Prenatal Yoga 101
Yoga is so beneficial during pregnancy but where do you start?
Article by Carry cofounder Heather Christine, prenatal yoga expert, birth doula, physical therapist, and parent of three.
Whether you are new to yoga, or just new to yoga while pregnant, welcome! No matter where you are coming from, what your journey is, how long it has taken you to get here, whether it is happy or conflicted, the time you set out for exercise is time for you to positively connect with your breath, body, and growing baby.
Yoga offers a powerful combination of strength, softness and support for your changing body and mind. Prenatal yoga sessions are designed for you to move, breathe, practice stillness, and to learn to listen to and trust your body. Those are all invaluable skills for birth and beyond. Prenatal yoga is accessible; anyone can do the simple positions with their body, as well as the breathwork, and the benefits are equal for newbies and seasoned yogis alike.
Research confirms the helpfulness of yoga and mindfulness during pregnancy:
"The findings of the randomized controlled trials suggest antenatal yoga may be safe and may effectively decrease stress levels, anxiety scores, depression scores, and pain response as well as increasing maternal immunity and emotional-wellbeing." —Kwon et al (2020), European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology
"Yoga during pregnancy may contribute to a reduction pain of labor and improved adequacy of childbirth." —Jahdi et al (2017), Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice
"Expectant mothers traditionally have high rates of anxiety and depressive disorders and many are susceptible to a variety of stressors during pregnancy....Mindfulness meditation and biofeedback have shown effectiveness in improving one's mental health such as depressive symptoms and anxiety. Exercise, including yoga, may improve both depressive symptoms and birth outcomes." —Traylor et al (2020), American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology MFM
What to expect?
Prenatal yoga sessions usually begin with a body and mind warmup, then movement, then a final period of rest or mindfulness or gratitude practice. Sessions will: nourish your body by strengthening and stretching, alleviate common pregnancy woes (low back pain, carpal tunnel, etc), practice breathwork and meditation, and boost wellbeing. Most classes hit a few common poses, refer to our pose library for more detail.
Avoid the Shoulds
This is not about the perfect pose or what you should do. Each time you practice, review your body from head to toe, ponder how each area is feeling, and ask yourself what might need to be different, changed or modified for that session. Your answer might be to work harder, or it might be to pull back. We know listening to your body can be confusing, especially since your pregnant body is literally changing every second. If it's your first baby, your body almost has an alien existence! Yet, quieting your mind and scanning your body will allow you to gain more insight in knowing yourself.
A word on Relaxin
Throughout your pregnancy, your body has relaxin, a hormone that helps your body stretch open to deliver your baby. Your body is already practicing for the big day by tolerating relaxin along the way. For our yogis, this means you might find yourself with super-stretching powers, able to reach much farther in a stretch or pose than before. This reality will increase in your final trimester. Please pay attention and don't overstretch as this can strain on your body and cause alignment issues. Stretch only to the point where you feel strong and capable and can easily return from. If it's difficult to retract or exit, then you have stretched too far. Don't panic, simply be mindful next time and don't go as far. You'll still have awesome benefits even if you are not reaching to your superstretchy max.
Can I do regular yoga still?
Yes, especially earlier in your pregnancy when you may not have to modify as frequently. Hatha yoga classes are a great option. Check out our article on specifics to think about when doing non-prenatal yoga or fitness.
Ok, I'm ready. Do I need props and special stuff?
Wear comfy clothes that you can move in. Have your water bottle filled and ready. Equipment or props can be helpful, but you can swap with items you have at home.
Mat: Yoga mats provide a good surface for your feet and hands and prevent slipping. You can do these sessions without a mat too, just be careful not to slip, especially on carpet.
Yoga Block: A yoga block can be an extra support and assist with balance. Swap with a few stacked books or a step stool.
Bolster: A bolster is a big, elongated, firm pillow that is supportive in reclined or side-lying positions. You can use a couch cushion or several pillows as an alternative.
Check with your Provider
Finally, please get clearance from your provider (doctor, obstetrician, or midwife) for physical movement and clarify any potential contraindications (movements or exercises to avoid). If you have a new medical diagnosis such as gestational diabetes, your care is transferred, or includes a specialist or perinatalogist, please discuss exercise with them as well.
Want more? We also like this great article from Yoga Journal.
There's also a great trove of research linked at Yoga Alliance's page on research for special populations.
The Carry app offers yoga and mindfulness for those pregnant and postpartum. Quick sessions starting at 5 minutes leave you feeling better mentally and physically. Download the Carry app on iOS and start your one week free trial.