Which yoga is best in pregnancy?

By guest yoga expert Izzy Ixer

Yoga in pregnancy is a great way to stay active, increase your flexibility and gain strength. It helps mums-to-be to relax, feel less anxious and sleep better which, let’s face it, is all much needed in this period of lockdown. Being able to practice yoga during labour has also been proven to help women through contractions and delivery, as it allows you to access deep stores of emotional strength and confidence as well as breath through contractions.

Many women ask “which yoga is best in pregnancy?” and “is yoga safe in pregnancy?” Read on and we’ll answer of all your questions here.

A quick note of safety

The Hatha Yoga approach is most suitable in pregnancy because this allows you to practise at your own pace, holding postures and adapting routines to suit your body changes.  Restorative yoga also works when you’re growing a baby inside, as it uses props such as cushions and bolsters to support you, allowing you to deeply relax into postures. 

However, it’s important to recognise that this is not the time to push your body, so avoid hot yoga, fast-paced vinyasas and put the Ashtanga yoga you may have been practicing, on hold just for the moment.  You can come back to it later.

The following postures should be avoided during your pregnancy:

  • inversions (handstand, headstand, shoulderstand)
  • spinal twisting
  • postures which place pressure or weight onto the tummy
  • postures which use the stomach muscles strongly (plank, boat) and arm balances such as the crow
  • when you are 4 months into your pregnancy, avoid lying on your back as this can put pressure on major blood vessels and can make you feel faint.

Getting organised

It’s worth spending a few minutes getting yourself organised before you start your yoga practice.

  • Try finding a quiet space away from other members of your household so you can relax.
  • A non-slip surface like a yoga/pilates mat will be useful too.
  • Make sure your clothing is stretchy enough to allow freedom of movement.
  • Have some water with you and try not to eat a meal for couple of hours before you start.
  • Avoid practising if you’re hungry though – it’s best to eat a light snack if you feel you’ll need extra energy.
  • Check that your practice space is not too hot or too cold and in warmer weather you may find you can do some or all of your practice outside.

Right, now you’re organised, let’s look at the best yoga postures for pregnant women, yoga breathing techniques and finally pregnancy relaxation and meditation.

Yoga postures (asanas)

Hatha Yoga is most commonly practiced today. This encourages the practice of breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation.  For you and especially at this time, yoga is a wonderful opportunity to become more in tune with your body as your baby develops.  Simple stretching and strengthening techniques will help you to prepare for the birth of your baby.  I practised yoga during both of my pregnancies and found that my recovery after both births was easier than I had expected – several of my friends were surprised by how quickly my body recovered!  Feeling fit and having a good energy level will also be a great asset to you when you are caring for your baby when he/she arrives.

A picture of Issy as a young mum, in the days when she first discovered the benefits of yoga to ease a hectic life

This is a picture of me as a young mum, in the days when I

first discovered the benefits of yoga to ease a hectic life

You will probably have ideas about your birth plan and maybe you can visualise the process of bringing your baby into the world.  As you develop strength, agility and breath control during your pregnancy, you will have a feeling of greater control when the time comes.

Here are some postures which are safe for you to practise during your pregnancy with simple guidelines on how to do them. 

Mountain Pose

Yoga - Mountain Pose

At all stages of our life we can benefit from standing well and adopting an upright posture.  And during your pregnancy you will find that your posture changes as your baby grows, making it even more important to focus on this simple activity. 

Seven simple steps:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and give yourself a moment to feel the weight over both of your feet.
  2. Feel how your pelvis is aligned and become aware of the length of your spine.
  3. Relax your shoulders and slightly lift your breast bone - this will free up more space for your breath. 
  4. Gently extend your neck upward, feeling that it is supported from between your shoulder blades.
  5. Visualise a thread lifting up from the crown of your head.
  6. Focus on your breath.
  7. Feel strong and grounded.

    Chair pose

    Yoga - Chair pose

    Chair pose is a great way of strengthening your legs, lower back and upper back

    Six simple steps:

    1. Stand arm’s length away from something you can use to support you – a high backed, heavy chair, a firmly fixed bookcase.
    2. Arms should be outstretched at around shoulder height.
    3. Stand in Mountain pose (see above).
    4. Gently bend your knees, tracking them forward over the feet and tuck your tail under.
    5. Only go down as far as you can comfortably go – your legs will feel that they are working and are your best guide for how low to go.
    6. Hold the posture for 2 or 3 gentle breaths then straighten the legs and return to Mountain pose.

