Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Many pregnant women feel drawn to prenatal yoga. With so many different approaches available, the question is what kind of yoga to go for. I have talked to several women who has benefited from yoga when they were pregnant as well as women who teach prenatal yoga. Here is what they say matters the most.

Benefits of pregnancy yoga

My wife is a yoga and meditation teacher, just like me. However, she has specialised in prenatal yoga. Women come to her to make pregnancy more comfortable, but they often end up getting more than they expected.

Midwives and doctors recommend prenatal yoga for many reasons. One reason is that yoga poses can help pregnant women become more supple. They can also relieve lower back pain, reduce constipation and tone the pelvic floor. It can make it easier for your body to handle the changes during pregnancy and more apt for delivery. 

However, the physical benefits are just the beginning. Do yoga with enough concentration and attention, and it boosts natural healing. When your nervous system is in balance, your body can regulate many health issues itself. Thanks to meditation, you can lower stress hormones and relieve anxiety, worries and doubts. Meditation is so efficient that the pioneering researcher and medical doctor Herbert Benson says that daily meditation can prevent most common health problems. 

Yoga teaches women courage and acceptance

My wife has given birth to our two sons. She says that the most crucial benefit of yoga for her was that it helped her reconnect to herself and her instincts. She increased trust in her body and her natural capability to give birth. Also, she says yoga made it easier for her to go with the flow, even when it was scary. 

When I lived in Denmark, I knew a yoga teacher who changed careers and became a midwife. At that time, she was the head midwife at a maternity ward in Copenhagen. She continued teaching prenatal yoga in parallel. She maintained that she saw significant advantages for those women who had attended her classes. Deliveries were smoother and had fewer complications. Furthermore, the yoga students were better at handling the pressure of the situation and at tolerating pain.  

Best yoga for pregnancy

Devi is a good friend of mine and a fellow yoga teacher. She has taught prenatal yoga to hundreds of women. She points out that women have different needs during pregnancy. A practice that is essential for one woman might not be for everyone. However, she holds that there is one universal quality that is crucial for any future mom. What you need is awareness, awareness of your body, breath, emotions, and thoughts. 

So how to choose your prenatal yoga class? When you do your research, look for classes that are not all about poses. Find a teacher that will help you develop awareness. 

A good prenatal class should include the following elements. 

Yoga poses done consciously

Gentle yoga poses carried out with awareness and concentration are excellent during pregnancy. Mental presence is crucial, and unless you have it along, your postural practice will be superficial. Body-centred fitness yoga probably has some benefits but is not nearly as adapted as yoga with a meditative approach. 

Breathing exercises – Pranayama

Pranayama has a direct impact on your nervous system. During pregnancy, pranayama is excellent to give you more energy and raise your mood. However, the further your pregnancy progresses, retention and slow breathing become increasingly more challenging. 

Bhramari pranayama is particularly beneficial during pregnancy. A clinical study led by Dr Sing at the Monghyr hospital in India found that this pranayama helps you avoid high blood pressure during pregnancy. Regular practice also reduces the risk of spontaneous abortion, premature birth and cesarian section. Women who practised bhramari had overall more harmonious pregnancies and deliveries. 

Ujjayi pranayama is another excellent breathing exercise suitable for prenatal yoga. It is furthermore a practice that women can use during labour. Nina is a yoga practitioner and teacher I have known for many years. She used the ujjayi breath during labour. She says that it helped her accept the pain during the contractions and experience labour more consciously. 

Meditation

Meditation is a crucial component of efficient prenatal yoga. The most profound effect of good prenatal yoga comes from meditation. Meditation teaches you acceptance, presence and concentration. If the prenatal classes you are considering don’t include meditation, then keep looking.

My friend Devi has a daughter. When Devi gave birth, things didn’t go as planned. There was an urgency, and she had to deliver with a cesarean section. Devi had a clear vision of the natural birth she wanted, and for a moment, she was devastated and scared. At first, she grieved the loss of the ideal birth. However, Devi quickly accepted her fate and fully embraced it. She believes that her meditation training helped her change her mindset so quickly. 

Relaxation

Relaxation practices, such as yoga nidra, is another type of yoga that is beneficial for pregnant women. 

Is prenatal yoga always your best option?

For intermediate or advanced yoga and meditation practitioners, prenatal classes might not be the best option. Prenatal classes often attract lots of beginners, and yoga wise they tend to stay basic. If you know your body and your practice well enough, you might find your regular practice more profound than a pregnancy class. You would have to make necessary adjustments and modifications, though. Your usual teacher can probably help you with that. 

When one of my students, Betty, was pregnant, she preferred to keep doing yoga with me. She wanted the benefits of my long and deep-delving yoga sessions (the same, by the way, that are available online here on Forceful Tranquility). Since she had been doing yoga for years already, it was easy for her to adapt and modify the exercises. 

When you choose your prenatal yoga class, consider your different options as well as your current level. Contact the available teachers and talk to them. You can also practice yoga online from your home. Especially if you already have experience with yoga.

Types of yoga pregnant women should avoid

Pregnant women should avoid hot yoga and physically demanding yoga styles that lack a meditative dimension. 

How to adapt yoga to pregnancy

If you decide to go on with regular yoga practise during pregnancy, there are a few ways in which you need to adopt it. It is pretty straightforward. Here are some of the essential modifications necessary for pregnant women. Keeping these modifications in mind, you could, for example, practice with my sessions here on Forceful Tranquility. 

Don’t put pressure on your belly

Don’t do poses putting pressure on the belly, such as the bow pose (dhanurasana) and the cobra pose (bhujangasana). Instead, replace these poses with the camel (ustrasana) and the tiger pose (vyaghrasana) for a similar effect.

Shavasana

Shavasana is one of the most used yoga poses. It is a pose that usually quickly becomes problematic for pregnant women. So how can you modify it? At the beginning of pregnancy, place a rolled-up blanket under your knees. The slight bend in your legs can help you avoid back pain. 

Shavasana during yoga class.
Shavasana

From the second trimester onward, the weight of your belly not only makes shavasana too uncomfortable. In addition, the placenta will press on an essential vein, the vena cava. The pressure hampers blood circulation and can cause an abrupt drop in blood pressure. At this point, replace shavasana with the flapping fish pose (matsya kridasana) or choose another side-lying position. 

Matsya Kridasana is the perfect relaxation pose for pregnant women.
Matsya kridasana

Inversions

You can do inversions as long as they feel good and you feel safe with them. However, inverted yoga poses become more and more challenging as your pregnancy advances.

Avoid strain

Avoid all poses that involve undue strain. One example of such a pose is the boat pose (naukasana).

Key takeaways

  • Prenatal yoga can make both pregnancy and delivery more comfortable and smooth. 
  • The best prenatal yoga classes include breathing exercises as well as meditation in addition to yoga poses. 
  • One crucial benefit of prenatal yoga is that it develops awareness.
  • Another essential benefit is that it can help you connect with your natural power and instincts. It can increase your trust in your body and your capability to give birth.

Written by Christian Möllenhoff

About the Author

Christian Möllenhoff is an experienced yoga and meditation teacher as well as a teacher trainer. He is from Sweden, but he lives and teaches in France. He is the driving force behind Forceful Tranquility.