Prenatal Yoga Poses for Runners
Prenatal Yoga is really amazing for the pregnant runners’ body & mind! I’ve always found yoga a huge benefit to balancing the stiffness that running can create but during pregnancy yoga has become even more of a useful tool! Going with the flow in yoga (by noticing how my body is feeling different to ‘before-being-pregnant’ rather than pushing it to do the same) has allowed me to slow down and develop a routine that stretches out the areas that have been tightening up, such as: lower legs from carrying extra weight; lower and mid back from carrying the bump; hips from supporting everything; and even my breathing, and therefore shoulders & neck too due to compression of the diaphragm and lungs as my uterus grew.
And how about the mind? Pregnancy is a time of uncertainty about the future, excitement occasionally tinged with questions, worry and doubt. But having faith in the process (that has been happening since, well, for how long depends on who you talk to…) and staying rooted in the here & now – as you would whilst holding a stationary yoga pose for 10 breaths without running away – can really help. No one can ever know an outcome 100%, even though we might crave it. The best we can do is educate ourselves, make informed decisions that suit our individual situations and see the beauty in following the path as it unfolds, with every up and downward facing dog.
Over the last few months I’ve slowly been developing a set of yoga poses that seem to work for my pregnant yogi-runners’ body. Whilst I cannot guarantee that all of the poses will help every pregnant lady, you may find that just a few suit your body, frame, stage of pregnancy and bump! It’s a good idea to remember the relaxin hormone also affects everyone differently – certain hip openers and stretches may cause discomfort, which is always a sign to stop, make adjustments and try a different pose.
NB: Before beginning any yoga practice make sure you are hydrated and have checked with your doctor/ OB that yoga is a suitable form of exercise for you and bump. This yoga sequence is by no means a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional. Please take all precautions necessary to ensure the health & safety of you & your baby.
Easy Cross Legs and Abdominal Breathing.
To prepare for your yoga practice start by sitting in an easy, cross-legged position – using a cushion or block for extra comfort. If crossing the legs is not comfortable, try stretching the legs out in front of you. You can also sit up against a wall or sofa/ couch for back support. Make sure your sacrum is up against the support. This pose allows the mind and body to settle and focus on the yoga exercises ahead. It also gently stretches the hips and knees.
Begin 10 rounds of deep, abdominal breathing whilst still seated. Inhale through the nose – feel the abdomen expand fully. Exhale through the nose and open mouth – allow the face, jaw and body to fully relax. Abdominal breathing is calming, helps to release tension from the body and allows you to focus inwards rather than on outside stimulation.
Pelvic Rocking: Cat-Cow Variation.
Move gently and position yourself onto all fours. When in this ‘table-top’ position, make sure the hands are underneath shoulders, knees underneath hips. Still in table-top, begin 5 rounds of gentle pelvic rocking, which is a variation of what is commonly known as ‘cat-cow’. The focus is on movement of the pelvis rather than the spine. You may know this as ‘pelvic rocking’. Inhale to tilt pelvis a little forward, exhale and move pelvis back to just beyond neutral. Pelvic rocking lengthens and strengthens the musculature of the pelvic area to prepare for childbirth. This helps to relieve and prevent lower back pain.
Wide-legged Downward Facing Dog – with swaying.
Lift hips up as you start to straighten legs and move into downward facing dog with feet wide apart. Extend hips up and back to lengthen your spine and to prevent weight from collapsing forward into your wrists. Hold for 3-5 breaths, breathing slowly and deeply. Gently bend one knee then the other and sway hips from left to right. Also flex ankles and toes if that feels good for your lower legs. A great stretch for the entire back of the body, from neck down through the legs. Also releases tension from the neck and jaw.
Modified Camel Pose.
From downward facing dog drop knees to mat slowly, sit back on heels and then begin to reach hands behind you to move into a modified camel pose. Inhale and lift hips until you feel a gently stretch in the front of quads and hip flexors – keeping face forward, chin slightly tucked, and knees together without moving into a full camel pose. Exhale and slowly sit back down, then repeat 3-5 times. If kneeling is uncomfortable place a block between your feet to sit on. This helps to stretch the front of the body and strengthen lower back.
