Asanas for Expecting Mothers

Sharanya Narayanan advises mothers-to-be to practise a combination of asanas and pranayama for a healthy, calm pregnancy and delivery.

One of the best things about a steady yoga practice is that we can adapt the practice to any physical, mental and emotional changes that we’re experiencing. One of the biggest changes we women experience is when we’re expecting a baby. Yoga is a very powerful tool for expecting mothers and their babies. It can help you prepare for the birth of your baby, it can ease the physical challenges of giving birth and it can contribute to the emotional well-being of both mother and child.

Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters and listed below is my advice on how expecting mothers should practise yoga in each trimester.

First Trimester

The first trimester is all about embracing your pregnancy. The first three months are crucial to a woman as she begins to acquaint herself with a new purpose. During this time, her body isn’t just her own, it houses another living being as well, so it’s essential to take great care of your body especially in the first trimester. The foetus grows rapidly in these three months and it’s important for the mother to stay relaxed and in the best health possible.

Asanas that can be safely practised in the first trimester include:

Supta Baddha Konasana with a bolster supporting the thoracic and cervical spine. This allows the rib cage to expand comfortably and allows the lungs to function at a fuller capacity. It raises the lower back and eliminates any pressure on the vena cava, which runs across the back of the pelvis. The pose allows the body to open, imitating the position taken during delivery. It is a key asana for a good prenatal yoga practice.

Upavistha Konasana with a towel placed below the buttocks and blocks supporting the palms. This strengthens the thigh and back muscles, and it also allows increased blood flow to the pelvis and the uterus, keeping it healthy.

Vrksasana against a wall helps to open the shoulders, the rib cage and the spine. It also brings a sense of grounding and balance to the body.

These asanas are gentle ways to keep the body calm while stretching the joints and creating freedom in the spine and the lungs. In addition to these asanas, I encourage expecting mothers to practice anulom-vilom and ujjayi pranayama for a few minutes every day throughout their pregnancy. Regular practice of these techniques can slow the heart rate down during any physically demanding activity, which is exactly what an expecting mother must prepare for.

Asanas to avoid during the first trimester:

  1. No deep backbends.
  2. No twists or ‘revolved’ poses that obstruct or compress the belly and the pelvic area.
  3. No poses which put weight on the stomach.
  4. No inversions.

Second Trimester

The second trimester brings with it a sense of relief. Now, the baby’s organs are fully developed and he or she can start hearing sound. Most of the common, uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea and fatigue felt during the first three months start to reduce and the experience of being pregnant becomes more enjoyable. One of the most common experiences in the second trimester is an increase in body weight, which puts an incredible strain on the lumbar spine or the lower back area.

In addition to the asanas mentioned for the first trimester, here are some more that can be help combat lower back pain in the second trimester:

Setu-Bandhu Sarvangasana with a belt around the thighs and a bolster under the buttocks is a safe way to strengthen the lower back while lengthening it at the same time. Start with short-holds and do a few repetitions. Gently stretching the belt outwards tilts the pelvis and frees the lower back, making it easier to lift the body. The bolster provides support to a body that can’t support itself just yet. It also takes pressure off the vena cava that runs along the back of the pelvis.

Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana with a block and performed against the wall create space in the lumbar spine. These asanas also help to warm-up the hips and open the pelvis, which is very useful when preparing for delivery. In case of any unsteadiness, try engaging your buttocks to give you more support. Hold for a short duration on either side.

Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3 are excellent poses to build stamina and strength in the back muscles. They create more space in the rib cage while helping the body to find better balance. However, to avoid a sudden slip, Virabhadrasana 1 and 2 should be practiced with the back foot firmly planted against a wall and the thigh of the bent leg supported by a chair positioned under it. Virabhadrasana 3 should be practiced with the palms dropped under the shoulders and supported on blocks or a slightly raised surface. Short-holds are advised.

