Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise you can do when you're pregnant — it can help you relax, stay strong and even prepare for childbirth, according to the Mayo Clinic. But it's important to take precautions to keep yourself — and your growing baby — safe.
While some poses are beneficial to pregnant students, there are some yoga poses you'll want to avoid during pregnancy. As a prenatal yoga instructor, safety and comfort are my top priorities when I'm structuring a class. You want to leave your mat feeling less pain, more openness and, most importantly, more relaxation than when you arrived.
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Below, I'll explain which yoga poses you may want to steer clear of — or at least modify — when you're pregnant, and what you can do instead.
You don’t necessarily have to take a prenatal yoga class in order to get the benefits of yoga during pregnancy. If you’re taking a class at a studio, talk to the instructor beforehand to let them know you're pregnant, so they can offer modifications specific to the trimester you’re in.
When practicing prenatal yoga at home, stay within your limits and don't push yourself. Don't go further in postures than you would have before you were pregnant, per the Mayo Clinic.
If you’re feeling unsure about a posture, ask your instructor or doctor. If a pose causes pain or severe discomfort, stop right away.
To be safe, consult your doctor and/or prenatal physical therapist to determine which yoga poses are best for you and which you should avoid.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga Poses
Your body goes through big changes when you're growing another human, which means beginners and experienced practitioners alike will need to modify and even avoid certain yoga poses during different the different stages of pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga is a safe and beneficial form of exercise and stress relief for pregnant people, per the Mayo Clinic. It can:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase strength, flexibility and endurance of the muscles needed for childbirth
- Help with lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath
Use props — yoga blocks, bolsters, pillows, blankets and rolled-up towels. Create a mini sanctuary on your mats with an unlimited amount of yoga props (there are plenty of household yoga props that work, too).
If you're taking the time out for a yoga practice during pregnancy, make the most of it! Ensure your own comfort by using props to modify your practice so that in each posture, you can fully relax and breathe.
6 Types of Yoga Poses to Avoid When Pregnant
1. Poses Lying on Your Belly
- Baby cobra pose
- Sphinx pose
- Locust pose
- Superman pose
- Bow pose
Poses that require you to lay on your belly or place anything against your belly are a big no-no during pregnancy after the first trimester, per the Mayo Clinic. Typically, lying on your belly helps elongate the front of your body and massage the internal organs there, but during pregnancy, compressing your belly is something you want to avoid.
What to Do Instead
You can still gently stretch and encourage circulation throughout the front body by practicing poses like:
- All fours position
- Cat/cow pose
- Plank and supported plank
- Supported or modified camel pose
2. Poses Lying on Your Back
- Reclined cobbler's pose
- Reclined hero pose
- Reclined bound angle pose
- Reclined twisting poses
- Plow pose
- Reclined hand-to-foot pose
- Happy baby pose and half happy baby
- Corpse pose
Earlier in the first trimester of pregnancy, you may feel comfortable lying on your back for savasana or other reclined postures, in which case, it's usually fine to do so.
As you enter the second trimester, however, lying on your back for extended periods of time is best avoided, as the weight of your belly can put pressure on the inferior vena cava, a major vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart, according to Stanford Medicine. It also puts pressure on your back and intestines, which can cause discomfort.
What to Do Instead
Lying on your back for a short period before, like when lifting into upward tabletop or reverse plank, can feel really nice in pregnancy.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling, follow your instinct and remember that this isn’t the time to push yourself. If you feel discomfort or pain when lying on your back, turn onto your side before sitting up slowly. Try:
- Taking savasana lying on your side (in a fetal position) with your knees bent and something, like a bolster, pillow or folded blanket, between your thighs. For an extra dose of comfort, slip a pillow or folded towel under your head, too.
- Place a bolster propped up on a block or two (or simply stack some pillows!) behind you to keep your upper body elevated in traditional reclined poses.
3. 'Closed' Folds and Twists
- Revolved side angle pose
- Revolved triangle pose
Folds and twists can feel lovely during pregnancy —- as long as you're practicing them safely. Folding forward in postures like standing forward fold (also called forward bend) with your legs close together is not only physically difficult during pregnancy, but compresses the belly and organs in the abdomen, which is something you should avoid, per the Mayo Clinic.
Deep forward bending postures can also cause issues with blood pressure when you're pregnant, as they're meant to get blood flowing to the head. During pregnancy, it's best not to encourage blood flow away from your abdomen for extended periods of time. Plus, it can make you dizzy and feel off-balance!
