During pregnancy, a woman’s focus turns to many different things. She pays close attention to what she puts into her body, makes decisions around career and family, and begins to prepare herself to embrace what may be the most important role in her life: mother of a child.
With so many changes going on physically and emotionally, the temptation to shut down can be strong. However, pregnancy is the most important time for a woman to be open with her emotions, and especially with her body.
The yogic belief that emotions are held in the hips suggests hip tension may be partially a result of repressed feelings. Releasing emotions can help diminish stress, which affects many women during pregnancy. Stress reduction benefits both mother and unborn child, and yoga—particularly hip openers—can prove beneficial.
Whether or not a woman is holding emotions in her hips, hip openers can provide a lot of relief during pregnancy. As the body prepares for birth, opening up the body is essential, particularly the hips and pelvic region. Various yoga hip openers are safe to practice during pregnancy, but go slow and avoid any positions that cause discomfort.
- Baddha Konasana, or Bound Angle pose, gently opens the hips from a seated or reclined (supta) position. From a cross-legged seated position, separate the knees so that the soles of your feet come to touch. Draw the feet in toward your pelvis, and press the feet together as your knees drop toward the earth. Reach the crown of your head up toward the sky, sitting tall as you lengthen your spine. Roll your shoulders back and downward. Placing your fingertips just behind your back can help you sit tall and open up your chest.
Stay in this position for one to five minutes, or add some motion to further caress the hips open. One option is to hinge forward from the hips, coming only as far as is comfortable for your body. You can also clasp your hands in front of you with loosely bent elbows. Lean forward by hinging from the hips, and guide your torso in a circle, moving your arms and hips as if you were “stirring soup”. Move in both directions.
Many women find that reclining in baddha konasana is very comfortable and relaxing during pregnancy. You can safely lie on your back by propping a bolster lengthwise on a yoga block. Sit with your tailbone against the lower end of the bolster and use your arms to slowly lie back on the bolster. Bend your knees until the soles touch in baddha konasana. Place your hands on your belly, palms-up at your sides, or in a cactus-like position at shoulder height.
- Dwi Pada Rajakapotasana, or Double Pigeon pose, is another seated posture that gently opens the hips. During pregnancy, sitting on a folded blanket can help keep the pelvis neutrally aligned. From this position, bend your right knee so that your shin is parallel to the front of your yoga mat. Stack your left leg on top of the right, so that the left knee is aligned with the right ankle, and the left ankle is just above the right knee. Don’t worry if there is a gap between your left knee and right ankle; fold a blanket or towel and place it in this space to provide more support for your top leg. Inhale and sit up tall. As you exhale, hinge forward from your hips and extend your spine out over your shins.
If this position is uncomfortable, try another supported version. Once the right shin is parallel to the front of your mat, place a bolster width-wise in front of the right leg. Rest your left shin atop the bolster and fold forward as far as is comfortable.
- Utthita Trikonasana, or Triangle pose, opens the hips from a standing position. Separate your legs three to four feet apart. Turn your left toes slightly inward, and turn your right toes out 90 degrees. Imagine that your feet are cemented to the ground, but try to draw them closer together. This will engage the inner thigh muscles. Inhale the arms up to shoulder height. As you exhale, reach out over the right foot, then bend from the right hip. Support yourself by placing your right hand on your thigh, shin, ankle, or a yoga block. Raise your left arm straight up toward the sky, or bend the elbow and place your palm on your tailbone. Draw the left shoulder back so that your chest and belly turn up toward the sky. To come out of the pose, hug your belly toward your spine and slowly rise up to standing. Repeat on the other side.
- Virabhadarasana II, or Warrior II pose, comes naturally after Triangle. After coming up out of Triangle pose, bend the forward knee at a 90-degree angle so that the knee is just over the ankle of the pointed-toe foot. The torso stays right over the hips. Avoid twisting your torso toward the front leg; instead, keep the hips facing the side of your yoga mat. Inhale your arms up to shoulder height, and turn your head to softly gaze over the middle finger of the front hand. During pregnancy, it is advisable not to hold poses for too long; you may want to straighten the bent leg as you inhale, then exhale back into the pose several times.
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or Pigeon pose, can begin from downward-facing dog, though during pregnancy may be easier from a hands-and-knees position. From hands and knees, slide the right knee forward, and draw the right ankle over toward the left side of your yoga mat. Slowly straighten your left leg back behind you, extending the left hip back as well. Place a folded blanket or towel under your right buttock if you need extra support. If comfortable, you can open the hips further by hinging forward from the hips and extending your spine out over the right shin. Repeat on the other side.
Make sure you check with your health care practitioner before starting any yoga practice to make sure she does not feel there is a reason for you to avoid certain postures.
Prenatal yoga: What you need to know
Reviewed July 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle