Yoga Modifications for Pregnant Mamas with a Strong Vinyasa Flow Practice

I thought I’d post a blog for all those pregnant mamas out there who’ve been practicing yoga for years and now find themselves “in a family way” ;-). I get emails on a very frequent basis from new moms who want to continue their vinyasa flow practice but are unsure how to modify safely. I always tell any new mom who has never done yoga, or is new to yoga, Prenatal Yoga classes are the only way to go. And even if you’ve been practicing for years, you may find it very helpful to surround yourself with women who are going through the same experience at the same time. If you’re having a pregnancy with any extenuating circumstances (high risk), you should discuss with your doctor what is appropriate for you and your baby. However, if none of that applies to you and you’d like to continue to attend your regular flow class, (and again, you’ve been practicing consistently for years and feel confident that you are in tune with your body, that you know where your edge is, and that your ego will not get the better of you), here are the guidelines I worked with through both of my (totally healthy!) pregnancies.

First trimester:

1. You don’t want to overheat…you can sweat to cool off, but the baby can’t. It’s fine for you to get a good sweat, but you should not get to the point where your cheeks are flushed. Stand near a door or window if possible, and step outside if you feel like you’re getting too warm. Bring cool water, and rest to control your temperature as you need to…breathe in and out through your mouth, but continue to drag the breath along the back of your throat, and to fill and empty your lungs completely (ujayii breath through the nose will increase your internal temperature, and when you’re pregnant you’re already running a few degrees warmer. Also, do not practice breath retention or “breath of fire”)

2. No deep twists or backbends…the baby is attaching to the side of the uterus, and even though the uterus is “free-floating”, it is still attached to ligaments, etc…ustrasana (camel) is a great backbend if it’s one you usually take…twisting triangle with a block to the inside of your front foot and no “cranking”…twisting crescent the same way…..

2nd trimester:

1.You can go back to whatever backbends you did before you were pregnant. Be aware that all your ligaments will be a bit looser throughout your pregnancy due to “relaxin” (the body produces this during pregnancy because the bones and ligaments need to “soften” for childbirth…ligaments need to open around the hips so you can push the baby out, but your body doesn’t differentiate between ligaments in your hips and every other part of your body. Therefore, you may be able to “go deeper” in some poses, but don’t do it because you can injure yourself, and an over-stretched ligament does not heal easily. Still no deep twists (this continues throughout the pregnancy)…

2. Once you start to “show” (your belly pops out at all), do not lie down on your belly anymore…eventually you’ll have to modify your vinyasas to “knees, chest and chin”…you can also do cat-cows instead. When your belly pops, you’ll need to separate your legs hips distance for utkatasana, forward folding, etc.

3. it’s fine to invert but do it at the wall….getting upside down is good for you and the baby, but falling isn’t good for either one of you.Β  You’ll be carrying more weight, so be mindful of your wrists and listen to your body. Viparita karani is a great inversion (running your legs up the wall) throughout your pregnancy, although once you begin your second trimester your doctor may advise you not to lie on your back for long periods of time. I experienced no trouble in this regard and ran my legs up the wall every day of both pregnancies, but some women will become light-headed because the weight of the baby and the uterus press on major blood vessels restricting blood flow. You will know if this is happening for you, and in that case, this isn’t the pose for you, and you will also start to take savasana lying on your left side with a couple of bolsters.

3rd trimester

Same as 2nd trimester, butΒ  once you hit 34 weeks, stop any inversions EXCEPT viparita karani(as long as being on your back feels good to you)…the baby should start to “descend” at this point, and you want to encourage that descent. This is also a great time to start doing a LOT of squatting, so if you’re in a class and they do inversions, spend your time in a squat instead

Lastly, as far as “ab work” goes some teachers advise none at all, but i did navasana sit-ups throughout both pregnancies (navasana to ardha navasana with knees bent on the way up)….i think it’s good to keep those “pushing muscles”Β  strong πŸ˜‰

Lastly, listen to your intuition. This is a time to be sure you’re practicing compassion for yourself, and to make sure you are filling your home, and your baby’s home (your body), with LOVE!! I felt very in tune with both my babies while I practiced, and I often talked to them (with my “inside voice, of course, lol) as i was moving. I felt especially connected to them in Savasana; it was clear to me that we were both having an experience together. Make your practice about that, and you will have a beautiful time ;-). Hope this is helpful to you and that you have an easy and comfortable pregnancy!

