Kate DeRosa, teacher of Prenatal Yoga at Wake Up Yoga South, in Squat Pose. Photo by Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice.
Pregnancy is an incredible experience. It can be joyful and amazing, but it’s not exactly a comfortable process. Humans have big babies, and carrying them around for up to 41 weeks is weird. It puts pressure on you in all kinds of ways you never expected, giving you everything from heartburn to constipation.
One thing you probably did expect was back pain. The absolute best way to combat almost any common, uncomfortable pregnancy-related symptoms is to stay active. Gentle stretching, like yoga, is one of the best ways to introduce activity into your routine. When doing yoga while pregnant, you’ll want to address the entire lower body. Tight hips, hamstrings and back all contribute to overall back pain.
Sit on your butt, spread your legs apart and bring the soles of your feet together. Focus on keeping good posture, and try to let gravity bring your knees down to the floor. This pose helps stretch out your thighs and hips, which can both be areas that contribute to lower back pain.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
This pose is similar to the forward bend you may recognize as part of sun salutations, but it gives you enough room to get an extended living space between your knees. Spread your legs more than shoulder-width apart and lean forward, placing your hands on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, use blocks or a chair to help you keep your balance. This pose also helps round the lower back, releasing tension and lengthening the spine. Remember, you have a lot more blood in your body during pregnancy, so when you come up, do so slowly. Take at least three breaths as you come back to standing, and sit down if you feel faint at all.
Triangle pose is one of the basics and one you will probably be familiar with if you did yoga before pregnancy. During pregnancy, this is one of the better poses to do. However, it does involve a pretty intense stretch, so be careful during the second and third trimesters. It wouldn’t be uncommon to trigger a sharp pain on the sides of your abdomen, called round ligament pain. That isn’t dangerous, but it can be quite painful.
To do triangle pose, stand with your feet spread wide, turn one foot out to the side and rotate the other in slightly. Extend yourself over the leg with the foot turned sideways, reaching down to the floor with your hand. If you can’t reach the floor, use a block or chair for support. Reach your other arm toward the ceiling and look up.
This pose looks easy, but it requires a lot of flexibility through the entire leg. Your hips, hamstrings and calves all have to work up to it, and when your balance is off, you have to work even harder to relearn where your center of gravity is. However, those squats are worth it! They stretch the entire leg and the hips, putting your back into its proper position. As you squat down, your lower back should naturally round out at the very bottom, a position that’s hard to come by in pregnancy!
For many people, cat/cow pose is the best back stretch of all. Later in pregnancy, when your belly gets a bit more unruly, cow pose could strain your back. If you do try it, ease into it gently, and make sure you keep yourself as supported as possible. Start on your hands and knees, and as you breathe in, arch your back up toward the ceiling. The best method is to try and make a circle from your head to your tailbone, but that will become more difficult as your belly grows!
If your flexibility allows, move into cow when you exhale by arching your back down and letting your head and butt come up toward the ceiling. Remember, the more pregnant you are, the slower you should ease into cow. If it feels uncomfortable, move from cat pose to a flat back, skipping cow altogether.
Supported Pigeon Pose
This pose is the same as pigeon pose, but with a bolster under your legs. For pigeon, start off by getting on your hands and knees. You can actually move from cat/cow into pigeon. Slide one foot over and slightly past the knee of the opposite leg, then stretch that leg back until it’s straight. You’ll be able to come down either to your hands or possibly your elbows. For supported pigeon, keep a bolster under your front leg and let it take your weight. If it feels good, stay here for a bit and relax.
Child’s pose is one of the basics. During pregnancy, place a rolled-up blanket under your head if you’d like, and keep your knees wide apart to make room for your belly. This pose should allow your stomach to rest a bit on the floor, giving your back some relief. Make sure it’s not too much relief, since that will be really uncomfortable for your stomach!
This position is exactly as its name describes, but when you’re pregnant, you need to be careful with it. Later in pregnancy, lying on your back can compress some major blood vessels and cause you to feel sick, and your baby to get less blood. If you do try this one in the third trimester, make sure to only try it for about 30 seconds to a minute at a time. Early in pregnancy, though, this posture should be fine and will likely cause no issues. Always stop any pose if it’s making you uncomfortable, and check in with your doctor about specific poses like this one.
Yoga won’t solve your back pain. Only giving birth can do that. But it is a safe way to make it manageable while you have to deal with it.