During pregnancy the body changes rapidly, but if we use our yoga practice wisely, we can support these changes, making us strong and flexible in all the right places for easier labor, delivery and recovery.
Physical changes are inevitable in pregnancy. Literally every day it’s as if we have a new body. Fortunately, if we use our yoga practice wisely, we can support these changes, making us strong and flexible in all the right places for easier labor, delivery and recovery.
When I was pregnant with my each of three kiddos, it felt good to flow and move with the breath. A yoga practice that is strictly flow without longer holds (or all passive), though, won’t build the strength and stamina necessary to support your baby and body for the 40-week term. It is the isometric contractions of longer holds in yoga poses that build muscle and increase joint mobility and stability, which are possibly even more important in pregnancy.
So in my practice, I played with “imprinting” the alignment, beginning slowly, holding postures for 8–12 breaths. Then when my body had found its well-aligned placement for that day, I would begin to move through the same postures, holding for just 1–3 breaths. The longer holds also helped me get to know my body on that day. When we slow down and take time to feel ourselves in a posture, we can tune in to the changes and modify our practice to open or strengthen muscles to find more support and ease in our bodies through the journey of pregnancy. Below is one of my favorite sequences for strengthening and creating space in the growing mama body.
Props: You will need one block at the front of your mat.
Warm-up: These first two postures are fluid and designed to mindfully awaken the muscles and to begin to link the breath to movement.
Imprint: Try to complete the sequence on one side then switch to the other side at the end, returning to Crescent Lunge. Rest or take the modification as needed.
Flow: Then repeat the sequence starting with Crescent Lunge holding each posture for just 1–3 breaths for a yummy mama-centered flow. Repeat 3 times each side.
On all fours, with the wrists beneath the shoulders and the knees beneath the hips, ground the entire hand into the earth, keeping the arms strong and straight. Press the shins down to make the thighs strong. Imagine you have a block between the inner thighs and are holding it steady by firming the outer hips in. The arms and thighs are like pillars and your spine undulates like a suspension bridge between the 4 pillars. As you inhale, the tail and heart lift to the sky, as you exhale, press the mat away and round the spine. Repeat for 12 cycles of breath.
To warm up the body, you will start in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Continue to feel the outer hips firming to center and hold for 5 breaths. Your inhale will shift you forward until you arrive in Plank (place the knees down as necessary to modify). Hold for 5 breaths. Then, on an exhale, you will lift the hips back and up to Down Dog. Repeat for 3 rounds.
See alsoFlex Your Strength in Down Dog
From Down Dog, step one foot forward and stay balanced on the ball of the back foot. Align the front knee over the ankle. Bring your torso and reach both arms to the sky. As the front thigh drops down toward parallel to the earth, feel the back leg inner thigh soften toward the wall behind you. Firm the outer hips toward one another and lengthen the torso out of the pelvis. Hold for up to 12 breaths.
Note: You can modify by placing the back knee down on the mat.
From Crescent Lunge, keep the front leg outer hip firming in as you spin the back heel down so that the feet are aligned heel to heel. Keep the bend in the front knee and align it with the second and third toes. Straighten the back leg. Square your torso (not your pelvis) to the sidewall as you extend your arms straight out to the side, wrists at shoulder height. The front thigh hip likes to stick out, keep hugging it in. Imagine you could inhale from the tip of your tailbone feeling the inhale create length and space all the way up your spine to the base of the skull, keep this length as you exhale, continue for 12–15 breaths.
From Warrior II, keep the front arm reaching forward; take the back arm hand to your hip to stabilize the pelvis. Stay low in the front thigh as you inhale and reach the front arm up and back, opening the side body. Hold for 3 breaths.
From Reverse Warrior, take your front hand to a block to the outside of the front leg shin. Extend the top arm straight toward the sky. Continue firming the front leg thigh in to center and press the back foot down. Inhale to create length and space, exhale to roll the chest open. Hold for up to 12 breaths.
From Parsvakonasana, keep the outer hip hugging in as you draw the front leg to straight. Adjust the height of the block as needed to try to create equal length on both sides of the torso. Hold for up to 12 breaths.
Note: If you feel off balance today, skip the next posture.
From Triangle, turn to look at the front leg toes, keeping the chest open, and the front hip firm, shift the hand with the block forward and lift the back leg up. Reach the standing leg sit bone toward the heel of the lifted leg to create equal length on both sides of the torso. Hold for up to 12 breaths. Then exit back to Trikonasana. Transition from Triangle back to Warrior II and then make your way to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Rest in Child’s Pose for 8 breaths then repeat the sequence beginning with Crescent Lunge on the other side.
Come back to Downward-Facing Dog and repeat the sequence starting from Crescent Lunge as a flow, holding each posture for just 1–3 breaths.
See alsoThe Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
About Karly Treacy
Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Karly Treacy began her practice more than 20 years ago. A student of Annie Carpenter, Karly understands the awareness of body and strength that comes from precise alignment. A mother of three, Karly credits yoga for teaching her that all of life is a practice, especially motherhood and that our children, our bodies, and our environment all are our teachers.