Pregnancy is a great journey; one that will fully influence your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life. Yoga is an amazing practice that will not only help you not only withstand these changes, but also embrace them.

Here are just some of the benefits that practicing prenatal yoga can offer you:

  • Builds Strength in muscles you will need for labour, which will make labour easier and reduce the risk of complications
  • May help alleviate pregnancy-related aches and pains

Helps you learn to manage intense physical sensations (like the kind you may experience during labour) using breath, muscle strength, and – in our classes – your voice!

  • Makes more space in the body for breath and growth
  • Helps you to focus, centre, and stay calm
  • Gives you a dedicated space to connect to your baby and your changing body
  • Offers a community of love, acceptance, and joy: we’re all in this together!

Some yoga poses we love during pregnancy:

1. Meditation Pose

Set up: Sit in any comfortable position where you can lengthen the spine, whether that’s cross legged on the floor (you may require a cushion or a bolster under your bum for this) or sitting in a chair. Make sure you’re comfortable and that you can sit in this position comfortable for up to 10 minutes.

Once you’ve found the position that is comfortable for you, gently close your eyes and focus on your breath, inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the nose. Try to bring your breath to your lower ribs, instead of in your chest. Try to clear your mind of everything besides your breath and body. How does it feel to breathe? Where do you feel tension in the body, and can you release some of that tension on your exhale?

Benefits of meditation pose: Use this time to centre, connect to yourself, and connect to baby. Set an intention to dedicate this time to your wellbeing, and to your baby’s wellbeing. Take the opportunity to get to know your baby. You’re in this together.

Next Steps: Feeling Anxious? Having a hard time staying focused? The “4-7-8 breath” is a great breathing exercise for slowing down the nervous system. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 7. Exhale slowly and completely to a count of 8. Repeat between 5 and 10 times. Notice how you feel before and after this breathing exercise.

2. Table Top + Cat Pose (warm up)

Set Up Table Top: Come to all fours on your mat. Your hands should be under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips or a little wider. Press down into the palms of your hands, and energetically move your arms away from each other to broaden through the back. Grow long through the top of the head, gazing down to the floor. Finally, tilt the pelvis very slightly so that your pubic bone lifts towards your chin, and your tailbone lengthens back behind you. This may feel like you’re “snuggling” baby in a little closer to your spine.

Then, flow into Cat Pose. Start by taking an inhale. As you exhale, tilt your tailbone between your legs, round your spine to the ceiling, and let your head relax between your arms. Press down into the floor with your hands to expand through the shoulders. As you inhale, flow back to your strong table top with baby snuggled in, and as your exhale round up into that “Halloween” Cat pose. Repeat 5 – 10 times, closing your eyes and gently following your breath.

Advanced Option: Once you become an “Expert Cat”, mix it up by adding other poses in. Try moving from Child’s pose to Table Top on an inhale, exhaling to cat, Inhaling up into a Downward Facing Dog, and exhaling all the way back to child’s pose. You can continue this more advanced flow as long as you like, playing with the order of the poses and the breath. Listen to your body and make it playful!

Benefits of Table Top + Cat Pose: If you spend a lot of your pregnancy sitting or standing, baby spends lot of time pressing down into your pelvic floor and also potentially moving into a posterior position. These poses give your baby an opportunity to move up and away from your pelvis, and out of the back of your abdomen, and give you a much deserved break from that downward pressure. It also stretches out the back of the body and shoulders, connects your breath to your movement, and gently strengthens the arms.

Note: for some pregnant folks, adding extra weight downwards into your abdominals is uncomfortable. In my teaching practice, I never spend an extensive length of time on all fours, I mix it up with other poses in between, and find that most folks enjoy the benefits of this pose.

