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I did regular yoga for the first months, but when I started specific pregnancy yoga poses in a real prenatal class, I was blown away at how much better it felt. Rather than having my teacher call out modifications for me during a coed class, I was in a room full of women with big bellies and a teacher who knew exactly which areas need the most attention.
I highly recommend finding a prenatal yoga class near you. You can usually find a 6 or 8 week series of classes, and though I've found they're sometimes more expensive than regular classes, they're so worth it. Often doulas and birth educators will visit and talk about birth options and nutrition, and other pregnant things.
I wanted to highlight some of the best pregnancy yoga poses that you can use during early pregnancy, on days off of your classes, and even if you're not taking a specific prenatal yoga class.
Even if you've never done yoga before, these would all be acceptable poses to begin with and are safe to do throughout pregnancy. You can start at any point during pregnancy, but make sure to keep doing them closer to your due date to retain the mental and physical benefits you gain through yoga.
Tailor sitting isn't a term my yoga instructors ever use for this position; I think it's more of a Bradley Method term, but we use it often in yoga. This position helps to bring your uterus forward and correct your posture, which can get wonky during pregnancy. It also helps to sit on a hard floor if you have hemorrhoids because it puts the pressure on your "sits bones" and less on the veins.
Sitting forward with your legs in a diamond shape helps to alleviate pressure on your lower back and bring circulation through your legs. You can spend time going from sitting straight up to lowering to your feet, massaging your legs as you go.
Most yoga practice involves some time doing cat and cow poses, and they're great during pregnancy as well. Cat pose helps to create space to breathe in more oxygen, which can get harder to do as pregnancy progresses. It also helps reduce upper back pain.
Cow position is one of the best pregnancy yoga poses for stretching your spine and strengthening the muscles around it, as well as strengthening your pelvic floor. If you find your baby has lodged herself into an uncomfortable position, cat/cow pose and pelvic rocking (focusing just on the lower part of your back in tiny cat/cows) can help move her into a more comfortable position.
One of the most well known poses is downward dog, and during pregnancy it's amazing for your legs and back. It helps you relieve stress that you feel in the back of your neck and shoulders, improves blood circulation throughout the body and brain, and it releases any crunching along your spine from the increased weight of your belly. It's also amazing for working out soreness in your hamstrings and calves. My teacher recommends a downward dog every morning to get a boost of energy.
As you are easing your way into a solid downward dog, putting more weight first on your toes and then more into your heels helps to unleash any tension in your calves and hamstrings. When you feel ready to go into a full downward dog, it's also a great idea to raise to the toes and then backwards for 25 times or so. These toe lifts help to reduce varicose veins and Charlie horses by releasing built-up fluids.
Probably the best pregnancy yoga pose for resting is child's pose. You have to widen your knees quite a bit more than when you aren't pregnant, but it feels amazing to lower your back and head to the ground and simply relax. My yoga teacher has us breathe in while bringing the breath up the spine and then breathe out and bring the breath down our spine.
A wide legged forward fold helps to ease tension through your back, neck, joints, and shoulders. It's a great prenatal yoga pose for improving breathing and circulation, and even decreases your blood pressure.
One of the most important pregnancy yoga poses is the squat. It's great for your pelvic floor and muscles, and its main focus is on the perineum. One of the best ways to prevent perineal tearing (or having to get an episiotomy) is to focus on squats through pregnancy. Squats also open your hips, elongates your spine, stretches your legs, improves your balances, and strengthens your core muscles. Squatting can also help counteract the bad side effects of sitting for long periods of time.
Incidentally, in many cultures the squatting position is a very common labor and birthing position because it widens your pelvis and makes more room for the baby's head to emerge.
Because it's so important, I give you two pictures so you can see the angle. The goal is to have your hips wide, your elbows inside your knees, your heels to the floor, your back straight, and your bottom as close to the ground as possible. You will gain strength as you work on it so don't worry if you are nowhere near "the goal" position. I'm not, but any form of it will help.
My yoga teacher likes to do a "keep up exercise" every week, and it always has something to do with strengthening our arms. Arms are key during labor, but are also important after delivery when you suddenly have a baby to carry around all day... not to mention car seats and strollers and everything else that comes with baby.
We do a work out with our arms straight out and either work on our deltoids, biceps, triceps, or overall arm strength in an all-out battle for three minutes. She says this is great practice for labor because it helps us remember we can overcome any physical sensation by bringing in the energy of the people around us and the millions of women who have given birth before us.
All of these pregnancy yoga poses have certain benefits, but it's important to remember that the biggest focus of yoga is on the breath. Learning to breathe in fully and release our breath slowly helps us calm down during stressful situations, relax when we're feeling pain, and keep perspective on what really matters in life. Within each prenatal yoga pose, you should worry very little about whether you are doing it right and more if you can breathe fully while in the pose.
Note: You should never feel pain during any yoga. While it's okay to push ourselves, if you feel overly tired, it's important to rest, especially during pregnancy. Also note that I am not a yoga instructor, so you should consult with an expert when doing any form of exercise and talk to a doctor if you ever feel pain.