Practising Yoga during pregnancy – Part 3 – More Advanced Postures
Compiled by Jane Fraser (Weideman)
This is the third article in a series about yoga in pregnancy.
Before you start remember that in general, you want to avoid any strain, compressing and twisting in the belly or abdomen. Also avoid most inverted poses (headstands, handstands, shoulder stands) unless you are experienced in and very comfortable doing them. Absolutely no breath retention or breath of fire should be attempted. Above all … listen to your body! Your body and baby will let you know what you need and what poses are uncomfortable. And please … don’t practice yoga to the point where you’re exhausted.
Foreword: As with any exercise program it is best to consult your doctor before beginning. However, with the exception of not lying directly on your back or stomach after the fourth month, and avoiding what doesn’t feel right to you, there is very little yoga that would be a problem during pregnancy.
Modifications for yoga during Pregnancy
The Basic Rule: The more your belly grows, the more challenging balance poses become (due to your shifting centre of gravity) so avoid postures that are uncomfortable, or feel to unstable or cause doubt. Or alternately use the wall!
Pregnant women are generally told not to lie on their backs after the first trimester in order to prevent Vena Cava Syndrome (a lowering of blood pressure due to the baby pressing on the vena cava artery). Use common sense and listen to your body. It varies amongst different body types. Ed’s note: You will know if this is a problem for you – as you will feel feint and light headed when lying on your back for any length of time. If you feel fine – you are.
Bolsters and cushions can make a big difference and make postures more comfortable. During deep relaxation you can bend your knees or lie on your side with cushions under your neck, baby and between your legs. During the second and third trimester, do not lie on your stomach.
Note that pregnant woman are subjected to the hormone relaxin. The purpose of this natural hormone is to facilitate the pelvis and hips to gracefully shift during pregnancy and child birth providing an easier passage way for the baby’s arrival. Due to the softening effect of relaxin on all joints and ligaments pregnant woman need more support when they are stretching to ensure they don’t over stretch and strain.
Breathe through your nose, relaxing your jaw and drawing air deeply into your belly.Move with intention, allowing each move to follow the flow and rhythm of your breath.Do not overexert yourself. Remain calm and relaxed during the routine.Wear loose, comfortable cotton clothing and drink water before, during and after your practice.
While in labour, you can rely on “ujai pranayama,” an ancient breathing technique, to help you relax through contractions. Keep your jaw and face relaxed and eyes closed, place the top of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and hands on your belly. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and imagine drawing the breath into the crown of your head and the deepest part of your belly. Then exhale through your nose, drawing the belly gently in to empty all the air out. (It can help to imagine the complete relaxation you feel and deep breathing you do just as you are drifting off to sleep. Ujai breathing is similar to this.)
On to the poses…
You may want to use the poses described in the second article as part of your warm up and cool down to your yoga work-out…
Standing Mountain Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees soft and toes pointed straight ahead, your palms touching at “heart center” (in front of your chest). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Inhale and sweep your arms out and overhead, bending back slightly. Exhale and stand upright, returning hands to heart center. Repeat for 10 full breaths. The continuous flow warms up your body and prepares you for the rest of the program.
Supported Triangle Stand with your feet about 2x shoulder-width apart, toes facing front, hands on hips. Turn your right toes in and left toes out. Bend left leg, placing your left hand on the thigh, eyes looking down. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your right arm above your shoulder and turn your head, eyes looking up. Place your left arm on your thigh for support. Hold for 1 full breath as you lower your right arm and straighten leg. Return to starting position, then repeat for 5 full breaths. Reverse feet and repeat sequence on the other side. Strengthens and stretches the entire body and helps prepare you for labour.
Tree Pose This pose helps strengthen your thighs, calves, ankles and back. It can also increase the flexibility of your hips and groin. Your balance and concentration can also be improved with constant practice. This Yoga Pose is recommended for people who have Sciatica and flat feet. Start with the Mountain Pose (see above), as you exhale, place your left foot on the inside part of your right leg, close to the groin area, with the toes pointing downward. As you inhale, stretch your arms sideways to form a T, palms facing down. As you exhale, bring your palms together in prayer position. Raise your arms overhead, keeping your palms in prayer position. To maintain balance, it helps to focus your eyes on one point in front of you and keep on breathing through the belly. In the beginning, you may use a back brace against a wall to help you keep yourself steady.