Viparita Karani with a bolster under the lower back and tailbone, and with the legs up against the wall is a very effective restorative pose that allows the lumbar spine to cool down in its natural alignment, without compressing the vena cava. I always advise all my yoga students to practice this pose for a few minutes at the end of a class or even just at the end of a tiring day. It allows the heart rate to slow down and relaxes the muscles in the legs. Most importantly, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes the entire body.

This is a time when the body is producing a hormone called relaxin. It allows for greater flexibility in the joints and makes one feel as though they can stretch limitlessly. And, herein lies the problem. While it feels great to experience that kind of range now, once the baby arrives, the body stops producing the hormone and flexibility shrinks. This can feel uncomfortable post one’s delivery, so, it’s best to go easy while you practice.

Asanas to avoid during the second trimester:

  1. No deep backbends.
  2. No twists or ‘revolved’ poses that obstruct or compress the belly and the pelvic area.
  3. No poses which put weight on the stomach.
  4. No inversions, unless one has a steady practice and is confident.

Third Trimester

The third trimester is the final phase of the pregnancy. Women experience most of the physical symptoms of pregnancy in this trimester. The feet and ankles tend to swell, making it harder to move around with ease. Women often need to go to the bathroom and find it hard to sleep through the night. At this time, the baby is almost fully developed, so there is a lot of movement in the belly which is very exciting. This trimester can also arouse feelings of anxiousness, as is expected when a woman is approaching her due date. Focus on the asanas that allow you to connect your breath to your body with ease and while you practice, try to bring your attention to the interaction you experience from your baby. Observe how asanas help to keep your baby comfortable. This will help you to discern how best to proceed in your practice. Try spending more time in the asanas listed below:

  1. Supta Baddha Konasana with bolster (refer to 1st Trimester).
  2. Upavistha Konasana with a towel under the buttocks (refer to 1st Trimester).
  3. Gomukhasana done by sitting on a block helps to open all the joints by engaging and warming them. It also helps to expand the rib cage so that one can breathe better. As a seated crossed-legged pose, it brings focus to the uterus and allows a flow of fresh blood to it, thereby maintaining its health.
  4. Bitilasana allows one to warm the spine in a position that is very common for women to move into when they have contractions. It serves as good preparation for what’s to come.
  5. Adho Mukha Svanasana with legs wide apart and palms against the wall, in line with the shoulders, makes it easier for women to release their hips without compressing the pelvis. Allow the head to hang down between the shoulders and try to release the neck. This pose is good for stretching the spine, lengthening the hamstrings and calming the nervous system.
  6. Virabhadrasana 2 with the thigh of the bent leg supported by a chair positioned under it can be done if one is feeling strong. It must be avoided if there is any discomfort in the lower back. (refer to 2nd Trimester)
  7. Viparita Karani with a bolster under the lower back and tailbone and the legs up against the wall (refer to 2nd Trimester).

Again, finish your practice with anulom-vilom (alternate nostril breathing) and ujjayi pranayam. On a day that is particularly exhausting, try to these breathing techniques if you want to take a break from asana practice.

Asanas to avoid during the third trimester:

  1. No deep backbends.
  2. No twists or ‘revolved’ poses that obstruct or compress the belly and the pelvic area.
  3. No poses which put weight on the stomach.
  4. No inversions, unless one has a good practice and is confident.

I hope this article is helpful for expecting mothers and their babies. This article is for women who are already practising yoga for at least a few years. Please do not try prenatal yoga for the first time without supervision.

Sharanya Narayanan is an Iyengar and Hatha Yoga teacher based in Goa, India. For her teaching schedules, call +91 99807 14420 or email sharanya.narayanan@gmail.com.

May 18, 2020

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carine

    Thank you for this article, Yoga is a powerful tool for expecting mummies.
    However, as a certified prenatal yoga teacher, I couldn’t help but noticing few things. For instance, it’s during the first trimester that miscarriages happens, it’s nobody fault, just a natural way of selecting. But it’s important to be aware of that when offering asana to practice during the 1st trimester. Or, Gomukasana during 3rd trimester can be dangerous in case of low placenta 😉

    1. Sophia Ann French

      Dear Carine,

      Thank you for your comment.

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