Last year, I got certified as a yoga teacher. I was in a very yoga-y place, so even though I’d had a rough first pregnancy, when I got pregnant again, I had high hopes for my yoga practice. Unfortunately (once again) my hopes were short-lived. The truth is, my pregnancy practice has been majorly lacking. Like, to an embarrassing extent. I went from teaching weekly classes and practicing daily, to practicing almost never (at least, not in the form I was used to).
Pregnancy is not a glowing time for me like it is some moms. My first 16 weeks were filled with unrelenting nausea, vomiting and fatigue that made it almost impossible just to get through the day. So my yoga practice came to almost a complete halt. In the first trimester and beginning part of the second, the only yoga I was doing was deep-breathing. I would tell myself, “Okay, I’m going to practice.” Then I would lie down (okay, I was usually already down) and I would focus on my breath (and trying not to throw up). I sometimes worked on my shoulders and stretching my legs or releasing my hips, but that was about it. That was my practice. Deep breaths and a wee bit of stretching.
I try not to beat myself up about this. Yoga tells you to do what you are comfortable with and for a long time, only a very small amount of yoga felt even remotely comfortable. If I was forcing myself to sweat and barf or God-forbid, put my head below my heart, I definitely would not have been listening to my body. While typically, you can maintain your yoga practice during the first trimester, yoga teacher or not, for me this just wasn’t an option. So my yoga had to transform, just like my life and that’s okay.
Once I was able to keep down food and move about like a semi-normal person, I picked it up a bit. I started doing about six of seven poses a day, again, just the ones that felt good. That’s one of the best things about pregnancy. You can do only what feels good to your body and no one will fault you for it. And I have to say, it’s kind of refreshing to do what I want and not what I think I should be doing.
Here are some of my favorite second trimester poses:
- Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle)– This is one of my favorite poses always and forever. It’s easy to perform and feels wonderful. It stretches the inner thighs, groin and knees which can all become very tight during pregnancy.
Start by finding a comfortable seated position and bring the soles of your feet together. Sit up nice and tall, drawing the navel towards the spine and reaching through the crown of your head. Draw your chin slightly towards your chest and lengthen out the back of the neck. Use the hands to open the feet like a book and let the knees release towards the floor. Start to move forward, hinging at the hips, as if you were laying the heart on the floor. If you can’t hinge very far, that’s okay. Stay wherever you feel the stretch and breathe into the posture. Focus on creating space in the body, wherever that may be.
- Malasana (Deep Squat)- Deep squatting feels so good to me during pregnancy, but this is probably because I used to do it a lot before I was pregnant. It opens up my hips, groin, ankles and helps relieve lower back discomfort. I could really hang out down there all day, it’s that comfortable.
Stand with your feet a little further than shoulder width apart. Turn your toes out. Bring your hands to heart center and bend the knees deeply. Lower your body as far as is comfortable into the squat but keep your chest upright. Press your elbows into your inner-knees. This will help you to lengthen the torso. Release the shoulders down the back. If your heels come up, you are trying to move too deeply. You can adjust by coming back up, or by placing a folded mat or towel under your heels. This is common for people with tight Achilles.
*If a deep-squat was not previously in your yoga practice, pregnancy may not be the best time to start. As always, listen to your body. There is some research that says to avoid it in the third trimester, but there is also a lot of information that says it’s great for labor preparation. So, squat at your own risk.
- Utkata Konasana (Goddess)- This is a great modification for the previous pose. During goddess, you are definitely working the muscles of the pelvic floor and strengthening the legs.
Start with your feet a little further than hip-width apart. Bring your hands to your heart and turn your toes out. Begin bending the knees, tracking the knees over the toes. Come down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as far as is comfortable. Either keep the hands in prayer, or bring the arms up to ninety-degrees. Breathe and allow the opening aspects of this pose to work for your body.
- Cat-Cow- This is one pose that is usually present during prenatal yoga classes. It’s important because you are able to be in a belly-down position (which we rarely are during pregnancy, so it feels so good!). It can be helpful for getting baby to move from a breech position during the third trimester and it helps with lower back stiffness and mobility of the spine.
Begin on all fours with a neutral spine (flat back). Inhale as you lift your head and tail to the sky and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Let the belly be heavy (cow belly). On the exhale, draw the belly-button towards the spine and tuck the head and tail. Focusing on the pelvic tilt is crucial.
*Once the belly grows past a certain point (usually by the third trimester) moving too deeply in cow pose can feel uncomfortable. You may find it becomes easier to inhale to a flat back and exhale to round.
- Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle)– If you want to hear “POP POP POP!”, do this pose. Maybe I’m just speaking personally here. Something pops in my groin/hips every.single.time. But in the best possible way.
Start with feet together in mountain pose. On an exhale, step your right foot back about 3 or 4 feet. Turn your toes slightly (or to ninety degrees if it feels okay). Inhale the arms to shoulder height reaching from front to back. Send energy through the pinky side of your back foot and begin to press through you back hip as you reach forward, hinging from the hips (as if you are reaching across a counter). Once you have lengthened your spine as far as possible, stack your shoulders, taking the right hand to the sky and the left hand to the floor, foot or ankle (or wherever it naturally rests). Imagine you are between two panes of glass, all in one plane.
- Janu Sirsasana (Head to knee)– Aaah. I don’t think I’ve ever taught a class without this pose. That’s how much I love it. It stretches the hamstrings, improves back strength and digestion and feels oh-so good during pregnancy (and pretty much anytime).
Begin from a seated position with both legs extended in front of your body. Bend the right knee and draw the right sole of the foot to the left inner thigh. Allow the knee to rest on the mat. Inhale the arms by the ears. Exhale and twist slightly to the left. Hinge forward from the groin, as if you are laying your heart onto your extended leg. Only come forward as far as is comfortable (which during pregnancy may not be very far at all!). Keep a flat back (as opposed to rounding) to work on strengthening the low back and stretching the hamstrings and hips. Breathe deeply, filling the belly. Continue to lengthen the spine as you move deeper into the pose without shortening the torso. Focus on extending and sending energy through the crown of the head. Hands can come to either side of the extended leg for support. Take a few breaths here, the switch sides.
- Virasana (Hero)- This pose is a great stretch for the knees, the fronts of the thighs and ankles. Because fluid can build up in these areas during pregnancy, it’s a great pose to do in any trimester.
Begin by kneeling on the floor, sitting on your heels. You may find you need a blanket to give a little added support to knees and ankles (this is especially true if you have bad knees). Slide your feet apart so that your sits bones (your butt bones, or bones at the base of your spine) touch the ground and turn your big toes slightly towards each other. If your sits bones do not evenly touch the ground, sit up on a folded blanket or a block rather than forcing an uncomfortable position. Wide your collar bones and open the heart. Release the shoulders back and down making space for the neck. Draw your navel slightly towards your spine and find a nice tall seat. Breathe here and feel the stretching and rejuvenating benefits of this posture on your entire lower body.