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8 Quick Tips for Teaching Prenatal Yoga

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When a pregnant person attends your yoga class, there is no need to fear! These 8 quick tips will help ensure you provide the best and safest possible experience for your prenatal yoga students. 

Before we jump in, a few considerations:

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Yoga can be GREAT for the pregnant body!

As an overarching theme here, let’s establish that yoga can be amazing for a pregnant person. It helps them become strong, supple, calm and empowered, all of which can help make the pregnancy, and ultimately the delivery, a better experience. 

Further, a pregnant person is not a weak person. One of the more popular prenatal yoga teachers in my area, for instance, would have her pregnant mommas do straight-up push-ups. She wasn’t afraid to challenge them, and she didn’t treat them like fragile creatures. 

Still, of course, there are some considerations we should make for the pregnant body. We’ll explore those in the tips farther down in the article. 

Exercise is generally safe for pregnancies that are not high risk.

According the American Pregnancy Association (APA), exercise is not generally risky for prenatal mothers. However, the organization does caution expecting mothers against pushing too hard or overheating. When beginning a new form of exercise, additional caution is advised . 

Hot yoga is not advised.

Pregnant people can tend to overheat when overworked or when in hot environments. For this reason, it is not advisable to do Bikram yoga or others forms of hot yoga, which the APA emphasizes is not safe for the expecting mother. That said, I know a teacher who did Bikram throughout her pregnancy with no ill effect, so it’ll ultimately be a personal call.

1st trimester considerations.

The official position of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga lineage holders, the Jois family in Mysore, India, is that pregnant mothers should rest in their first trimester since this is a sensitive time for mother and the developing fetus. Ultimately, this is a personal choice. 

Relaxin makes pregnant people very limber.

Pregnant people may find that they are more flexible than usual. This is due to the hormone relaxin, which is preparing the body for labor. Expecting mothers should take care not to stretch excessively so that they don’t overstretch ligaments or tendons. 

Every mother is different.

Some long-time yogis who happen to be pregnant will feel comfortable handstanding and contorting for the duration of their practice. Many others will benefit from modifications that you offer. Ultimately, the pregnant person and their support team of doctors and/or midwives should always be the final authority on what is deemed appropriate and safe. Our role is to ask if the pregnant student would like us to suggest modifications and then to do our best to be of support. 

Onward!

8 Quick Tips for Teaching Prenatal Yoga:

1. Modify Twists

The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding doing “a lot of abdominal stretching.” Deep twists and backbends fall under this category. Encourage your prenatal mommas to twist gently by offering them modifications. 

Twist modifications:

  • Instead of binding in a revolved lunge as in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana have the prenatal person stand up tall in their lunge and twist gently. 
  • Instead of Revolved Triangle, take a block WIDE and have the person twist gently.
  • Instead of doing Ardha Matsyendrasana, the seated twist, as usual, have your pregnant student twist gently in the other direction. 
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2. Modify Backbends

While many moms will feel perfectly comfortable doing deep backbends, others won’t be sure. When your student needs guidance, or if there’s any doubt, encourage your student to take the gentler option.  

Backbend modifications:

  • Blocks for Camel Pose instead of Wheel or Bridge
  • Reverse Tabletop instead of Bridge Pose
  • Puppy Pose with blocks instead of Cobra, Locust, Bow, or Wheel Pose
  • Side-Body Wild Thing instead of Wild Thing or Wheel
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3. Modify Poses that Crush the Belly

In the second and third trimesters, the belly can sometimes just get in the way! Even though the pregnant mom is perfectly CAPABLE of doing a Half-Bound Lotus Intense Forward Fold doesn’t mean the tummy will allow it. Be prepared to offer your prenatal student modifications for poses that don’t allow space enough for the belly. 

