While pregnant, you’ll experience some pretty drastic changes to your physiology—for starters, your body has to learn to pump almost double the volume of your normal amount of blood. Your joints, especially in your legs, may become swollen and stiff, you may experience intense back pain and acid reflux, and thanks to a hormone called relaxin, the muscles, tendons, and joints in your pelvis, hips, and pretty much everywhere else become super, well...relaxed!
And that’s just the start—your body will behave in ways you never expected while it’s developing another tiny human, so you’ll have to modify some of your activities to make sure you’re staying safe and comfortable during exercise.
Those who developed a regular yoga practice before their pregnancy may stay with their practice through to the end of their third trimester, but always consult your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you during pregnancy—and make sure you stay away from these 5 poses!
This one is a no-brainer—any pose or activity that puts you in danger of falling is a definite risk to you and the baby. This refers mostly to inversions where your feet are off the ground, such as headstand, handstand, or any variations.
As your weight redistributes, your balance will be altered, so even poses in which you previously felt very confident may feel strange, different, and could be disorienting. You’ll also want to avoid poses that drain blood away from the baby, as you want to keep blood (and therefore oxygen) flowing to your uterus.
Gentler, more stable inversions such as Downward Facing Dog are still safe—but later in pregnancy, once your baby has flipped to face head down to prepare for birth, you’ll want to avoid all inversions, including the gentler ones such as Down Dog. They may disturb the alignment the baby has achieved as it gets ready to enter the world!
2. Closed Twists
Intense twisting may sound like a good idea to someone with a sore back, but closed twists like Twisted Chair or Twisted High Lunge (pictured above) may constrict veins that are carrying oxygenated blood to your uterus, which the baby needs to breathe. They can also constrict arteries that are carrying waste away from the baby to keep its environment clean and healthy.
Try gentler, more open twists such as a Seated Twist to relieve back pain, and try not to constrict the space around the sides of your belly—open through the chest, don’t twist from the abdomen.
3. Fully Supine or Dorsal Poses
Poses lying fully on your belly or on your back—like Happy Baby, Savasana, and many of our favorite go-to—will have the same effect as in number 2: constrict your inferior vena cava (the artery that takes blood flow toward your uterus) and compress the space the baby has to grow and move…especially in the latter two trimesters.
This also applies to intense forward folds that may constrict your growing belly and feel uncomfortable. Try variations on all fours instead.
When you’re pregnant, your body is producing a hormone called relaxin, which prepares your body—primarily your pelvis—to pull apart as the baby passes through it during delivery. However, relaxin effects your whole body during pregnancy, and may make you feel super bendy all over.
You’ll want to be aware of how your flexibility is changing, because it can be easy to overstretch in yoga poses and do long-term damage to your muscles and ligaments, so take care to not go too deep in your stretches.
This is also important to keep in mind for standing balance poses—this new flexibility can make it easier to lock out your knees and be wobbly through all your leg joints, so put extra effort into mindfulness with these poses.
5. Intense Backbends
As with all of these recommendations, you know your body best, and if you’ve always felt very comfortable in deep inversions, these may still be safe for you during your pregnancy—or at least the first trimester.
Most of us, however, will want to cut deep backbends, such as Wheel, out of our practice to avoid diastis recti, or separation of the abdominal muscles from one another. This may occur during your pregnancy anyway, depending on your situation, but deep anterior pelvic tilting can put you at greater risk of diastis recti or even of abdominal muscle tearing, as these muscles are already getting quite a stretch from your growing belly.
There are many modifications, usually involving a bolster, available for gentle backbends that can feel really nourishing as your belly gets bigger and heavier.
Yoga can play a vital role in keeping you calm, rested, and relaxed during your pregnancy—equally important for both you and the baby. These seemingly intangible changes can actually result in concrete physical improvements, such as decreased hot flashes and a lower resting heart rate.
Your practice can also help you sleep better, help you monitor your mental health and keep you feeling balanced if hormonal changes are messing with your mood. Yoga can keep your blood pressure and weight low throughout your pregnancy—but keep it gentle, listen to your body, and always consult your doctor.
Image Credit: Sanaa Jaman