You probably already know that staying active while pregnant can have all kinds of great benefits for you and your baby. Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, lots of exercises—from jogging to basic bodyweight strength moves can be perfectly healthy.
Yoga in particular can be awesome, because it's a perfect combination of stretching and strengthening, says Bec Conant, prenatal yoga instructor at Om Births and birth doula in Boston. (Fun fact: Conant has had four women go into labor during a class.)
"Yoga does two things while you're pregnant: It's a physical form of exercise that's also going to bring some mindfulness and awareness into how your body is changing on a daily level," Conant says.
Another plus: breath control. "You don't need Lamaze if you go to yoga," says Heidi Kristoffer, yogi, founder of CrossFlowX, and new mom to adorable twins. "Yoga makes you more conscious of what's happening with your body—you're not just checking out of what your body is feeling."
With that in mind, we've rounded up 12 soothing poses to help relieve some of the most common pregnancy ailments—from tight hips to a sore lower back. Bonus: These "ahh"-inducing postures will also ease aches and pains even if you're not pregnant.
Note: If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, check with your doctor first before starting any new workout routine.
1. For Back Pain: Ankle-to-Knee Pose
"For back pain, I always do hip openers," Kristoffer says. In addition to helping make space for your belly and open your back, this pose will also help relieve tension in your glutes and the muscles under your glutes, like the piriformis, Conant says.
How to: Start in a seated position, with feet on the floor, knees bent, and shoulders relaxed. Slide right flexed foot under left knee, so right knee rests on the floor (like half of a regular cross-legged position). Stack left shin on top of right, so left foot rests on right knee and left knee rests on right foot. Rest palms gently on knee and foot, or bring them together to prayer (anjali mudra). For a deeper stretch, hinge forward. Switch leg placement and repeat on the other side.
2. For Back Pain and Tight Hips: Pigeon Pose
Eka Pada Kapotasana
Like the previous pose, this hip-opener is perfect for relieving lower back tension.
How to: Start on all fours. Slide right leg forward so right knee comes to right wrist, and right flexed foot is directed toward left wrist. Ease left leg down to the ground and extend it behind you, keeping left foot relaxed and leg internally rotated. (Make sure left leg is directly behind you, not angled out to the left). If it feels comfortable, come down onto forearms, connect hands in prayer, and bow forehead to touch thumbs. (If your belly does not allow you to bend forward, remain comfortably upright, being careful not to put excess pressure on the low back.) Repeat on the other side.
3. For Relieving Belly Weight: Wide-Knee Child's Pose
If you've done yoga previously, you already know the power of this restorative pose. "As you get bigger, because your belly is so heavy, anything that takes the pressure off of it is going to feel amazing," Kristoffer says.
How to: Kneel on the ground, butt on heels, top of feet against the floor, big toes touching, and knees wider than hip-width apart. Slowly bring chest to the mat, allowing your body to come between legs. Extend arms overhead, touching forehead to mat. Or lay arms alongside body with palms facing up if that feels more comfortable.
4. For Low Back Pain: Seated Side Bend
Any type of side bend will help a cranky back, Kristoffer says. Pick your favorite variation, either with crossed or open legs.
How to: Start in a comfortable upright seated position, with legs crossed or folded in a half-lotus pose. Allow right hand to rest comfortably on the ground. Stretch left arm straight up, and then bend to the right, focusing on rotating upper torso and staying open as you gaze up at your left hand. As you bend to the side, lower onto right forearm for support. Repeat on the other side.
5. For Tight Hips: Yoga Squat
As your pregnancy progresses, your body produces the hormone relaxin, which may make you feel more flexible. "You do have to be careful that you don’t move beyond your range of flexibility," Kristoffer says. With that in mind, a yoga squat—even if it didn't feel great when you weren't pregnant, will likely feel awesome now, she says.
How to: Sit with both legs extended in front of you. One at a time, bend knees and place feet close to your seat, slighty wider than hip-width. Put weight into feet and lift off seat to come into a low, wide squat. Keep back straight and bring hands together between knees in prayer, pressing elbows into inner thighs. If this feels uncomfortable, use blocks (as shown above) for a supported squat.
6. For Back Pain and Relieving Belly Weight: Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
Like some of the above poses, this one will help take some of the pressure off your low back and give you a break from the weight of your belly.
How to: Sit with legs extended straight in front of you. Spread legs wide, like a straddle, but don't push yourself too hard to force your legs apart. With a flat back, lean chest toward ground and place forearms on the ground in front of you, feeling the stretch in your hips.
