When practiced regularly throughout pregnancy, pelvic floor strengthening exercises help support your spine as baby grows. In the third trimester learning to relax your pelvic floor muscles will help prepare for childbirth.
Prenatal yoga classes will guide you in honing your Kegel technique in a variety of positions.
Preparing for childbirth
Whether you are giving birth vaginally or via caesarian section, prenatal yoga can help an expectant mamma to feel connected to her body.
Yoga is a proven ‘destresser’ and can help to calm labor anxiety, encourage you to focus on your breath, and build your connection to your body and growing baby.
Meeting other Moms-to-be
One of the most profound benefits to joining a regular prenatal yoga class is the chance to meet other like-minded mothers-to-be.
This is especially valuable for women who may not have family or close friends nearby.
You have probably heard the saying “it takes a village” …
Many women who meet in their pregnancy yoga classes continue to meet for playdates and kids birthdays years after their last prenatal savasana.
Do I really need a specific prenatal yoga class?
In a nutshell, no, but that very much depends on your previous yoga experience and how your pregnancy is progressing
Women who have a strong and consistent yoga practice may need little to no modification the whole way through their pregnancy.
An experienced practitioner will also be familiar with different modifications for each posture and can therefore follow prenatal guidelines during their home practice is they choose to.
For those who are newer to yoga, and especially those who have any complications or specific medical needs, it is important to seek out an experienced, qualified instructor who can guide you.
TIP: If you plan on continuing your regular yoga classes, tell your instructor that you are pregnant so that they can offer alternatives and avoid any unsafe physical assists.
How to find pregnancy yoga classes near me
There are three elements to look for when searching for a prenatal yoga teacher …
- Recommendation – First and foremost, ask friends, family and your local yoga community for their recommendations and then reach out and ask about a trial class
- Experience – Ask your prospective prenatal instructor for a run down of their experience guiding pregnant people. Can they provide testimonials or references from previous students?
- Certification – It may come as a surprise that this is last on the list. Truthfully, anyone with a foundational yoga certification can complete a prenatal yoga course is an little as one week, often online. Certification does not guarantee a quality instructor so be sure to dig a little deeper
Yoga Alliance’s directory is a great resource for finding prenatal yoga instructors. Look for the designation ‘RPYT’.
In order to be listed, instructors need to show:
- A 200-hour yoga teacher training certification
- An additional 85-hour prenatal yoga training
- Applicants must submit 30 teaching hours in prenatal yoga which must be performed after completing a training with a RPYS
For more guidance on practicing yoga whilst pregnant, check out the article Pregnancy Yoga: Can I Still Attend My Regular Yoga Classes? & Top Tips For Every Trimester