Making Space in Belly-Crusher Poses:

  • In forward folds, open the legs to shoulder width or more.
  • In twisted lunges (as above), have students stay tall and twist gently.
  • In twisted folds like Revolved Triangle (as above), bring a block to the ground just wide of the shoulder.
  • In seated twists like Ardha Matsyendrasana, have your student twist in the opposite direction.
  • In seated folds like Marichyasana, take the bent leg wider. 
  • In seated folds like Half Bound Lotus fold, have the student take the heel into the groin instead of half lotus. This way, the heel won’t push into the belly.
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4. Be mindful about core work

In pregnancy, it is wise to strengthen and tone the abdominal wall. However, core work should be done without creating strain or bulging at the abdomen, which could ultimately serve to exacerbate Diastasis Recti (the separation of the abdominal muscles that is common during pregnancy). 

Contraindicated Core Work:

  • Crunches and crunch-type exercises are not advised.
  • The jump-through, jump-back, and float-through style of vinyasas are generally not advised during pregnancy because they could lead to strain and overwork.
  • Arm balances are not advised for someone who is new to them. They could potentially be safe for someone who already does them all the time. Determine on a case-by-case basis, and opt for safety when in doubt. 
  • Overly vigorous or repetitive core work of any kind is not advised. 

Recommended Core Work:

  • Bird-Dog, a core exercise done on hands and knees is an excellent way to keep the ab wall strong. 
  • Planks and side planks could potentially be safe unless the pregnant person is new to these exercises. Some pregnant persons will not like Plank pose in which case you could offer knees down. 
  • Knees-down push ups and Chaturangas. Just take care not to do too many. 
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5. Modify Belly-down Poses

Cobra pose is a lovely heart opening, that is, until your pregnant belly makes being in the prone position just plain unbearable. Be prepared with options and modifications for your prenatal students!

Modifications for Belly-down Postures:

  • Instead of Cobra Pose, suggest Cow Pose
  • Instead of Sphinx Pose, offer Puppy on Blocks
  • Instead of Bow Pose, offer Camel
  • Instead of Locust, offer Reverse Table Top
  • Instead of a traditional vinyasa (chaturanga to updog to downdog), offer a knees-down pushup to Cow Pose and then Downward Dog
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6. Jumping is not advised

If you’re in the habit of cuing “Jump or float to the top of your mat,” make sure to offer a stepping forward option for your pregnant people.

7. Modify Inversions

The advice out there is mixed on inversions. Perhaps the greatest threats to mom and fetus with inversions are: a) the possibility of falling, and b) the possibility of overworking. If there’s any doubt, suggest a safer inversion. Of course, if the pregnant person feels totally comfortable continuing their own practice, we are not in a position to override their maternal authority. 

Safe Inversion Versions:

  • Downward dog 
  • Shoulderstand 
  • Wide Legged Fold
  • Dolphin Pose
  • Supported Headstand (if the student is not new to headstanding)
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8. Throne Up for Savasana

Particularly in the third trimester, when the baby is heaviest, it’s not generally advisable to recline on the back. In a supine position, there is a risk that the baby would put pressure on the vena cava, which could reduce blood flow to the uterus and cause harm. Note that some pregnant people will feel just fine reclining. Either way, it’s nice to offer the bolster throne. 

Savasana Options:

  • The Bolster Throne: Position a bolster with two blocks on the head end. Have the momma sidle their sacrum up close to the base of the bolster and then lie back if it’s comfortable. Encourage them to use hands on the way back up. 
  • Side Lying with Blocks: Have the prenatal student lie on their left side with blocks or a pillow between the knees. Cushion them up with blankets or pillows for maximum comfort. 
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Finally, don't be intimidated by your prenatal students!

These 8 suggestions and the general tips above will arm you nicely with what to do on the fly if a pregnant person shows up to your classes. 

There’s no reason for your sequencing plans to get derailed. With these 8 pointers, you can easily help your pregnant students modify. 

Have fun with it. I’d love to know if you have additional questions. 

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About Leigha Butler

Long-time yogi and YouTube instructor Leigha Butler offers yoga teacher trainings and Vinyasa classes on her membership site, LBY

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