Pregnancy is a beautiful gift, but like any other transformation, that doesn’t mean it’s void of ups and downs. Luckily, there are some very practical and effective yogic tools for expecting moms in need of physical and emotional support. Here are some of my favorite poses for the most common pregnancy grievances.
Grievance: Morning sickness and migraines.
I’m not sure why they call it morning sickness considering I was nauseous day, night, and well beyond the invisible first-trimester finish line, but luckily I was able to self-soothe by dropping into a supported child’s pose. And if you’ve replaced your afternoon dose of caffeine with a tension headache, applying a little pressure to your third eye might be the magical and oddly rejuvenating relief you’ve been searching for.
Remedy: Supported child's pose.
Separate your knees to the wide edges of your mat, bring your big toes to touch, and have two blocks on hand. Place the first block lengthwise underneath your sternum and the second underneath your forehead. With the weight of your head resting on the block, gently scrub the skin of your forehead toward your hairline, bringing your attention to your third eye (the space between and slightly above your eyebrows).
With the knees separated, you should have the freedom to expand and contract your belly as you breathe deeply. This pose is often described as the ultimate surrender, making it an ideal time to give your weight to the floor and props beneath you and welcome a grounded sensation that can be the antidote to vertigo and nausea.
Grievance: "I need more space!"
I always tell my students that my goal is for them to feel at home in their own bodies, but as pregnancy progresses, it can start to feel like the walls are closing in. By cultivating space in the body, we can breathe a little easier, which helps calm the mind.
Remedy: Gate pose.
From all fours, extend one leg to the side and ensure your toes are pointing in the same direction as your knee, and that your knee is in-line with your hip. As you reach your top arm overhead, glide your bottom hand down your extended leg, resting it anywhere but the kneecap.
This is one of the deepest side bends in yoga, which stretches and strengthens the intercostal muscles, the muscles that run between the ribs and expand and contract when we breathe. By lengthening the side body, we create more space for growing bellies, which can then be filled with slower, mindful breath.
Grievance: Leg cramps and swollen ankles.
Restless leg syndrome, shin splints, and charley horses are especially common during the third trimester and are often caused by poor circulation. Fun fact: Pregnant women produce 50 percent more blood! Pregnant women also retain more water, which can result in tired legs, feet, and—sexiest of all—swollen ankles! To all you nonpregnant readers, this is why offering up your seat on the subway is good karma, and to all you expecting mamas, it’s time to put your feet up—literally!
Remedy: Legs up the wall.
Instead of the traditional L-shaped legs-up-the-wall position, also known as viparita karani, pregnant practitioners should assume more of a V-shape to avoid compressing the vena cava. This is achieved by reclining on blocks and a bolster, ensuring that your head is above your heart. Once the spine is supported, rest your legs against a wall, separate your feet, and close your eyes.
This pose should feel like a vacation for tired legs and is a true gift at the end of a long day. In order to fully reap the benefits of improved circulation and reduced swelling, it’s important to stay put for at least five minutes.
Grievance: Back pain.
As you bear more weight in your front body, your back might begin to feel strained. Instead of giving in to the asymmetry of your growing bump by letting your shoulders round forward or slouching when seated, you’ll find longer-lasting relief by strengthening your back and opening your shoulders instead.
Remedy: Eagle arms.
Sit on a block in virasana, and extend your arms to the side with palms facing forward. Begin flapping your arms like wings, drawing the shoulder blades together. After a few rounds, extend your right arm up, bend your elbow, and reach your hand toward the center of your back. Then, extend your left arm to the side, bend your elbow, and reach for the opposite hand. If the palms are far apart, you can hold a strap instead. Gently lean back as if there was a wall behind you, and send your breath to any areas, resting in this deep shoulder opener. Be sure to repeat for an equal number of breaths on the second side. Opening your shoulder girdles and strengthening your back muscles will help cultivate good posture throughout your pregnancy and therefore protect the health of your spine.
Grievance: I'm overwhelmed.
From the influx of information and advice to an ever-changing physical and emotional state—pregnancy can be overwhelming. Although it may sound cliché, replacing grievances with gratitude has been the best antidote that I’ve uncovered to date. After battling with anxiety early on in my pregnancy, I began practicing a simple guided meditation that completely shifted my outlook.
Remedy: Gratitude meditation.
Come to a comfortable seat, and if sitting still for long periods is no longer possible, set yourself up on blocks to comfortably recline. Once in a restorative shape, begin listing everything you’re grateful for. It’s important to be specific and honor each item with a full breath in (where you can silently say, "thank you for...") and a full breath out (where you silently complete the sentence). If you catch your mind wandering back to a complaint, i.e., "I’m so tired; there’s too much on my plate," see if you can even give thanks to your critique: i.e., "I’m tired because my baby is growing, and I’m so glad she’s healthy."
Want to give a prenatal yoga course a try? Check out Tara Stiles' mbg class.