Whether you’re a pregnant student or a yoga teacher, it’s good to know some yoga modifications for pregnancy. Most of us go to or teach open level classes, so knowing a few basic asana options to make practice more accessible and empowering is a good place to start.
This article is not about pre-natal specific classes but about joining in a class and knowing how and where to modify it.
In this article, we’ll take a look at:
- Why yoga is a great practice for pregnancy
- Tips for practicing throughout pregnancy
- Yoga modifications for pregnancy
An Overview Of Pregnancy Yoga
Pregnancy is not necessarily the time to start a rigorous practice or to learn new challenging asanas but if a student has a long-time regular practice, then it will likely be important to them to continue as much as possible throughout pregnancy.
Every pregnancy is different and while it’s great to have options, not every student will want or need to take all of them.
There will likely be a point when doing advanced asanas such as big backbends won’t feel comfortable and an experienced yogi will know when to modify and remove poses from their repertoire.
It’s important to remember that the practitioner is in charge and should feel empowered throughout their pregnancy and their practice. Yoga is not about enforcing rules over pregnant bodies.
Some modifications might feel great for some students and not for others, so it’s worth having options but knowing that you don’t have to stick to them.
Tips for practicing throughout pregnancy
Here are some but by no means all of the basic principles for modifying a yoga practice for when there is a baby on board.
#1: Make Space For Your Baby
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But as the baby grows it demands more space, and poses might start to feel uncomfortable. Avoid any postures that compress the stomach.
This is especially necessary for forward bends. Legs will often need to be wider than hip width to create a wider stance and give the bump more space. Blocks are also a great way to modify poses by making the arms longer and giving more space for the baby.Prone poses where students are required to lie on their bellies are to be avoided. This includes poses like sphynx, cobra and locust which should be replaced with all fours backbends such as cow or tiger pose.
Other poses that can constrict the belly are twists. Generally, students should avoid “closed” twists – anything where the arm is leveraging into the twist. “Open” twists work well for pregnant people where the arms are kept out of the twists. It’s important for everyone but especially those with a baby on board to twist from the rib cage and not from the stomach.
#2: Limit Time In Inversions
Many students continue to practice inversions throughout their pregnancy but if students do decide to invert it’s best to keep the duration to a minimum.
#3: Focus On Strength Not Stretching
Pregnant students should be mindful of overstretching.
The hormone relaxin, which is released during pregnancy to prepare the body for birth, increases flexibility. Ligaments can become more lax and can lead to joint instability.
Prioritizing strength during a pregnancy is a great idea while poses like the splits may be good to leave out.
#4: Practice Gentler Breathwork
Strong breathing practices such as kapalabhati and bhastrika should be avoided during pregnancy. Try something more gentle like alternate nostril breathing or Bhramari breathing.
#5: Be Mindful Of Lying On Your Back
Lying on the back without raised support can compress the inferior vena cava.
This vein gets deoxygenated blood from the lower part of the body up to the heart. When this compression happens (because of the weight of the baby), it will cause discomfort and students should not remain on the back if this occurs.
But remember, there isn’t a one size fits all for students. Some students will find it more comfortable to lie on their back rather than on their side, even if the advice is not to be supine.
Traditional supine savasana can be a lovely thing for those in the earlier stages of pregnancy, so there is no need to insist that side-lying savasana be performed.
The bottom line is that if it’s uncomfortable for the student to lie on their back, then they shouldn’t do it. A good way to modify is the bring the upper body to a 45-degree angle using a bolster and blocks, making sure that the head is above the heart.
#6: Adjust Your Balancing Poses
Balance can change during pregnancy. This is something to be aware of in all balancing postures as well as arm balances and inversions.
Your Yoga Practice In Each Trimester
This can be a tricky time to practice and some say don’t practice at all but yoga is has a broad spectrum of practices to choose from.
With many people feeling nauseous and lacking in energy during the first trimester gentle breathing practices, meditation and restorative yoga are a great option. They are no do’s or don’ts but making sure that rest is taken during this trimester is important.
Many people regain their energy in the second trimester and stop feeling nauseous. In terms of yoga practice, relaxin starts to kick in and there are physical changes within the body that may inhibit things like prone poses such as locust pose.
Many people practice close to their pre-pregnancy routine during the second trimester provided that they are feeling fit and healthy. Movement and self-care as a product of yoga can be a great thing for the second trimester.
The physical changes to the body mean that some adjustments to practice will most likely need to be made. As long as there are no precautions, practice can continue into the third trimester as long as it feels comfortable.
It’s important to stay vigilant of the extra relaxin within the body as well as a changes in sense of center due to the baby’s weight. Many people prefer to lie on their side during the third trimester.
6 Yoga Modifications for pregnancy
Here are some common poses that appear in many yoga classes that can be modified for pregnancy.
#1: Boat Pose → Bird Dog Pose
#2: Prone Backbends →Tiger Pose
Start by coming on to all fours. Lift up the left foot keeping the knee bent and reach around and catch the left shin or foot with the right (opposite) hand. Repeat on the other side.
#3: Child’s Pose → Modified Child’s Pose with Props
Childs pose can begin to be tricky as the body changes, especially in the third trimester. To make way for the baby, come into a kneeling position with the toes together and the knees comfortably wide.
Lower the chest and head down onto a bolster or stack of folded blankets so that the head and chest are supported but with space for the baby.
#4: Bow Pose → Camel Pose
Lying prone, as we have discovered, is pretty much a no-go for pregnancy so camel pose can be a great alternative to bow pose as it is such a similar shape.
Start out in a kneeling position with the legs and feet around hip-width apart. The hands can rest at the heart centre in prayer. Hinge back at the hips a little and then lift the chest. For those who can easily catch one or both heels, that is an option too.
Be sure to come out of the pose slowly and pause.
#5: Revolved Side Angle Pose → Supported Side Angle Pose
Because revolved side angle is a closed twist, supported side angle is a great option to work with. Start with the right foot at the top of the mat and the left foot at the back of the mat with the back heel down.
With the right knee bent, lean the torso down so that the right forearm rests on the right thigh. Rotate the chest up to the sky and try not to lean on the arm too much. The left arm goes up and overhead with the palm facing down.
#6: Shoulder Stand Pose → Legs Up The Wall Pose
If you want to steer clear of bigger inversions, then legs up the wall pose is a great substitute. To come into the pose, place a folded blanket close to the wall.
It’s a little tricky to get into but sit on the edge of the blanket and swing the legs up the wall so that the blanket is underneath the back of the sacrum. Come out the same way you went in but lie on your side for a few moments before coming up.
If you’re eager to find out more about yoga during pregnancy, then check out Pregnancy Yoga: Can I still attend my regular yoga classes? And top tips for every trimester.