Our simple prenatal workout takes you through all three trimesters
Between the hectic pace of work and caring for my year-old daughter, I didn’t really have time to feel pregnant with my second child (morning sickness aside). Then I started taking prenatal yoga classes at the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan, where I worked. (I squeezed them in during my lunch hour.) The stretches relaxed some of my aching joints, and the various poses made me feel energized. But most important, the program’s last 10 minutes were devoted to relaxing and visualizing the small life growing inside me. It was a time for bonding that my usual fitness regimen hadn’t provided.
For many women, the meditative aspect of yoga adds an emotional dimension to feeling strong. Prenatal yoga works in two realms of health: physical and spiritual, says Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a Los Angeles-based yoga instructor and the author of The Eight Human Talents (HarperCollins, 2000). “You need both of these ingredients to get through labor,” Khalsa says. “By learning how to shift your focus from the mental aspects that you get from reading books to the spiritual or feeling sensation of your body, you can relax, concentrate and draw on your inner strength.”
As for the physical benefits of this type of exercise: “Yoga provides a safe and nurturing system of overall health for the pregnant woman and child,” says Eric Small, a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and director of the Beverly Hills Iyengar Studio in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Yoga Explained Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning “to yoke,” or come together, dates back thousands of years in India. There are many different types. Hatha focuses on balance, awareness and harmony with body, mind and emotions. Iyengar, nicknamed “furniture yoga” because it uses props such as chairs, benches and wood blocks, requires precise body alignment in poses. Kundalini combines chanting with stretching and strengthening exercises.
“Any of these can, with some modifications, accommodate the various stages of pregnancy, but it’s important to learn the exercises properly,” says Small, who has taught yoga for more than 30 years. “Since the Iyengar method uses props for support and balance, it can be the most compassionate, safe way of integrating exercise into a pregnant woman’s lifestyle. The postures reposition the body in relation to the growing fetus, releasing stress in the lower back, groin and digestive system.”
Small developed our program using Iyengar exercises, with poses or modifications for each trimester. “This routine is designed to encompass the general population,” he says. “But I always recommend that pregnant women talk about their goals and concerns with a qualified, certified yoga instructor who has special training in prenatal yoga.” Be sure to check with your doctor or health care provider before starting any exercise regimen.
The Workout Do the following program in the order listed at least 3 times per week. On non-yoga days, include other activities such as walking or swimming. Choose the variation of each pose that’s most appropriate for you based on your fitness level, flexibility, strength, trimester and familiarity with yoga. Hold each pose for 5 smooth, controlled breaths. If any of the poses becomes uncomfortable, stop. (If you have never done yoga before, you may want to take a class led by a certified yoga professional to prepare for this workout.)
1/Warrior Series 1st Trimester Warrior II Stand with your back against a wall, right heel against it, toes turned inward at 30 degrees. Align left heel with the ball of right foot, toes at a 90-degree angle. Lift arms to shoulder height, palms down, neck relaxed. Contract bellybutton in toward spine. Inhale; then exhale and bend left knee until it’s aligned with left ankle. Maintain pose for 5 breaths; then repeat in the other direction.
2nd Trimester Warrior I Sit sideways in a chair (back of the chair is to your left side and against the wall for extra support), left leg forward so thigh is parallel to the floor, left knee bent at a 90-degree angle to the left ankle. Right leg is behind you so you’re balanced on the ball of your right foot. Try to keep right buttock pressed on the chair so hips are squared and facing forward. Extend arms forward, then overhead. Relax shoulders and neck, tucking tailbone to keep from arching lower back. Hold for 5 breaths; then repeat in the other direction.
3rd Trimester Do Warrior I pose as in second trimester, except place your hands on your hips (not shown). Benefits: leg strength; posture; balance.
