Yoga During Pregnancy: Modifying Sun Salutations

Sun salutations are some of the most iconic yoga moves there are, and for good reason—they're incredibly good for you, especially when pregnant. But use caution: there are some aspects that should be skipped when you're expecting.
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Wondering if you can still do yoga during pregnancy? 

Not only is yoga safe for most pregnant women, it's also a soothing form of exercise with plenty of health benefits for you and your baby. These include strengthening your body for labor, toning your pelvic and abdominal muscles, which can minimize back pain, and teaching you breathing and relaxation techniques to keep you calm during pregnancy and focused during labor. But you may need to modify your sun salutation regimen now, and especially as you get further along in your pregnancy.

As your belly expands, it throws off your center of gravity, which can make balancing poses (like Tree or Dancer) more difficult. Plus, the ligaments surrounding your joints will be much looser now that you're pregnant (thanks to increased production of the hormone relaxin), which makes it easier to hurt yourself. So don't get into positions that feel uncomfortable or put pressure on your joints.

Here are some other safety tips to follow:

  • Be sure to stay well hydrated. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times during class.
  • Don't attend Bikram yoga classes, which are taught in super-hot rooms. These sessions can dramatically increase your body temperature, which can be dangerous for your baby.
  • Avoid any positions that require jumping or where you may fall.

Your best bet is to take classes designed for moms-to-be, which will accommodate your changing needs and physical limitations. If you attend regular yoga classes, be sure to let the instructor know you're expecting, so she can help you modify postures that may be challenging or unsafe now.

Sun Salutations for Pregnancy

"Sun salutations are an amazing practice for pregnant women because it literally works every muscle in your body. It's a great way to get your body moving in the morning," says yoga instructor and doula Amber Allen.

But Allen also maintains that sun salutations should been modified for pregnant yogis.

"Sun salutations vary throughout the spectrum of yoga traditions," she says. "Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, refrain from laying on your stomach when you start to feel the fundus of your uterus growing upward and outward. Upward-facing dog may be very stressful on the round ligaments of the belly, so just keeping your spine in a neutral position during that point in the sun salutation series will help prevent any pain or discomfort."

Allen believes sun salutations are amazing for your body, both inside and out. Can they tone your shape?

"Definitely," the yogi says. "Just be mindful that pregnancy is not a time to take up a rigorous yoga practice. Prenatal yoga is known for helping move the body in a gentle and relaxing way, mimicking how your body is slowing down to prepare for the next chapter in your life."

Allen breaks down all the steps to a sun salutation below:

  • Stand in mountain pose with your feet placed wider than hip distance. Inhale.
  • Exhale, bringing your hands to heart center.
  • Inhale, raise your hands above your head, parting the arms and reaching up with active fingertips.
  • Exhale, hinging at the hips, extending through your fingertips as you reach up and out to the wall and then down to the ground. Keep your knees bent the entire time so you can ensure that your arms stay by your ears. This helps with spinal alignment and strengthening/maintaining core strength. Place your hands flat on mat in between your feet, continuing to bend the knees if you need to.
  • Inhale the head up, bringing your right leg back in a runner's lunge. Placing the right knee down, releasing the toes. Pressing the hips down, looking forward.
  • Exhale, bring the other leg back to plank or modified plank.
  • Inhale, pause.
  • Exhale, coming down in chaturanga, hovering above the floor.
  • Inhale, pressing up into upward-facing dog or neutral spine.
  • Exhale, moving into downward-facing dog.
  • Inhale, bring the right leg forward into another runner's lunge. Bring the left knee down, release the toes, pressing the hips down, looking forward.
  • Exhale, coming into standing forward bend, placing the hands flat on the mat in between your feet, bending the knees if you need to.
  • Inhale the head up, bringing the arms up by your ears, reaching forward with active fingertips, and hinging up at your hips, reaching across the room and all the way up to the ceiling.
  • Exhale, hands to heart center.
  • Inhale, hands by your side in mountain pose.

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