Love to you and your beautiful baby (or babies!),

Ally

IMPORTANT NOTE:Β  Always consult a physician before beginning a yoga practice or any other form of physical exercise!

41 thoughts on “Yoga Modifications for Pregnant Mamas with a Strong Vinyasa Flow Practice”

  1. I am confused by the first trimester instructions to stay away from back bends, but the “go ahead” for camel…”if that is what you usually take”…these statements contradict themselves. Are deep back bends okay if you usually do them?

    1. Hi Katie. Backbends are fine for your first trimester (including cat-cow, cobra or up-dog, bridge and camel pose, assuming these are all poses you usually practice!). I personally would not do Urdhva Dhanurasana, any scorpion variations in your inversions, or Kapotasana, however. This is what I mean by “deep backbends”. Understand I’m erring on the side of caution, and that there are teachers who would argue all these poses are fine. I would not classify camel pose as a deep backbend because you can control how far you’re going into it. You can keep your hands on your low back, lengthen the tailbone toward the floor, press your shin bones down, and spin your inner thighs back, drawing the navel and front ribs in, and lifting your heart up. Whereas in a deeper backbend like Kapotasana or scorpion, it’s harder to draw the front body in, and control your depth. Basically, in my opinion, you want to avoid backbends that might “pull” on the uterus as your baby is attaching to your uterine wall. Does this make sense?

  2. Hi, I know this is an older article, but hopefully I’ll get a response! Great article, btw.
    I’m 12 weeks along with my second, so I’m already showing a little. I was in class today and the teacher felt it was safe for me to do some deep twists. I felt ok doing them, but wasn’t sure about it since another teacher doesn’t have me do them. So I researched this when I got home. Turns out, I’ve found several articles like this saying absolutely no to deep twisting at any stage of pregnancy.
    My question is, why is this not safe at this stage of pregnancy that I’m at? I hope I haven’t done any harm to my baby today.

    1. Hi Casey! Congratulations on baby #2!! I’m sure everything is totally fine so don’t worry, but I definitely would NOT recommend deep twisting for the duration of your pregnancy. Twisting compresses the abdomen and slows the flow of blood to the area while you’re in the twist. And your uterus is “Free floating” but of course it’s attached to broad bands of ligaments, bundles of nerves, and networks of arteries. You don’t want to be pulling on any of that! I have a workshop on the site, “How to Mama-fy Your Practice”. It’s for women who had a strong vinyasa flow practice before they were pregnant, and want to know how to modify a regular vinyasa flow class safely during each trimester. Just a thought! Then you could go to anybody’s class and feel secure about how you’re modifying. But please don’t worry about today. Lots of love to you and your babies!! How old is your first?

      1. Thanks so much for this post. Could you go into more detail about your definition of “deep twists” that should be avoided? Along those lines, what twists would be ok? (2nd trimester) thank you!

        1. Hi Robynn! Hope you’re feeling great πŸ™‚ I’d stick with open twists, like triangle, extended side angle, etc, and skip the internally rotating twisting variations at this point. Make sense?

  3. hello ally! i am a new teacher and in one of my classes i have just picked up i have a pregnant women that im told has been attending. im excited for the challenge but trying to figure out how to keep the class safe for her but still fun and challenging for the others in the class. i am a HUGE fan of inversions, backbends and arm balances. i have made most of my classes around them. the past 2 weeks i have focused on hips and shoulders but i want to make sure i can keep the classes creative and fun for everyone. do you have any tips on what i can have her do while i have the rest of the class get upside down or get in an arm balance?

    1. Hey Megan!

      It really depends on how pregnant she is, i.e. which trimester? If she has a strong inversion practice, it’s good for her to go upside down (at the wall for sure, because her center of gravity will keep changing, and you don’t want her to fall) until week 34. After that, the baby’s head starts to descend, so mom should stay upright. If she didn’t have a strong inversion practice prior to her pregnancy, now would not be the time to start. In that case give her hip-openers and squats.If she’s past the first trimester she can do whatever backbends she was doing before she was pregnant, but understand the hormone relaxin loosens all the ligaments, and encourage her to err on the side of less. No deep twists for the duration of her pregnancy.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Hello, thanks so much for all the good information! I’m 13.5 weeks pregnant and did breath of fire last night for about 30sec without knowing that I shouldn’t have done it. Did I harm my baby? Thanks!

