Tomorrow marks my 36th week of pregnancy, and as I head into the home stretch, I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to a handful of yoga poses. I’m sharing them with you today and highlighting the specific benefits of each for moms-to-be. Even if you’re not expecting – heck, even if you’re not a mom… or even a woman! – these poses are beneficial to you too, so keep reading! In fact, I have little time for yoga outside of the Vinyasa classes I teach, and I have no qualms about including all of these poses in my classes because they have such wide applicability.
1. Cat cow/pelvic rocking
Come into an all fours position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, spine neutral. As you inhale, tilt your pelvis forward, so your tailbone rises and navel drops down toward the floor, while simultaneously turning your gaze to the ceiling. At the end of the inhale, exhale as you draw your pelvis backward, turning your tailbone down towards the floor, drawing navel to spine, arching your back, and tucking your chin to your chest. Repeat for several breaths.
Benefits: This pose is a gentle way to encourage your baby to drop into the pelvis. It also gently strengthens and stretches all of the core muscles, and helps relieve pain in the lower back, which is especially common in the second and third trimesters.
Tip: Enhance the core work by very consciously drawing your navel in towards your spine as you exhale into cat pose. This engages and strengthens the transversus abdominis (TVA), which pregnancy weakens as your belly expands. Add a kegel at the end of the exhale to strengthen the pelvic floor, another set of muscles that pregnancy weakens, owing to the increased weight of the uterus.
2. Bird dog
Come into an all fours position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, spine neutral. As you inhale, extend your right arm and your left leg. As you exhale, return to your starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue for several breaths.
Benefits: This pose also strengthens the core and relieves pain in the lower back. You can increase the intensity of the poses – and the core work – by holding opposite arm and leg extended for several breaths before switching sides.
I like to enter this pose from a wide legged forward fold with toes turned out. From this position, shift your hips back and bend your knees. Place your elbows on the insides of your thighs, just above your knees. Drop your hips as low to the floor as you can and hold your hands in prayer at heart center. Hold for several breaths.
Benefits and Precautions: This pose open the pelvis and strengthen legs for delivery. It also stretches the pelvic floor and uses gravity to help your baby descend into the pelvis. This pose is not recommended if your baby is in breech position, as it will encourage the baby to descend further into the pelvis in a sub-optimal position. Those who experience knee pain in this pose should also avoid it. This pose may also be inappropriate if you experience symptoms of sciatica and/or pelvic girdle pain.
Take a wide-legged stance with toes turned out. Extend arms overhead with palms facing forward. On the exhale, lower your arms to cactus pose, retracting your shoulders as you lower your elbows and bring your forearms parallel to the floor with elbows bent to 90 degrees. Simultaneously drop into a squat, lowering your tailbone down toward the floor and bending your knees. Inhale and reverse the movement. Repeat for several breaths.
Benefits and Precautions: The benefits and contraindications listed above for squat also apply to this pose. However, because you don’t descend into such a deep squat, Goddess pose is accessible to more people. Goddess pose additionally strengthens the upper back and shoulders, and it stretches the chest. This will prove important when the baby arrives and you spend a lot of time carrying your little one around and feeding your baby.
Tip: Imagine that you are standing with your back against a wall in this pose. As you descend into Goddess, imagine that your hips are sliding down the wall and keep drawing your arms back, such that your shoulder blades, elbows and the backs of your hands scrape the wall behind you.
Lie supine (on your back) with arms and legs extended, hands near your sides with palms facing up. Relax and breathe. Stay in this pose for at least five minutes. If you prefer not to lie on your back, you can elevate your torso with stacked blankets or pillows.
Benefits: This pose is a great dress rehearsal for labor when you are best served by relaxing through contractions.
Tip: Savasana is an excellent opportunity to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Not only is this relaxing, but the diaphragm is a part of your core musculature, and breathing this way helps to strengthen it. Imagine that the abdomen is like a vase and the air like water. When you fill a vase with water it fills the bottom first and then slowly rises to the top. As you breathe in, visualize the air filling the lower portions of your abdomen and then rising to the top, filling the chest last. I sometimes encourage my students to place one hand on the chest, the other on the lower abdomen, so they can feel the abdomen rise first.