Half or Full Squat Stand with your feet 2x hip-width apart, with a stack of pillows on the floor behind you. Bend knees to lower hips into a deep squat (sitting onto the pillows for support if you need to). Place your palms together at heart centre (shown). Close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose as you relax your pelvic floor (the muscles surrounding the vagina). Hold for 10 full breaths, then go onto hands and knees for next move. In a healthy pregnancy this is an excellent pose to practise, as it strengthens the thighs and teaches you to relax the pelvic floor, preparing you for labour.
Ed’s Tip: You can also practise your labour breathing techniques while holding this pose! Breathe through the burning sensations in your thighs as you feel them working and try to hold for 60-90 seconds – which is about as long as a contraction lasts.
Note: This pose is not recommended if you are experiencing any signs of premature labour.
Moving Cat Sequence Kneel on all fours, abdominals drawn in. Inhale and gently arch your back, tipping your tail-bone up, eyes looking up. Exhale and round your back as you tuck your chin in toward your chest. Sit back on your heels into Child’s Pose and relax for 1 breath. Repeat sequence 10 times. Remain in Child’s Pose for 5 slow breaths to cool down. Builds stamina and strength in the arms, back and abs, and teaches you to relax and let go.
Warrior Pose II ( Warrior Pose I is tricky in pregnancy as stretches and places strain on the stomach and requires a lot of balance. Warrior II which still strenuous is probably a safer option for most people.) This posture strengthens your legs, back, shoulders, and arms, building stamina. It opens your hips and chest, and improves balance. Start with the Mountain Pose (as above). Step your legs open so that your feet are around four feet apart. Raise both arms parallel to the floor. Turn your head to the left. Turn your left foot 90 degrees to the left and bend your left knee. Keep the hips in the same angle (180 degrees) as for the arms. Stay in this position for 30 seconds to one minute. This is a powerful Standing Pose which provides numerous benefits such as increase in stamina and improved strength in the legs and ankles.
Side Stretch This side stretch will increase the flexibility of your spine, arms, and rib cage as it stimulates the liver, kidney, and spleen functions. Furthermore, the Yoga Pose will also help realign your spinal column and will aid the lungs to take in more oxygen. Start with the Mountain Pose (shown above) and establish a smooth flowing breath. As you inhale, raise your left arm, making a line from your left foot to the fingertips. Place your right hand on your right hip. As you exhale, bend your upper body to the right. Hold for several breaths. Inhale, and bring the body back to the original position. Repeat the pose on the other side. If it is too strong for you to do this standing, you can try a seated variation.
Full Butterfly Sit with legs outstretched. Bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together, keeping the heels as close to the body as possible. Fully relax the inner thighs. Clasp the feet with both hands. Gently bounce the knees up and down, using the elbows as levers to press the legs down. Do not use any force. Repeat up to 20-30 times. Straighten the legs and relax. This pose helps to open the hips and relieves tension in the inner thigh muscles. Removes tiredness from legs.
Reverse table top Sit tall with your legs bent, palms down and behind hips, shoulders back and down, chest lifted. Pressing into your hands and keeping shoulders back and down, inhale, then exhale as you lift your hips to a comfortable position, keeping neck in line with your spine. Hold for 1 full breath, then lower hips to starting position and repeat 5–10 times. Strengthens upper back, shoulders, buttocks and abs, improving overall balance and coordination.
Bridge Strengthens the spine, opens the chest, improves spinal flexibility, stimulates the thyroid. Lie on the back. Bend the knees, bringing the soles of the feet parallel on the mat close to the buttocks. Lift the hips up towards the ceiling. Interlace the fingers behind your back and straighten the arms, pressing them down into the mat. Roll one shoulder under and then the other. Lift the hips higher. Draw the chest toward the chin, but do not move the chin toward the chest. Make sure the feet stay parallel. Release the hands and bring the upper, middle, and then lower back down. Rest , allowing the knees to knock together.
To be completed soon.
Below is attached a very useful Great Pregnancy Yoga Poses document beautifully illustrating the various pregnancy poses (with variations):
– Great Pregnancy Yoga Poses .pdf document (right click to download, or click to access directly).
For some listings of recommended local (Cape Town) Yoga teachers experienced in Prenatal Yoga. See our Local Recommendations section.
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