What poses should I skip? Can I still do downward facing dog? Do I have to take shavasana on my side? These are questions often asked by pregnant yoga students, questions that may baffle their teachers as well. But a recent study, published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, may shed some new light on these common queries.
Often, pregnant students are advised by their teachers to avoid lying on their backs (lying on the left side is a common modification for shavasana), and are sometimes advised to avoid downward facing dog as well—especially during the third trimester. However, this new research suggests that these asana omissions may not be necessary for all expecting practitioners.
The study, conducted by Dr. Rachael Polis, a gynecologist at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. and a group of researchers, evaluated 25 pregnant women who were in their third trimesters (according to the study’s abstract, ten were self-reported regular yoga practitioners, eight had some familiarity with yoga, and seven had no prior yoga experience). All participants were described as “healthy,” with no pregnancy complications, and were guided (one-on-one) through 26 common asanas, which included twists, standing poses (even balance poses), the aforementioned downdog and corpse pose, and happy baby pose (which is also practiced lying on the back). Inversions and belly-down poses (think cobra, bow pose) were not included in the study. During practice, the womens’ vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, uterine contractions, and blood oxygen levels) were monitored, and fetal heart rate was monitored as well.
Researchers found that the womens’ vital signs all remained normal and fetal heart rate also remained normal throughout all 26 poses. Additionally, there were no injuries or falls during the study, and in a follow-up 24 hours later, “no participants reported decreased fetal movement, contractions, leakage of fluid, or vaginal bleeding,” per the abstract. Polis told NPR that all 26 postures (including downdog, and supine poses) were “really well-tolerated by women in our study."
So what does this mean for teachers and practitioners? While down dog and supine poses may not feel good for everyone in their third trimester, these asanas don’t necessarily have to be off the table during pregnancy.
Always consult your doctor or midwife about what prenatal practices may or may not be appropriate for you.