Third Trimester Yoga Tips: The Downward Dog Dilemma
If you’re a pregnant yoga mama, you may have heard that adho muka svanasana (downward-facing dog or “DFD”) isn’t safe to do during your third trimester of pregnancy. As with many of these safety guidelines, though, the reasons behind the rule may remain unclear.
Have you ever wondered why DFD may not be your BFF as you approach your birth day?
It’s an important question, especially for any expectant mamas who have a vinyasa flow practice, where downward-facing dog is a regular posture throughout the class. Some people believe inversions (like DFD) will negatively influence your baby’s positioning, which isn’t ideal in the third trimester as you’re preparing for birth. The answer, though, isn’t to eliminate DFD totally.
Instead, it’s one we get a lot in yoga: listen to your body.
I know, I know. By your third trimester, your body is probably saying a lot of things to you by now. But here’s why it’s really important to hear me (and your bod) out:
Prenatal yoga practice, like your pregnancy, is an evolving disclipline. There’s confusion and controversy in the industry around what is appropriate and what isn’t for women during their babies’ different developmental stages.
It’s actually a bit like birth and birth preparation itself: though there are some agreed-upon guidelines (like, for instance, no deep twisting that stresses the uterus), there’s just not one-size-fits-all answer because your body is unique (and fabulous, by the way — just look at what it’s creating!). Some women are crazy for triangle pose during their third trimester. Others find that it puts too much pressure on their bellies and pelvic area.
We try, we observe, we adjust.
So, what’s the general rule for most mamas?
In my work, I usually teach downward-facing dog throughout the entire pregnancy. Not only do some moms find that it gives them a much-needed release from lower back and belly tension, but inverted poses like DFD (or even “butt up” child’s pose) can actually help your baby turn into optimal position.
We modify the posture during the third trimester, though, usually holding it for fewer breaths than usual. We use it sparingly, if at all, in cases of bad reflux, heartburn or sinus-related breathing issues, which can all be aggravated. Further, we avoid DFD entirely in the case of a turnaround breech. If your baby has been breech and turned, (i) congrats! and (ii) sub simple child’s pose for DFD instead, with wide knees. We don’t want to encourage more acrobatics once the mission’s been accomplished!
If you’re not in the breech bucket, though, gentle inversions can actually help increase optimal positioning because they open the lower uterus and create space for your little one’s head. If DFD is relaxing for you and it helps relieve more stress than it causes, keep it in your asana (pose) rotation. If it’s uncomfortably challenging (e.g., strained hamstrings, wobbling, exhausted arms, etc), don’t hesitate to modify your pose.**
In the end, your yoga practice mirrors your mommyhood:intuition and flexibility lead the way.
Get used to noticing how your body feels, gather information from your resources, and make the appropriate adjustments that work for your body and spirit.
Those are a few rules that’ll get you maximum effect from all of your poses with minimal drama.
** Props help create awesome modifications for many poses, and downward-facing dog is no exception (in fact, I often use them in my own personal practice). Try (1) using a step-stool or low chair for the forearms with lower body in normal position, (2) bending the knees and propping the shins up on a sofa, with the forearms on the ground supporting the upper body weight, or (3) if you don’t have any props handy, try “L-shaped” downward dog.
For L-DFD, place your hands on a wall out in front of you and walking your feet back so that your body creates an “L” shape. Gently contract your baby in towards your spine, turn the insides of your elbows toward the ceiling as your straighten your arms, lengthen through your tailbone and head. Breathe deeply.
Please note that this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. If you practice yoga throughout your pregnancy, it is recommended that you work with a qualified and certified prenatal yoga teacher, and that you consult your health professionals for guidance on what’s best for you and your baby.