    The cat arch

    Yoga - The cat arch

    Seven simple steps:

    1. Move into an all-fours position on the floor, making sure you have a folded blanked or garden kneeler under your knees to protect them if the surface is hard.
    2. Have your hands aligned with your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips.
    3. Your spine is parallel to the ground.
    4. Try not to let the spine drop into a U shape because the weight of your baby will place a strain on the low back.
    5. On a breath out, gently draw your tail in and under, arching your back a little and feeling the movement in your spine.
    6. As you breathe out, release your spine back to a flat shape.
    7. Do this 3 or 4 times working gently with your breath.

    The Bridge

    Yoga - The Bridge

    Seven simple steps:

    1. Lie on your back with your feet at hip width apart and have your feet close to your bottom.
    2. Your arms are relaxed at your sides, shoulders soft and neck long.
    3. Gently pushing your feet into the floor and moving your knees away from you, feel your tail bone moving slightly off the floor.
    4. Continue this upward movement and feel that your spine is lifting from the floor little by little by little.
    5. Lower your spine gently to the floor and with control. This pelvic tilting is a lovely way to release tension from your low back.
    6. Keep the spine relaxed and free on the way up and again on the way down.
    7. You can combine the movement up with a breath in and the movement down with a breath out. This combination of breath and movement is the key to yoga and developing the sense of connection with your body. 

    Yoga breathing techniques (Pranayama)

    Taking the opportunity during your pregnancy to develop an understanding of your breath, how it feels and how to control it will be a great asset when you are giving birth to your baby. 

    Here is a simple technique which will help you to calm your breathing and keep your mind quiet too and it can be done from a sitting or lying position (However from 4 months onward, lying on your back is not recommended as it can cause pressure on major blood vessels, which may result in you feeling faint). 

    1. Bring your attention to your breath and breathe in and out through your nose.
    2. On your in-breath, feel the air moving into the bottom of your lungs, the middle (around the ribs) and I up into the chest.
    3. Breathe out from the top of the lungs to the bottom.
    4. Allow the breath to settle into a natural rhythm and once it has settled, move to counting 2 for your breath in and 4 for your breath out.
    5. The breath doesn’t have to be especially deep or very long - just this rhythm of exhaling (breathing out) for twice as long as you breathe in is good.
    6. Don’t hold your breath.
    7. Maintain this rhythm for 4 - 6 breaths then return to light, quiet breathing.
    8. Try to spend a moment enjoying your sense of quietness when the breathing practice is complete.

    Yoga relaxation and meditation

    In a yoga class, relaxation is often associated with lying down on your back in Savasana. This is OK in the early stages of your pregnancy.  Don’t forget that you shouldn’t lie on your back after 4 months – this position in the picture below is better after that.  Try to find a quiet space before you start. 

    Yoga prone pose

    Once you are settled follow these 6 simple steps:

    1. Focus on your body and finding a quiet and relaxed flow to your breath.
    2. Become aware of each area of your body in turn, checking that you are relaxed and if there is tension, try to release the tension on a slow breath out.
    3. Work through your arms, legs, face, neck, shoulders, spine and pelvic area.
    4. Once you gain a sense of relaxation, then focus bring your focus back to your breath and visualise or feel that as you are breathing gently in, you are taking in energy and that as you breathe out, you are sending this all around your body and to your baby too.
    5. At the end of your relaxation it’s important to take time to return to a state of full awareness.
    6. Allow time to re-connect with your body, become aware of where you are and return gently.

    Bringing it all together

    I hope you now have a better understanding about which yoga is best in pregnancy. Your pregnancy is a special opportunity to learn about your body as it goes through the amazing process of creating new life. Taking the time to establish a simple yoga practice now can be a great source of strength and comfort to you along your very special journey. 

    About Izzy Ixer

    Issy Ixer - Yoga instructor

    Izzy started her yoga journey as a young teenager having become fascinated by the philosophy and some of the mystery which surrounded yoga. She is qualified with the British Wheel of Yoga and has taught many of her students before, during and after their pregnancy, advising women which is the best yoga in pregnancy and after the birth.

    What drew us to Izzy was her commitment and passion for yoga.  She says: “At some of the most challenging moments in my life, yoga has been there for me as my rock.  Practising yoga enables me to stay physically strong and mentally focussed and resilient and I love sharing what I have learned on my yoga journey with others so that they can enjoy benefits of yoga too”.

    You can find out more about Izzy and her teaching techniques here. Or you can check out Izzy on You Tube