See also Pregnancy Posture Tips.
Tadasana will usually need to be modified, sooner or later, by placing the feet wider apart. This will help with balance as well as comfort when the pelvis begins to shift and the baby gets heavier.
Standing asanas in general will help improve posture if you, as the teacher, make it a priority to constantly watch and correct for posture. If you do any balance asanas such as Vrikasana (tree pose, at right), make sure your pregnant student is has a wall or chair nearby to help her with balance if needed. Do not forget to teach her the affirmation, “I am calm, I am poised,” as she will need it in the months ahead—and as a mother, quite frequently!
The chest expander, with the fingers interlaced behind, lifting chest and hands, is a great one for strengthening the muscles of the thoracic spine and opening up the chest area. Encourage deep breathing from the belly during this exercise.
Table pose with variations, such as extending one leg and lifting it to horizontal—and/or the opposite arm also—will help keep the back muscles strong and tone the abdominal muscles that will be supporting an ever-growing baby.
Cat/cow pose will also help strengthen the abdominal muscles. Tell your students to hug the baby as they arch the back up and firmly pull in the abdominal muscles. If your pregnant student is having some low back problems, the cow movement (bending backward on the inhalation) should be skipped; otherwise it can be done carefully if you make sure that your student does not overly hyperextend her back.
A student in her last trimester should go very easy on the cow position, or even skip it unless you are confident that she is strong enough to support the weight of her baby without compromising the lower back. It is a great pose for the deep pelvic muscles also, so it is worth trying to do when it is appropriate.
Other Positions during Pregnancy
When sitting cross-legged, make sure that your pregnant student is well supported with props as necessary. For example, have her sit on blankets or cushions to elevate her hips (feet on the floor) if she is unable to maintain the natural curves in her back without them. She may need support under her knees to prevent straining them or to keep poses such as the butterfly from being too intense. (Remember that the hormone relaxin’ can make it easier to overdo stretches.)
Twisting asanas should be done gently, without squishing the baby! Correct posture will help prevent squishing: keep the spine in its natural curves in any spinal twist. In some positions (e.g., Ardha Matsyendrasana; see below), keeping the spine perpendicular to the floor during the twist will be impossible, so the student can lean back and still maintain the natural curves in the spine. Then the baby will have plenty of room, and correct alignment can be maintained. Note also the foot of the bent knee is well forward of its usual position, which also gives the baby more room.
Savasana should be done on the pregnant student’s left side (so as not to put undue pressure on the vena cava, which runs to the right of center in the abdomen). Look at her from the back and check that her spine is supported in a straight line. She will need a pillow or blanket to support her head and thus keep her neck in line with the rest of her spine.
She will also need a support (folded blanket or cushion) between her legs (or in the version pictured below, under a bent top knee) to prevent hip and/or low back strain. This is a standard technique for anyone with hip or lower back pain/strain. When the knees rest together in this position without a prop, the top femur is not parallel to the floor; this angle puts pressure on the lower back and pulls on the outside of the hip. Although for most people this pressure is slight enough to not be a problem, those with lower back and hip problems will be sensitive to it. Since pregnancy both loosens and puts pressure these areas, she needs support from the knee to at least the ankle to keep the femur in a more neutral position and thus eliminate that stress on the lower back and hip.
Additionally, as the baby grows, the student will need a blanket or pillow under her belly to support the weight of the baby without strain. Another nice addition is a set of folded blankets and/or cushions in front of her chest to support her right forearm at shoulder level (elbow remains at her side and is bent). This keeps the top shoulder from rounding forward as it naturally tends to do when one is lying on one’s side.