Prenatal yoga classes are the best. Part yoga class, part therapy session, it’s basically a time for a bunch of pregnant ladies to get together and commiserate about everything they’re struggling with—insomnia, indigestion, back pain, hemorrhoids, fear of the birth, et cetera, et cetera—as well as all the joy and anticipation coming their way.
Oh, and you get to do some yoga, too! It’s a win-win.
What is prenatal yoga? And how is it different from other types of yoga?
“The main difference between regular yoga and prenatal yoga is that the focus is more on maintaining—over improving—flexibility and range of motion,” says Rebecca Conant, founder and owner of Om Births in Watertown, Massachusetts.
“Asanas are performed with an an eye to the hormonal changes that are occurring in the prenatal body, specifically the increased relaxin and progesterone, which leave the body more flexible and at risk for over-stretching.” This means that certain postures, like pigeon, should be done with additional hip support to avoid straining the pubic or sacroiliac joints.
The other difference in emphasis is more subtle. “In prenatal yoga, the idea of being present, or working with the mind, has a more direct application,” says Conant. “Being present to the physical changes, being present and calm with intense sensations—which can be applied towards the intensity of labor—and being present to the changes in identity that accompany the journey into motherhood.”
Conant’s classes often end up being part yoga, part childbirth education. Postures, pranayama, and meditations all take on a birth-related focus, and ultimately that ability to work with the mind has a dramatic impact on the experience of pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum.
Here are some other features of prenatal yoga that are slightly different from traditional yoga classes:
- Gentle is often the name of the game. You’re not going to find crazy vinyasas, closed twists, or backbends.
- The focus is on strengthening the pelvic floor and on breathing. Both can help you tremendously during labor.
- Some poses are off limits. Pregnant women should not lie on their bellies or do closed twists (open twists are okay and can be great for back pain). Some women also don’t like to invert during pregnancy and should avoid lying on their backs for long periods of time.
A lot of focus is paid to the baby. In ordinary yoga classes, you don’t sit around with your hands on your belly sending loving vibes to your…stomach. But prenatal yoga gives you the chance to slow down and connect with your baby and your changing body.
How safe is prenatal yoga?
Here’s how you gauge whether your exercise regimen is pregnancy safe: What were you doing before you conceived? Chances are you can continue doing whatever it was—unless you were going to spin class or hot yoga, or running marathons (as always, check with your doctor). In other words, if you were practicing yoga, keep at it! If you weren’t, this is a perfect way to strengthen and stretch your body, and, most importantly, to connect with your changing self, both mentally and physically.
Why is prenatal yoga good for me?
Pregnancy is a time of tremendous change, and yoga gives you a chance to be present with it all—to simply be with your body as it grows a human. Here are a few of the wonderful benefits of this practice specifically:
- Unlike at the gym, where you can work out while watching TV or listening to a podcast, yoga asks you to be with your body (and baby!) in each moment on your mat.
- You practice breathing and working with challenging sensations. This will be vital during the birth! When pain or discomfort arise, you always have access to the breath. This is what you practice on a small scale during class (say, in Warrior I, when your quad is burning!) that can be applied later on to labor.
- Stronger muscles can help you stay healthy during your pregnancy and through labor and delivery.
- It helps with circulation, discomfort, and tight muscles.
- You tap into a community. “This isn’t just a place to come work out,” Conant says. “This is where you meet other moms and the sangha aspect gets encouraged.”
Three Prenatal Primer Poses
NB: It’s always best to try these with the help of a teacher first.
This is a squat, but you want to put block under the hips so you’re not putting too much pressure on your joints and ligaments. Squat with your feet 6 to 10 inches apart and a block under the pelvis. You can also put a rolled up blanket under your heels if they don’t touch the ground.
Bring your hands together at your heart in prayer pose, and press your elbows into the insides of your knees. Stay here or reach the torso forward between the thighs and breathe into your back.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart on your mat. Your feet should be parallel and your weight evenly distributed on the four corners of the feet. Engage the thighs and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and lift your chest up, then exhale and fold over your legs with your hands reaching for the floor.
NB: Do NOT let your arms hang out in space. Make sure they are on the floor, a block, or a chair. You should not be struggling to reach something, so use props as needed.
Bound Angle Pose
Sit with your back against a wall. Make sure you’re sitting up on a blanket or two so your pelvis isn’t rolling under you and making your spine collapse in a C shape.
Draw the soles of your feet together and spread your knees apart. If you can hold onto the big toe (or feet), great. If not, you can use a belt around your ankles. Allow your thighs to relax down as you breathe.