Earlier in pregnancy (during the first trimester), you can safely fold forward if it feels comfortable — just make sure you're making space for your belly by taking your feet out wide so there's no compression.
Later in pregnancy, use blocks underneath your hands in standing folding postures, which will help you lengthen your spine and avoid rounding your back and compressing the belly. You can also practice forward folds sitting on the ground with props to help you make space for your belly.
Similarly, closed twists that involve twisting your body in opposite directions can restrict blood flow and compress the abdomen.
What to Do Instead
You can practice gentle twists where the belly isn’t compressed by focusing on extending your spine and twisting through the chest and upper back, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For example, in twists like half lord of the fishes pose, where one leg is usually bent in toward you, you can extend the bent leg to make space for your belly and focus on twisting through the chest and upper back.
Otherwise, keep twists “open” by twisting in the opposite direction you’d normally twist. Again, focus on twisting from the chest and upper back rather than the belly and lower back. Swap revolved postures with their basic variations (side angle and triangle pose).
4. Deep Backbends
- Upward-facing dog pose
- Camel pose
- Wheel pose
- Bow pose
- Fish pose
After the first trimester, it's likely that deep backbends won't feel accessible or comfortable, as they require major extension through the front of your body, which is already being extended by your growing belly.
What to Do Instead
Swap deep backbends with gentler postures like:
- Melting heart or "puppy" pose
- Bridge pose
- Reverse plank pose
- Upward tabletop pose
- Headstand pose
- Handstand pose
- Shoulderstand pose
Inversions are postures where your head comes below your heart, sending blood from the lower body rushing to the head. There's some debate as to whether or not inversions are safe during pregnancy. In the yogic traditions), inversions are not advised during pregnancy.
The reasoning for this is that the added weight the placenta, amniotic fluid, baby and other organs exert pressure on the diaphragm, which can affect your breathing and put pressure on the heart. Some also say it may shift baby into a breach position later in pregnancy, though, as of now, there's no real data to support this.
What to Do Instead
If inversions are in your regular practice, it may be safe to continue doing them during pregnancy. But, as always, it's best to talk to your doctor or prenatal physical therapist to determine what's safe for you.
If you're avoiding inversions, you can still enjoy a forward-leaning inversion with both hands on blocks in front of you.
6. Holding the Breath
Yoga teachers will often include traditional breathing practices like bellows breath (bhastrika) or breath of fire (kapalbhati) in their classes, but not all of these are safe or comfortable during pregnancy.
These "heating" breathing practices are energizing in nature, and during pregnancy, your body is already using a great deal of energy to do the work of growing your baby! A June 2019 study in Science Advances even compares it to the endurance equivalent to running a marathon.
What to Do Instead
Instead, try these calming and balancing breathing practices, which can help relax your body and mind:
- Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana), which involves blocking the nostrils with your fingers and inhaling first through your left nostril, then exhaling through your right, followed by inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through your left without holding the breath.
- Ocean breath (ujayi), which involves closing the mouth, pressing the tip of the tongue against the back of your two front teeth to encourage opening in the back of the throat and breathing deeply in and out through the nose, making the sound of ocean waves.
- Three-part breath (dirgha), a form of diaphragmatic breathing that involves sending your breath into the lower abdomen, middle of the chest or diaphragm area, then the upper part of the chest.
With these breathing practices, focus on exhaling longer than you inhale if it's comfortable to do so. Doing so has calming effects on the nervous system, according to May 2018 research in Mental Illness Journal.
If you feel dizzy or lightheaded during a breathing practice, stop right away and return to normal inhales and exhales. If you're sitting, make sure you feel OK before standing.
Increased Flexibility During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your body produces more of the reproductive hormone relaxin, which (as the name suggests) relaxes your ligaments and muscles making them more flexible in preparation for birth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
With that, you may notice you're feeling looser than usual in certain yoga poses, but you'll want to be careful not to overstretch during your yoga practice.
It may be tempting to reach all the way to your toes or work on your splits with the extra flexibility, but this can actually lead to issues like pelvic instability and/or pulled ligaments, and these can cause discomfort and take a really long time to heal, per the Cleveland Clinic.
To avoid the problem, focus on building (or simply maintaining — it's not about achievement!) stability and strength and be modest and gentle when it comes to stretching.