7. For All-Over Relief: Supported Fish Pose
Get ready for a serious "ahh" moment. "You don't want to do any major back bends," Kristoffer says, "because you don't need to stretch your abdomen more." But supported, small back bends, like this one, should feel great. Keeping your legs bent means this move doubles as a soothing hip-opener.
How to: Grab two yoga blocks. From a comfortable seated position, place one yoga block several inches behind you on the lowest height, so it can support your mid-back. Place the other yoga block a few inches beyond that one on the middle or highest height to support your upper neck and head. Fold legs into a butterfly position (badhakonasana), so that the feet are touching and knees fall comfortably out to the side. Slowly lower yourself back, allowing mid-back (between shoulder blades) and upper neck/head to rest on blocks. (Play around with the position and height of the blocks to find what feels best.) Once comfortable, allow your arms to rest naturally at your side.
8. For Tight Hips and Back Pain: Low Lunge Twist Pose
It's a common misconception that pregnant women should avoid all twists. In reality, you need to skip the ones that compress your body against your knees. "Closed twists create this compression effect on your internal organs, changing the blood flow. Then when you unwind, you get fresh blood flowing," Conant says. "And that would be great—if there wasn't someone else growing in the middle of that."
The solution is to stick to open, easy twists. "If you're just reaching across in an open manner, that's fine," Conant says. "There's no compression to any of the joints or organs."
How to: Start on all fours. Place left foot on the ground, so your knee is directly over your ankle, leg bent to 90 degrees. With palms firmly on the ground, flex and extend right foot back behind you, and come into a low lunge with a straight right leg. Shift weight to right hand, and extend left hand up to the ceiling, allowing your gaze to follow your hand. Repeat on the other side.
9. For Relieving Belly Weight: Cat-Cow Pose
As with the seated forward bend, anything that takes pressure off your belly is going to feel great. Don't worry about pushing too far into a deep back bend in this variation, Kristoffer says, just focus on moving easily with your breath.
How to: Start on all fours. Inhale and look up, allowing back to bend naturally (without placing emphasis on the low spine). As you exhale, round spine, tuck rear, and curl inward, looking down and toward navel. Continue to move through both poses as you inhale and exhale.
10. For Back Pain: Standing Forward Bend
Another great move for relieving lower back tension, this simple forward bend, with feet a little wider than usual, should feel relaxing, Kristoffer says. She also suggests adding a slight sway from left to right with loose knees to open your back.
How to: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hips level. Bend forward at the waist, allowing head to drop toward the mat, while knees stay loose. Hold onto elbows with opposite hands, which will help elongate your spine. Don't worry about pushing yourself to reach the ground. After a few deep breaths, switch arm grip, so the opposite arm crosses on top.
11. For Tight Shoulders: Dolphin Pose
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
Hello, open shoulders. If downward dog is your usual fave, this pose can bring even more openness to your upper back and shoulders—and let's face it, we all hold plenty of tension there. If you don't feel comfortable with your head upside down, Kristoffer suggests taking this pose at a wall. Press forearms against the wall, then walk feet back until your head can drop.
How to: Start on all fours. Tuck toes and lift hips toward the ceiling, straightening legs to come into a modified downward dog pose. Your arms and legs will be straight, even if this means your toes do not touch the ground. From here, slowly lower onto your forearms, adjusting your stance accordingly. Maintain a neutral neck and keep hips elevated.
12. For All-Over Relief: Legs-up-the-Wall Pose
There comes a point in pregnancy where it will no longer feel great to lie on your back, Kristoffer says. At that point, use a bolster or pillows so you're on an angle instead of straight back for this pose, she says. Even when you're not practicing yoga, Conant also suggests keeping feet elevated, say, on a small stool under your work desk, to relieve swelling and soreness.
How to: Sit close to a wall. Lie faceup and raise legs, so flexed feet face the ceiling. Shimmy your hips until your heels and calves gently rest against the wall. From here, rest both hands on your belly, or place one hand over your heart and one on your belly.
And in case you're wondering, yes, Kristoffer practiced yoga throughout her own pregnancy.
"The ease with which you can get back into shape and reclaim your body after birth depends largely on what you did throughout your pregnancy." We chat with yoga guru @heidikristoffer (pregnant with twin girls!) about her prenatal fitness philosophy. http://bit.ly/1SpRlkF #fitpregnancy #FitBump #yoga #pregnantandfit #prenatalworkout #prenatalyoga #prenatalfitness #vegan #twins #twingirls
Special thanks to our model, Heidi Kristoffer, new mom, certified yogi, and creator of CrossFlowX at The Movement in New York City. Heidi wears a top and sports bra by Lululemon and pants by Lorna Jane.