2/triangle series 1st Trimester Start in the same position as Warrior II. Lift arms up to shoulder height, palms down. Keeping legs straight and leading with your left arm, reach out and forward, bringing your torso over your front leg; then reach down toward the floor with your left hand and place it on your left shin. As your hand grasps your shin, rotate the right side of your body (ribs and right shoulder) open; lift your right arm so it lines up with your left arm. Look at your right hand if that feels OK. Maintain pose for 5 breaths; then use your right hand to help lift you up and out of the pose. Square your feet and repeat on the other side.
2nd Trimester Do the same pose, but rest your left hand on a low bench or two large books or yoga blocks.
3rd Trimester Do the same pose, but rest left hand on a chair seat (with extra towels, if needed). Bend your left knee if necessary. Benefits: leg strength and flexibility; may bring better blood circulation and delivery of nutrients to fetus.
3/rotation series 1st Trimester Chair Twist Sit on the edge of a chair with knees and feet together. Place the back of your right hand on the outside of your left knee and left hand on the back of the chair seat. Keeping torso erect and hips square, rotate torso (moving ribs, baby and shoulders) to the left. Hold for 5 breaths, switch hand positions and repeat to the other side.
2nd & 3rd Trimesters Open-Leg Chair Twist Sit on the edge of a chair and extend your right leg out to the side, keeping it fairly straight, toes and knees open and on a diagonal. Place left foot on floor facing forward, left knee bent and in line with left ankle. Place right hand lightly on top of left thigh just above knee and left hand on the back of the chair seat, arms straight. Keep torso lifted, shoulders and neck relaxed. Inhale; then exhale as you rotate torso and shoulders to the left. Maintain pose for 5 breaths, switch leg position and repeat, rotating in the other direction.Benefits: torso and shoulder flexibility and mobility; muscle toning to support weight of the fetus; relief of stress to lower back, hips and legs.
4/cobbler series 1st & 2nd Trimesters Seated Cobbler Sit on a bolster or 2 or 3 blankets about 2 inches from a wall so your tailbone drops between the wall and the blankets, legs lifted off the floor. Press soles of your feet together. Place fingers behind ankles or calves, using forearms to spread groin. Bring shoulders in line with hips. Maintain pose for at least 5 breaths.
3rd Trimester Lying Cobbler Place blankets behind you on the floor to support your upper torso and keep your head higher than your abdomen when you lie back. Sitting with soles of your feet together, place a strap around your ankles, across hip flexors and around hips and lower back. Once secure with firm tension, lie back so the blankets are at your lower back and your pelvis is free. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms up. Maintain pose for at least 5 breaths. Benefits: hip flexibility; preparation of pelvis for childbirth.
5/forward-bending series 1st Trimester Downward-Facing Dog From an all-fours position, hands under shoulders and knees in line with hips, lift heels and hips upward, straightening legs as much as you can to form an inverted “V,” heels still lifted. As your tailbone lifts upward, press your chest toward the floor, keeping your back long and your shoulders and neck relaxed. Your body should be one straight line from head to hips. Keep arms straight, widen shoulders and look back at your thighs so your head and neck are aligned with your arms. Maintain pose for 5 breaths; then lower yourself back down to your hands and knees.
2nd Trimester Supported Wide-Leg Stance Stand facing a chair. Put forearms on the seat so elbows line up under your shoulders, palms together, thumbs lifted. Separate your legs wider than hip-width apart, keeping legs straight with tailbone, back, neck and head in one line. Press up off your forearms (so you’re not slouching); maintain pose for 5 breaths.
3rd Trimester Do the Supported Wide-Leg Stance as in second trimester, except extend your arms fully on the chair on either side of your ears as a modified Downward-Facing Dog. You will need to be a bit farther away from the chair. Maintain pose for 5 breaths. Benefits: overall relaxation; hamstring flexibility; relief of lower-back pain.
6/cross-seat forward bend all Trimesters Sit cross-legged on one or 2 blankets in front of a chair. Either grasp the back of the chair with arms extended, or extend your arms directly on the chair seat. Keep hips on the blanket, back long. Maintain pose for at least 5 breaths or as long as you like. Benefits: relaxation; relief of lower-back pain.