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5 Essential Prenatal Yoga Poses

Kristin McGee extols the virtues of yoga year-round. But with September being National Yoga Month, we thought what better time to tap the new mom, who had her son last summer, for prenatal yoga poses? So we’ve highlighted five of her favorite core postures, which reach across trimesters and difficulty levels. (She is seven months pregnant in the photographs.) All help to open the hips and the pelvis—which play starring roles during pregnancy and labor—and can help ease pre- and postnatal discomforts and promote relaxation.

  • Seated Spinal Twist

    Twists are great to stretch out the hips, back, waist, shoulders and neck. Seated Spinal Twist can be done while you’re pregnant as long as you twist to the open side. Make sure you keep your baby safe and your spine long and never twist across the bent knee. Start in a comfortable seated position. Bend your left leg underneath you and place your right foot outside of your left knee. Sit up nice and tall and place your right elbow on the inside of your right knee and twist to your left. (Remember: During pregnancy, always twist to the open side and never across the midline.) Try to initiate the twist from your pelvic-floor and oblique muscles. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Switch legs and repeat, twisting to the opposite side.

  • Sumo Yogi Squat

    Sumo Yogi Squat taps into all of the muscles we need for stamina, strength, support and pushing. This is one of my favorite poses for feeling strong and confident in my body. Holding this pose and learning how to breath through the pain and discomfort that can arise is great practice for breathing through labor and delivery. Stand sideways on your mat with your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Turn your toes out, press your hands in prayer in front of your chest and lower down into a squat. Engage your external rotators and buttocks to open the knees out to the sides. Press firmly into the feet and contract the legs, hips, buttocks and abdominals. Hold for 8 to 10 breaths and come back up to stand. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

  • Tree Pose

    Tree is excellent to practice during all three trimesters. As your baby grows your center of gravity will shift, and it’s important to keep working on your balance. Tree is one of those poses that you can do any time and anywhere when you feel you need some extra grounding and support. It is great for strengthening the entire body and for balance. It is also good for opening up the hips and helping with the focus one needs for labor. Have fun with this pose and notice how it changes as your belly grows. Pay attention to the steadiness and confidence it gives you. Start in a standing position. Place your right foot on your upper inner left thigh and turn the right knee out to the side. Bring your hands together in prayer at your chest. Pick a spot to gaze at and lift as tall as you can out of your supporting leg. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Switch sides. Hold on to a chair if your center of gravity has really shifted or you need extra support.

  • Double Pigeon

    Double Pigeon feels amazing and is a restorative pose that opens up the waist, lower back, outer hips, piriformis muscle (a small muscle located deep in the buttocks) and buttocks. It helps deal with labor pains, too: If you can breathe through the discomfort in this posture, you can definitely breathe through the contractions when the time comes. Stack your right shin over your left shin. Walk your hands forward and fold into your legs. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Switch legs and repeat.

  • Boat Pose

    Boat Pose can be practiced throughout pregnancy. Start seated with a tall spine. Hinge back slightly as you lift your legs up in the air 45 degrees, with legs straight or knees bent to a tabletop position. Extend your arms forward, palms facing toward each other. Engage your pelvic-floor muscles and imagine drawing your lower abdominals in and up as you lengthen out of your lower back. Keep your inner thighs engaged and try not to sink into your back or round your lower spine. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Lower down and bend your knees into your chest to sit up nice and tall again. Repeat 2 more times.

  • Boat Pose: Modified

    If you are feeling pressure in your lower back or straining too much to hold this position, place your hands under your thighs to help support your legs. This is a great modification for expecting moms and for anyone with weak transverse abdominals. Eventually you’ll be able to hold your legs up using just the strength of your core muscles.

Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor based in New York City. S3, YogaSlim and Prenatal Yoga and Pilates are among her bestselling DVDs, all of which work together to help her accomplish her main goal: making yoga an accessible and fun form of exercise for all. Kristin is the contributing yoga and wellness editor at Health magazine and has been featured on a variety of television segments on the likes of the Today show, Good Morning America and CNN. When she's not on the mat, she spends time with her husband and baby boy. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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