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Yoga Modifications for Each Trimester of Pregnancy

Congratulations on your pregnancy! I’m excited for you that you want to foster a yoga practice through pregnancy. For me, continuing my regular practice throughout my pregnancy helped my body and mind feel good and balanced. And now as both a mom and a yoga teacher, I get asked all the time whether expectant parents should start a yoga practice or continue their yoga practice while pregnant.

First, please note that I am not a doctor and that you should consult your doctor before starting any physical activity while pregnant. Second, we all have different pregnancies so the only person who really knows what’s right for your body is you.

But if you’re looking for some tips on continuing or starting a yoga practice while pregnant, here’s how I suggest getting started:

  • If you’ve never practiced yoga before or have practiced very little, begin with prenatal yoga only.

  • If you already had a consistent yoga practice before your pregnancy, you may be able to continue with your regular practice with some modifications.

  • Whether your practice is brand new or well established, please keep in mind you will experience increased flexibility due to an increase of relaxin in the blood, a hormone that loosens the joints and muscles. While you may feel hyper-flexible, try not to push (or force) any stretches or poses too far.

Yoga modifications during first trimester

For me, my yoga practice was consistent throughout my first trimester and I didn’t need much in terms of modifications. It helped me feel more relaxed, grounded, and actually worked to alleviate some of my nausea.

However, this is the time to listen to your body – if relaxation is what you need, accept and embrace that, especially when the risk of miscarriage is the highest. Also, heat is not recommended at any point during pregnancy, but especially avoid it during the first trimester.

Suggested modifications:

  • Instead of deep twists, including revolved crescent lunge, twisted chair, or seated twists, try open twists

  • Instead of belly-up core work such as boat pose or crunches, try plank or forearm plank

  • Belly-down spine strengthening postures such as cobra or locust feel ok for some people, but if it feels uncomfortable for you, try cat / cow instead.

Enjoy extra time in grounding postures such as child’s pose, downward facing dog, and tree pose as these postures can help your body find a bit of stability during a time of rapid change.

Second trimester modifications

During my second trimester, I was still practicing consistently but adding in more modifications as my belly continued to grow, and listening to my body as my pregnancy continued. I started widening my feet for forward folds and chair pose to take pressure out of my low spine, and I started modifying core exercises more or avoiding them altogether.

As in the first trimester, it’s good to continue to avoid twists, core work and belly-down spine strengthening, but you can modify these poses with your own variations. And as always, listen to your body (and your doctor!).

Common second trimester modifications

  • In chair twist and revolved crescent lunge, keep your torso lifted so it’s perpendicular to your mat, and try opening your arms to move into a vertical twist variation

  • During core, feel free to relax completely, or do forearm plank or plank. You can also try adding in some push-ups if that feels good or even try bird dog (beginning in table top, and then extending your right arm forward and your left leg back. Hold here and breathe for a few breaths, then draw your elbow to your knee on your exhales four or five times. Then switch sides)

  • During spine strengthening, you can do a bird dog variation (see above) or cat / cow from table top pose.

  • Widen your feet to hips-width in chair pose and / or forward folds

  • If lying on your back in savasana aggravates your back or feels uncomfortable, consider taking a seated meditation instead

  • If traditional vinyasas don’t work, try a camel variation for similar heart-opening benefits but without the belly-against the ground problems

Third trimester modifications

I continued to practice during the third trimester but I had to slow down a bit more, and modify my movements to accommodate all of the pressure I was feeling on my low back as a result of my growing belly. I also required more rest and would linger in restful postures or back off of things that felt like too much.

Practicing in your third trimester might mean just you do some simple breath work, or even just some simple stretches, or it could mean you’re doing a full practice. It will really depend on how your body is feeling and what you need for your pregnancy.

If you continue to practice, here are some postures that you might want to embrace:

  • Standing wide-legged forward fold (prasarita), seated bound angle pose, and seated wide-legged forward fold are all beneficial because they accommodate your growing belly as well as stretch your inner thighs and groins in preparation for labor

  • Downward facing dog is great for anytime during pregnancy, but especially late in the third trimester when the weight of your baby is beginning to put pressure on your cervix

  • Legs-up-the-wall pose is a wonderful way to alleviate leg swelling at this point if you’re comfortable on your back for a few minutes (*I wasn’t comfortable on my back at this point so I skipped this posture but it might work for some!).

As in the first and second trimester, avoid twists, core work and belly-down spine strengthening, but feel free to modify these poses with your own variations. And as always, listen to your body (and your doctor!).

Also remember that every pregnancy and body is different, so make sure you are listening and honoring your own body and discussing any changes in your routine with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you. Yoga was hugely beneficial to me during my pregnancy, so I hope that it helps provide you with some balance and relief during all stages of your pregnancy.

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