Yoga and Pregnancy: The evolving practice through each trimester

One of the things I thought I would miss the most becoming pregnant was my power yoga practice.  It’s funny admitting to that now, but it was true at the time!  I thought that I would miss sweating, floating, challenging my core and advancing my stronger poses.  Little did I know how powerful pregnancy would really be and how strongly my intuition would take over.  

I have not missed that practice once and am in awe of the transformations my prenatal practice has taken me through so far. My yoga has become such a beautiful way to connect with this growing baby, to take care of this amazing body, and to ground this busy mind. In this article I am delighted to share with you my main tips and tricks for practicing yoga during the three trimesters of pregnancy.

First Trimester: Weeks 1 to 12

The first trimester of pregnancy runs from weeks 1 to 12. During this stage it is common to feel quite tired as your body gets used to its new task of growing a baby!  I remember a few weeks in a row where I would have daily nap attacks (literally could not keep my eyes open if I tried!).  This was new for me as someone who, up until that point, could count the number of naps I had taken in my life.  I learned to listen to what my body needed and quickly discovered that the body truly knows what is best.  Even though you may not look pregnant yet, it is important to remember that there are profound biological and musculoskeletal changes occurring in the body.  At this time be sure to be okay with the idea that you will need to modify your practice.  Avoid inversions, deeper backbends, twists, and jumping/jolting movements. Be mindful that relaxin levels are high and ligaments are looser than they were a few months ago.  Stop all core work as soon as you find out you are pregnant to avoid tearing of the abdominal muscles, and instead focus on allowing your deep core to support you through daily exercises like walking and sitting upright.

Second Trimester: Weeks 13-27

The second trimester runs from weeks 13 to 27. During this stage I was fueled up again with energy and couldn’t find enough places to burn it.  This is a great time to develop a walking routine, or hit up the bikes/treadmill/elliptical at the gym.  If you are walking into pregnancy with little yoga background this is the trimester to begin!  During pregnancy the volume of blood in the body expands 40 to 60 percent to support the fetus and placenta. As your blood circulates faster, your rate of metabolism increases, and your resting heart rate rises. Now since you’re using up your body’s sugar faster with important reserves being used to support the placenta and fetus your low blood sugar state requires you to continue to avoid inversions and to move mindfully when going from seated to standing or a forward fold to tadasana. From this point in your pregnancy onward avoid lying directly on your back to lessen the pressure on the vena cava (the large vein that runs along the side of the spine and curves behind the uterus). Take a side lying savasana for this same reason (you will love this and likely not ever go back to the traditional version!).  

Third Trimester: Weeks 28-birth

The third trimester runs from weeks 28 to birth. During this stage I really began to notice changes to my body.  The baby’s movement became strong and my belly began to noticeably grow. The body has been flooded with relaxin throughout pregnancy but in this trimester you may really begin to feel the effects of loose sacroiliac joints.  My yoga practise turned more into a self care practice and it was at this stage that I would spend time with my rubber balls, foam roller, strap, and other fascia release props.  I began to effortlessly enjoy (and crave) longer pranayama sessions and could sit on my mat peacefully in meditation for extended periods of time.  The grounding sensations of the body and the mind are powerful in the third trimester and it is so important to continue to listen to what you need most (and be okay knowing it will change slightly from day to day now).  

Prenatal Yoga Sequence: Standing Flow

There have been many times during my pregnancy where I just craved a flow that got my body moving, that balanced strength & flexibility training, and that was accessible (especially during the third trimester). Below I have written out my go-to sequence that takes anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on how fast or slow I feel like moving on that given day.  Enjoy these movements and remember to really let your breath be your trusted guide.

*Props needed: One rubber ball

Start at top of Mat Foot Rolling on Rubber Ball (Myofascial release)

  • Use a wall to support balance as needed. With one foot step on the ball. Open up the foot thinking about spreading the four corners of the foot wide apart. Massage for 2 minutes then switch feet.

Surya Namaskara A

  • Start with feet wider than hips distance.  Inhale lift the arms lift the gaze, Exhale fold forward maintaining a deep bend at the knees to honour your neutral spine.  (Note: You may need to separate feet even more to make room for the baby!). Inhale halfway lift.  Exhale step back to table top.  3 rounds Cat/Cow.  Exhale back to downward facing dog.  At the base of your next exhale take as many steps as you need to find the top of the mat.  Inhale halfway lift. Exhale fold.  Inhale lift the arms lift the gaze.  Exhale hands to heart.

Surya Namaskara B

  • Start with feet hips distance apart. Inhale lift the arms lift the gaze, Exhale sink the hips down and back into chair pose.  Inhale stay here.  Exhale fold forward taking more space between the feet as needed.  Inhale halfway lift. Exhale step the right foot back drop the back knee lift both hands to front knee (modified low lunge) 2 minutes.  Lift the back knee lift both arms for High Crescent lunge for 1 minute.  Exhale table top.  3 rounds Cat/Cow. Exhale back to downward facing dog.  At the base of your next exhale take as many steps as you need to find the top of the mat.  Inhale halfway lift. Exhale Second side (step left foot back).  Make your way through low lunge/high lunge and vinyasa back to standing.

Tree Pose

  • Stand near a wall to support balance as needed.  Place right foot to either inner left ankle, shin or thigh, just avoiding direct pressure at the knee.  As knee opens, scoop that sitting bone under to align the pelvis. Enjoy playing with your balance for 1 full minute (hands either to hips, to heart or arms overhead). Mindfully release pose. Switch sides.

Warrior 2, Triangle, Exalted Warrior, Side angle flow

  • Take a wide stance towards long side of mat.  Bring arms out to a T formation palms down.  Inhale lengthen through the crown of the head. Exhale, drop the shoulders, and as you sink the hips bend into the front knee finding Warrior 2. Stay up slightly higher than usual focusing on a deep pelvic floor strengthening as you take 3 breaths.
  • Straighten front leg, kick back hip to back of mat and reach forward.  Release back of front hand to inner front shin, place upper hand to hip.  Either stay here or lift upper arm skyward. Hold for 3 breaths.
  • Gaze down, soften the front knee to rise up.  Exhale sink back into warrior 2.
  • Keep legs as they are, place back hand to belly,  lift upper arm to sky (one breath). Return to warrior 2, and then place front forearm to thigh, upper arm to sky (one breath). Return to warrior 2.  Do this flow once more.  Then straighten front leg, parallel feet and place hands to hips.

Goddess Pose flow X 5

  • Draw heels in, sink down until knees stack over heels, place hands in prayer.
  • Inhale lift arms over head, straighten legs. Exhale sink into pose place hands in prayer.

* Move into second side (towards back of mat) for Warrior 2, Triangle, Exalted Warrior, Side angle flow. Then either return back to a final round of modified Surya A or simple stand to the top of the mat in tadasana.

End at top of Mat Foot Rolling on Rubber Ball (Myofascial release)

  • Use a wall to support your balance as needed. With one foot step on the ball. Open up the foot thinking about spreading the four corners of the foot wide apart. Massage for 2 minutes then switch feet

I hope this practice leaves you feeling renewed and restored,