  5. Hi Ally,

    How do you feel about arm balances? I had a very strong arm balance practice prior to pregnancy (I’m 10.5 weeks now), and can’t seem to find any wisdom on this one way or the other. Thanks!

    This is a very helpful article.

    1. Hi Anne! I know, there isn’t much written for women who had a strong arm balance/inversion practice and are now pregnant. I won’t advise you because I think you really have to listen to your own intuition on this, but I will say I did practice arm balances and inversions throughout both my pregnancies, and so did my friends Lauren Peterson and Kate Cariati. I wouldn’t do any that involve twisting (eka pada koundinyasana I, for example), but I did practice many others. I backed off all the VERY deep stuff, like arm balances with the ankle behind the head, but I did bakasana, titbasana, bhujapidasana, eka pada koundinyasana II, and I did inversions like handstands, forearm balance, headstand with some variations, but not scorpion pose. I did inversions at the wall because I found my center of gravity was constantly changing. Getting upside down when you’re pregnant is good, even if it’s viparita karani, but falling isn’t. Again, it’s awkward for me to give you the green light on this stuff without knowing you and your practice, and having you in the room with me, but I feel comfortable telling you what I did. At 34 weeks, I’d stop going upside down because your baby’s head will start to descend, but up ’til then it’s nice to give your joints and organs a little break from gravity πŸ™‚ Hope this helps, and huge congrats. Wishing you and your baby an easy pregnancy XO

  6. Thank you so much for the quick response! This is exactly what I needed, and is really what my intuition was saying… it’s so helpful to hear someone else’s positive experience!

    Thanks again for the insight and good wishes! xx

  7. 36 1/2 weeks and planning on going to my usual flow tomorrow morning (have been keeping up a fairly consistent practice so far) and just wanted to say thanks for this refresher on how to modify! Def will help πŸ™‚

    1. This is tough, Christine. If I knew you and your practice it would be a lot easier to advise you. I wouldn’t recommend that during your first trimester because you really want to let the baby implant without too much intense contraction of all the muscles around your uterus. I think this is erring on the side of caution, but still, I’d say only in your 2nd trimester forward, and only if you’ve been doing it for years. As the baby grows, you’ll also have to see how it feels on your wrists. Does that make sense?

      1. Absolutely. I’ve had a strong practice (used to teach), avoided any arm balances in 1st trimester. I’m at 20now and miss the core! Take care and enjoy your awesome studio and family

  8. Hi Ally, I just took your strong vinyasa class and loved it, but I had a few more questions on poses. I’m a long time yogi and instructor but my tt barely covered prenatal, particularly in regards to advanced poses(not to mention it was years ago and I was no where near ready to be a mom). Is it ok to do light twisting in utkatasana? I was thinking it would be ok if i’m not using the knees as leverage or bending forward? How about open twists with binds – I was wondering about the blossoming lotus series or Malasana twists? One armed across the body twist in a shortened down dog? Sorry to get so specific, but I just can’t seem to find pictures online and it’s hard to get an idea of what an ‘open twist’ really means. Thanks for being awesome and encouraging moms to keep practicing and stay strong πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Shelly! What trimester are you in? I wouldn’t twist in utkatasana. Open twists are fine, just listen to your body. If you’re in your first trimester, I wouldn’t do the shortened dd arm across the body pose. I know it’s hard over email. If this isn’t clear, let me know! Congrats to you, sending you and your baby lots of love!

  9. Hi Ally,

    I am 6 weeks pregnant. I recently took a class where I did bow pose and cobra. I have since read that these are not recommended while pregnant. Have I done major harm to my developing fetus?

