Follow These Guidelines For a Healthy Yoga Practice While Pregnant

prenatal yoga

From improved quality of sleep, increased energy and mood, better posture, less water retention and improved digestion, practice yoga while pregnant comes with many benefits. But as with all exercises, there are crucial modifications that need to be made in order to continue your yoga practice safely while pregnant. Today, Elisabeth Halfpapp, Exhale’s EVP of Mind Body Programming is answering our questions on everything prenatal yoga as well as sharing Exhale’s guidelines to yoga modifications.

Not only can practicing yoga while pregnant help with back and hip pain, labor, and digestive issues, it can give you some serious mental benefits during a very hormonal time of your life. Here are 4 ways yoga helps you out while pregnant, and how to practice your poses safely.

The benefits of yoga while pregnant.

BB: What yoga poses help with lower back pain? 

Elisabeth: Any poses that stretch the hamstrings along with poses that are on the floor on the back stretching one leg to the outside of the hips. Malasana (squat).  Twisting poses to the open side of twist. 

BB: What poses help support our hips while pregnant?  

Elisabeth: Using the block between the inner thighs to help strengthen inner hips and pelvic floor in chaturanga, chair, or any parallel legs hips’ width apart stance.  With the relaxin hormone during pregnancy, the hips become over flexible so strengthening inner thighs will support the hips.

BB: How does yoga prepare you for labor? 

Elisabeth: Many poses stretches the inner thighs and low back muscles plus strengthens the glutes to help stabilize the body to “push”.  Most importantly yoga focuses on your breathing which is essential for delivery.

BB: How can it help for digestive issues during pregnancy? 

Elisabeth: Yoga helps to find a little space in the front body to open up the digestive pathway, plus you are moving which helps to aid with the digestive process.

Guidelines to follow when practice yoga while pregnant:

Elisabeth shared Exhale’s very own guidelines created by Dr. Laura Riley OB/GYN to follow when you have a desire to practice yoga while pregnant. Read on to learn everything you need to get your zen on!

Prior to taking class

    • Obtain physician approval.
    • Always inform your teacher that you are pregnant before class.
    • For more individual modifications, consult with your teacher before class.
  • If any of the following has or is currently occurring, we recommend NO EXERCISE in the first trimester, and NO EXERCISE without a doctor’s approval:
  • Record of miscarriage
  • Taking fertility medication
  • Experiencing any cramping or spotting

Tips for a happy yoga experience

Drink plenty of water

To avoid overheating and dehydration, drink water before, during and immediately following exercise. Avoid waiting until you are thirsty.  STOP! if you feel yourself getting overheated.

Take extra breaths

Due to pregnancy, the resting oxygen consumption has increased by about 20%.  As the uterus grows, respiratory pressure from the diaphragm decreases lung capacity.  The combination of increased oxygen demand and lack of respiratory space means that it is imperative to monitor the breathing and not “hold” your breath. Take even full breaths, as strength-building further increases your oxygen demand. Stopping and starting are encouraged in the exercises.  Make a note to work easier in the abdominal sections.

Avoid exercising to the point of fatigue and overheating

A pregnant woman’s heart rate increases by 7 to 15 beats per minute, and the blood volume in the body increases 35 to 45%.  Overall cardiac output is 30 to 50% more. Because of these extra demands on the heart, you may feel tired and warmer while exercising much sooner than before the pregnancy.  These are signals to lessen intensity or stop, drink water, breathe, and then begin again.

Notice body changes that occur and can affect the yoga routines

The hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support the joints to become relaxed. This makes the joints more mobile and more at risk for injury.

The extra weight in the front of the body during pregnancy shifts the center of gravity, and places stress on joints and muscles – especially those in the pelvis and lower back.

This can make you less stable, cause back pain, and more likely to lose balance and fall, especially in later pregnancy. The extra weight you are carrying will make your body work harder than before you were  pregnant.

Because of your increased flexibility with the hormone Relaxin helping to open ligaments and tendons for delivery, please avoid over-stretching and over turn-out hip stretches.

Avoid activities that call for:

  • Jumping
  • Jarring motions
  • Quick changes in direction that strain the joints and cause injury

Get proper rest

Be sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.


Be aware of the following serious problems, then inform your doctor immediately!

  • Blood or fluid coming from the vagina
  • Sudden severe abdominal or vaginal pain/cramping
  • Contractions that go on for 30 minutes or more after exercise
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dim or blurry vision

Yoga Class Modifications:  ALL TRIMESTERS

  • Avoid lying on the back (supine position*) for more than 20 minutes in a row

*The cardiovascular changes associated with pregnancy are an important consideration for pregnant women both at rest and during exercise. After the first trimester, the supine position results in relative obstruction of venous return and, therefore, decreased cardiac output and orthostatic hypotension.  For this reason, pregnant women should avoid supine positions more than 20 minutes in a row during exercise.. Please consult your OB/GYN concerning this topic.

  • Anterior Spinal Stretch:  Avoid lying on abdominals.  Do cat/cow stretch instead.
  • Twists:  Only twist to the open side of body while standing, kneeling, and seated.
  • All stretches:   Avoid overstretching in any posture.  The relaxin hormone is responsible for increased laxity in certain joints, especially the sacroiliac joint (SI joint) which is the joint between the sacrum and the ilium.
  • Abdominal Wall postures:  Avoid poses that involve strong contractions of the abdominal wall (boat pose, crane pose, double leg raises, sit ups).

Back Bending:  Avoid strong back bending.  This could stretch the abdominal wall creating diastasis recti which is the separating of the abdominal wall.

  • Inversions:  Avoid inversions since these postures could put pressure on the umbilical cord on the top of the uterus which causes the fetus to put pressure on this region and thus decreases oxygen to the fetus.
  • Savasana:  In the 3rd trimester, lie on the left side in the fetal position
  • Pranayama:  Avoid holding breath or any technique that requires strong engagement of the abdominals, retention/extension of the breath, and vigorous pumping of the abdominals.
  • Overall:  Avoid any movements that are jarring, rapid changes of direction, jumping, hopping, bouncing.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

  • Recreational and competitive athletes with uncomplicated pregnancies can remain active during pregnancy, and should modify their usual exercise routines as medically indicated.  The information on strenuous exercise is scarce; however, women who engage in such activities require close medical supervision.
  • Previously inactive woman and those with medical or obstetric complications should be evaluated before recommendations for physical activity during pregnancy are made. Exercise during pregnancy may provide additional health benefits to women with gestational diabetes.
  • A physically active woman with a history of or risk for preterm labor or fetal growth restriction should be advised to reduce her activity in the second and third trimesters.


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