Warrior II with Eagle Arms.
Slowly come to standing. Prepare for Warrior II: feet 3-4 feet wide apart, right foot pointing forward, left foot turned out about 45 degrees (varies from person to person). A straight line should run from back to front heel. Turn hips and shoulders so that they are parallel with the long side of the mat, but keep front knee directly over front ankle. Lift arms until they are parallel with the floor – try not to lean forward, keep shoulders stacked over hips. Look out over front arm. Hold for 3-5 breaths or longer – feeling lungs expand with inhale, allowing shoulders, neck, face and jaw to relax with exhale. Warrior II is a great strengthening and stretching pose – beneficial for legs, ankles, groins, shoulders, back and more!
Turn to face forward, and allow arms to move directly in front of you. Cross right arm over left at the crook of the elbow. Bend forearms straight up, then bring the back of your hands together, or weave hands so that palms touch. Hold for a few breaths, maybe gently lifting and lowering the elbows to feel a stretch across the back of the shoulder blades. Breathe deeply. Release lower arms and then switch by crossing left over right arm, and repeat the process. Eagle pose arms greatly ease tension in the upper back and shoulders.
Stand with feet wide apart. Open toes to point feet outwards, about 45 degrees. Bend knees and sink into hips, keep weight back and dropping into your heels – as if you were about to attempt a squat. Hands can rest on hips or legs for balance, or you can stretch arms out to the side. Keep back tall and straight, shoulders wide and open. Hold and breath for 3-5 rounds of deep, abdominal breathing. Stand up slowly to move out of pose and give the legs a shake out. This pose stretches the hips and groins, helping to prepare the pelvis for childbirth.
Stand with feet just wider than hip distance apart. Have a yoga block or cushion handy. Squat down, with feet turned out to 45 degrees as in goddess pose and keep weight back over hips, and dropping into heels. Try to keep heels flat on the ground as far as possible. If needed – use a yoga block or other support to sit on for comfort. Inhale and lengthen the spine to prevent rounding the back and bending forward. Exhale and aim to sink lower towards the ground, pressing down through the feet, and onto the block if in use. Bring hands into a prayer position, and place elbows inside knees. Hold for 8-10 rounds of deep, abdominal breathing. Additional bonus – do some kegels! Squatting is a great way to prepare the pelvis for childbirth – it stretches the groins, thighs, hips and knees.
Sit on the floor, with or without a cushion for support, bend the legs and swing the right knee in front, the left knee out to the side and the foot behind. Inhale and stretch the spine forward. Exhale and fold from the hips (keeping back straight), lay down over the knees – making adequate space for your baby bump. Using a yoga block or another supporting aid here will help to keep bump elevated. Relax over the block or support and stay for as long as comfortable – breathing deeply, smoothly and steadily. When ready, sit up very slowly, then rock back gently onto hands behind you for support as you switch legs around. Repeat on the other side when ready. Hip openers allow the joints to stretch open, and let the body fully relax.
Hip Flexor & Spinal Stretch.
From the sitting position of the hip opener in the previous exercise, place one hand directly behind your right hip – or whichever knee is in front of you, and then push hips up, off the ground. Stretch the other hand up towards the sky and arch gently backwards – only as far as feels comfortable. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then slowly sit back down onto the mat. Rock back on both hands for support to switch legs around, and to stretch the other side of your body. A great way to stretch out the front of the body and the spine, this pose also helps to strengthen the body.
Relaxation in Recovery Pose.
Begin to move from sitting into a recovery position on the ground. Use pillows, blocks, bolsters and cushions as much as you need to – ensure that you feel very comfortable and the body is fully supported. Tilt or roll the hips forward to give the baby bump support, taking pressure and strain off the lower back. Allow the body to sink into the ground, and close the eyes. Take your attention to the breath, and follow each inhale and exhale. Notice how your breathing softens when the body and mind relax, and vice-a-versa. With each exhale let the body completely relax. Stay here for 5 mins, or as along as needed to let every part of your body and mind restore itself via the relaxation process.
A PDF version of this post with the yoga poses is available to download for free here: PrenatalYogaPosesforRunners