3. Goddess Pose (strength)

Set up: Stand lengthways across your mat with a long stance, facing the long side of your mat, toes pointed out towards the corners of your yoga mat. Place your hands on your hips, make sure you’re not shrugging your shoulders, and inhale to find your long spine, tail bone melting towards the floor. As you exhale, bend your knees and lower your pelvis, as if you were going into a very wide-legged squat. Open your knees out towards the outside edges of your feet, making sure your big toe knuckle stays planted on the floor. From here, hands can stay on hips, or come together in front of your heart. Hold this pose for 1 minute – the average length of one contraction.

Advanced Option: After you’ve played with holding Goddess, play with flowing up and down into the pose (think Goddess Squats!). In my class, we’d be breathing, dancing, sighing and singing in this pose. Find a few songs that make you feel like the powerful Goddess you are, and play them on full blast while you flow.

Benefits of goddess pose: Goddess is an active hip opener, meaning it strengthens the lower body — the glutes, thighs, hips, calves and ankles — and the body uses that strength to open the hips. This makes goddess an ideal pose to use to prepare for labour. Not only are you strengthening and stretching the key muscles for labour, you’re also training your body and mind to stay with intense physical sensations. It’s no wonder that this pose has been used during active labour for generations!

4. Butterfly Pose (stretch)

Set up: Sit comfortably on the floor, using one or more blankets or a zafu or a bolster under the hips for a little bit of elevation. Bring the soles of the feet together and draw the heels towards your pelvis, opening the knees out towards the floor. Interlace your fingers under your feet. Inhale, pull on your feet to open your chest, and as you exhale, lean forward, bringing your chest towards your toes – go as far as is comfortable for you. (Hint: this should not hurt!) Once you cannot lean any further forward, gently round the spine and release the head and neck.

Advanced Option: Feel free to move the knees gently up and down like butterfly wings, or to flow up and down (inhaling to lift the chest, exhale to lower). If your body doesn’t like stillness right now, introduce small movements to keep the pose dynamic.

Benefits of butterfly pose: This pose is amazing for those of you with pelvic girdle pain (low back pain, groin pain, hip pain), as it helps to “reset” the pelvis and stretch the inner hips. Helps you to re-centre, turn your attention back inwards, and re-connect to your breath. Especially a good stretch to do after holding Goddess for a few minutes.

5. Supported Reclined Pose (restore)

Set up: About halfway down your mat, place two blocks about a blocks distance away from each other, going width-wise on your mat, with the one closest to your head being on the lowest height and the one closest to your feet being on the middle height.  Place a bolster over top, lengthwise (the blocks will be hidden under the bolster and will provide the bolster with the incline that you need to lie back)* Sit down on your mat, and align your hips so that your low back touches the edge of the bolster.  Place your feet on the floor with knees bent, and then slowly lower yourself down over the bolster. Relax your head and chest, and flip your palms towards the ceiling to relax your shoulders. Your legs can stay bent, extended out in front, or bring the soles of the feet together again as in butterfly pose. Rest here for up to 15 minutes, focusing on your breath.

*If you don’t have blocks or bolsters, try a few hard cover books with some couch cushions, or place a long flat surface diagonally in front of your couch and lay a blanket down over top for cushioning (an ironing board would be great for this).

Advanced option: Relax! Stop doing more. In fact, do less. Get your partner to bring you a smoothie. Have a nap. When you’re ready to come out of this pose, roll onto one side before press yourself up.  

Benefits: Pregnant folks often crave lying on their backs, but may be unable to because it’s uncomfortable or counter intuitive for their bodies. This relaxing pose offers a comfortable reclined position that also opens the chest, relaxes the shoulders, and lengthens and supports the low back.

Thank you so much to West End Mamas’ client Ember Chance for posing for these beautiful photos!

Feel free to comment any questions below or reach out to us at West End Mamas. Thank you for practicing with me. Big Love, Namaste.

Liz Laywine is a Prenatal yoga teacher at West End Mamas and other Toronto studios. Her classes are Tuesday + Wednesday nights, and Saturday mornings. Register in advance because spots fill up quickly! Register here.