    1. Hi Amber,

      Don’t worry. Cobra isn’t a problem until your belly “pops”; at that point, of course, you don’t want to lie on your belly. And tons of women do bow pose before they realize they’re pregnant (right around the 6 week mark). So please don’t worry. Basically, I would back off deep backbends including upward facing bow until you’re well into your 2nd trimester. At that point, if this pose has been a regular part of your practice, you can add it back in. But don’t fret about the class you took the other day. Congratulations, and love to you and the baby πŸ™‚

  10. I know it varies a ton based on rest, support, tears, repairs, etc, but can you comment on postpartum yoga. When Can we start again and what poses are best in the beginning?

    1. I’m so sorry I’m just seeing this now, Christine. It’s good to wait for your 6-week postpartum visit with your doctor to get the “Okay”, and as long as you do, any post-natal class should be fine, as long as you listen to your body. I thought I’d answer, because I’m sure lots of people have this question. Sorry again I didn’t see it sooner. Love to you and your family!

  11. Great informative post! After not having any energy to exercise for the first trimester, I’m finally getting back to my practice in the second trimester. Just wanted to double check that I was safe to do inversions. I feel very comfortable doing my forearm balance in a corner of my living room where I can’t fall back or sideways.

  12. Hi Ally!
    I feel so blessed to find this page =). I am a yoga instructor and have a strong vinyasa practice. I had my first baby in 2012 and I cannot remember what modifications I made during that pregnancy. I honestly just found out I was pregnant (4 weeks today)! I want to practice safely, but I also want to continue with a strong practice. What asanas should I avoid at this point? Can I still prayer twist? Upward bow? Dancer? Boat pose? Inversions? I have been looking for a book to help with this, but there is nothing out there for pregnant practitioners who have a strong practice and what exactly is safe and what is not. Please, please help.

  13. Thanks for the post and all of your answers! There is really nothing on second series ashtanga variations when pregnant for us with a strong practice. What do you think of doing shalabasana, bekasana with rolled towels under hips and ribs? do you think belly will stretch more if doing danurasanas and then standings? I am afraid of stretch marks? I am almost 5 months, first baby. Thanks! ana

  14. Hello there! This is a very useful article.
    I’m about 18 weeks pregnant and do Iyengar yoga regularly. My instructor is not too concerned about me lying on my back for shavasana and some twists. He says I need to be concerned only around my 6th month or so. I don’t feel uncomfortable lying on my back either at this point.
    But I read articles that are conflicting.
    Could you advise me on this please?
    Thank you!!

    1. The issue is the weight of the baby and your uterus pressing on the inferior vena cava [from wikipedia:the large vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the lower half of the body into the right atrium of the heart. It is posterior to the abdominal cavity and runs alongside of the vertebral column on its right side (i.e. it is a retroperitoneal structure). It enters the right atrium at the lower right, back side of the heart.] However, if there’s a problem, you will know. Lying on your back for a few minutes at a time might be totally fine for you. I didn’t experience any problems in either pregnancy that way, and I ran my legs up the wall every day. I have had a couple of pregnant students over the years who started to feel really uncomfortable on their backs, and experienced shortness of breath and nausea that way, so for them, it was a “no”. It’s really case-by-case. I think you can trust that if it’s a no for you, your body will tell you.

  15. Hope you could answer me. I am 14 weeks pregnant, I consider myself intermidiate yogi. I did not know i shouldnt do arm balances during pregnancy and practiced the crow a couple of times. Do you think I should worry or contact my doctor about it? Are there any signs I should look out for that should worry me?

    1. Hey Katy! I wouldn’t worry at all! I did crow pose and a ton of other arm balances and inversions in my first trimester with both babies, because I didn’t realize I was pregnant. I had two healthy, active pregnancies and babies πŸ™‚ It sounds like you did these poses a number of days or weeks ago?

      1. Thank you for your quick response, I actually did it a couple of days ago. I did not think it shouldnt be done during pregnancy. I feel ok, just a little bit of cramps but I think it is normal and dont think it is related to the yoga practice rather the muscles expanding, what do you think?

  16. Hi!!!! Great advices😊
    I’m a experimented practicioner, i always do backbends, now i’m on my firt trimester, on the 7 week, today I made dhanurasana and felt like electricity from the navel to the genitals, of course stop making and wont do it again… I’m a little scare, I hope everything is OK!
    What di you think?

    1. I think you are totally fine, but I would back off deeper backbends until you’re well into your second trimester, and even then, just listen to your body! If it doesn’t feel right, trust that.

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