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Tools for Teaching Prenatal Yoga: The Third Trimester

Help your third-trimester students use yoga to ease physical discomfort and prepare for labor.

By Brenda K. Plakans

Breath as a Teacher and Guide

Because a student in her third trimester has restricted mobility, her yoga practice can become quieter, with more emphasis on breathwork and less on asana. In fact, breathwork, or pPranayama, is a crucial part of a third trimester practice. Not only does it encourage relaxation but it also helps develop the ability to concentrate deeply. It can be done on its own, in a favorite hip-opening position (such as Supta Baddha Konasana [Reclined Bound Angle Pose], with pillows supporting the knees), or it can be used during asana practice to encourage focus.

Flashenberg uses breathwork to teach students to breathe evenly through a difficult pose. She says, "We'll do what I call the 'mock contraction,' which is Utkatasana (Chair Pose) done against the wall for 60 seconds, the length of the average contraction. I'll talk them through it: 'Relax your face, relax your jaw, move your breath.'" Students learn how breath can distract the mind from pain, which will be essential during labor.

Daina DeVoe, an obstetric nurse at Beloit Memorial Hospital in Beloit, Wisconsin, says the mental focus developed in a yoga class is an "absolute gift" during labor and delivery. "The breathing and the keeping of control through the pain is the most important thing. If they are doing any kind of focused breathing, I talk them through it to help them center and get better control of their pain during the pushing phase. Also, between the contractions, I have them rest with their breath, because often they will waste a lot of energy."

A Time to Connect

In the third trimester, the pregnant student is in the home stretch. This is the last time she will be able to focus only on herself for awhile, so help her enjoy the opportunity to concentrate on her own needs before the birth of her baby.

  • Encourage respect for her new shape. Students may be both amused and annoyed by the effect their growing bellies have on their ability to move. Make sure they have extra support, in case a pose becomes difficult. Even an experienced student hasn't done yoga while pregnant; the practice will be different.
  • Avoid inversions, backbends, and intense abdominal work. Many of these poses will be impossible, given the student's unbalanced shape. Don't let her overextend her already stressed joints and ligaments, especially in the torso.
  • Emphasize pranayama over asana. In the last trimester, intense focus is a talent to cultivate. Include hip and chest openers, alignment, and relaxation poses in the practice, but encourage breathwork in preparation for labor.
  • Use the breath as a vehicle to connect with the baby. Austin says, "I call it the 'secret message delivery service.' If teachers can help a woman connect to that baby and feel her breath feeding and fueling the baby, then she's going to use the practice to feel strong and centered and grounded. She's going to use her asana practice to literally be with her baby."

Expecting mother Roxi Thoren notes the progression of awareness during her own pregnancy. "There was a lot of quieting and centering at the beginning and end of class when (the teacher) talked about connecting with the baby, and I'd have to admit that at first it felt a little touchy-feely. Then later, when it began to be hard not to connect with the baby because she was kicking, I came to find it very comforting to be aware of what Ellie was doing. I was like, 'What are you up to in there?'"

Brenda K. Plakans, mother of three-year-old Eamonn and seven-month-old Alec, lives and teaches yoga in Beloit, Wisconsin. She also maintains the blog Grounding Thru the Sit Bones.

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Reader Comments


Why shouldn't Pregnant women do Down Dog? I heard something about "air bubbles"????

Lisa Mitchell

This is invaluable, thank you so much. It's hard to find time and money to do all the specialist courses so-long format articles like this are wonderful. Deep gratitude to you.


I have not read this but if I don't send it now I will forget. Tiffany had a 9 pounder 9 oz little beautiful boy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wow RA

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