Exercise is important during pregnancy on a number of levels, but it is vital that it is the right sort of exercise. Safety and effectiveness must be married together in perfect unison. Pilates and yoga are the ideal disciplines to use to prepare for labor and birth. They are also an excellent way to get your pre-pregnancy body back after giving birth.

The intent to be fully present in pure Pilates and yoga is a big reason for the success of these two systems of exercise. The movement of the body is guided and eased into alignment by the connection to the mind and breath. The great Pilates and yoga practitioners realize intuitively that the work is based on the breath – that health and happiness are built on the foundation of free and expansive breathing.

Because of this heightened awareness, the yoga and Pilates postures and exercises can create a real sense of calm. The hope is that the pregnant woman finds inner clarity and peacefulness through the release of the body, by keeping the mind involved with the movements of the body. When the pregnant woman feels peaceful, her anxiety about the birth process diminishes. She will find it easier to concentrate on her contractions while blocking out other elements if she has been practicing this intense focus. She is preparing for the challenges and obstacles of her upcoming labor.

I have a client named Melissa who called me excitedly after the birth of her first child. She couldn’t stop talking about how much our work helped her during labor and how impressed her doctor was at how well she did. As Melissa’s labor progressed, she adjusted her pushing as her baby changed its position. Melissa was focused on her intent. The movements of her baby were supported by her body, breath, and mind. This is the ultimate Mind/Body workout!!

This ability for the pregnant woman to focus (or anyone for that matter) takes lots of practice.

Another client told me that even after years of doing Pilates, she never really understood the work until she practiced with me during her pregnancy. The pregnancy forces one to slow down and go deep inside. Yoga and Pilates provide a way to refine the movements of the body and the breath.

My approach to this work and the reason I am so passionate about it is the direct tie to inner growth. The way I teach the fusion of Pilates and yoga is a calm, mindful way not given to extremes. The current media craze around yoga and Pilates has diluted its original intent.

Experiment with your workouts, exercises, and poses not only as physical techniques, but also as a mental and emotional preparation for childbirth.

There are five foundational principles of Pilates, especially when focusing on Pilates pregnancy fitness:
1. Concentration and Focus
2. The Breath
3. The Inner Unit
4. Flowing Movements
5. Relaxation

Concentration and Focus are fundamental to this form of exercise. Focusing on your body in this way actually leads the mind away from immediate concerns or anxieties and leaves you to center on the task at hand and to connect with the breath and the body. Ultimately, this is profoundly relaxing. It becomes a meditation.

The Breath is the most vital element of the work and is especially important in pregnancy fitness. In labor and childbirth, expansive breathing can be the element that creates an easy, joyful birth. When we are aware of our breath and the power of our breath to change how we feel physically and mentally, we soon realize why this is the most important ingredient.

The Inner Unit has many names: The Powerhouse, The Center, The Core, The Girdle of Strength. This “Girdle” incorporates three main areas: the back, the abdomen, and the buttocks. According to Joseph Pilates, the Inner Unit is essential for all exercises.

Flowing Movements are essential to the effectiveness of this work. The techniques of Pilates and yoga are not based on sudden or jerky movements. Instead, one position flows as slowly and naturally as possible into the next.

Relaxation is an important aspect of the work at any time but is especially so during pregnancy and labor and immediately following birth. The pregnant woman should hone the skill of completely relaxing but should also concentrate on developing skills of relaxed activation. This is the skill of working or activating while remaining relaxed.

Here are a few breathing and flexibility exercises you can use while pregnant, while in labor, and after delivery. When performing the following exercises try to think about the five foundational Pilates principles that we covered above.


This is a great exercise for women in late pregnancy. It feels amazing to have the support of the wall. The lower back (which can get very compressed in late pregnancy) gets a wonderful stretch!

• Start with a neutral back to the wall with the feet away from the wall (about 10 to 12 inches).
• Keep the feet hip distance apart and parallel or a bit turned out.
• Bend the knees slightly.
• Rest the hands on top of the legs.
• Inhale for length.
• Exhale and flatten the lower back to the wall.
• Maintain the stretch of the lower back against the wall for up to 30 seconds.
• To make this more restorative, the hands can rest on the wall or (especially for the third trimester) the fingers can lace under the abdomen creating a sling with your arms to support the weight of the belly.
• To emphasize strengthening, bend the knees and lower the behind until the thighs are almost parallel to the floor and flatten the lower back against the wall.
• To release, slowly rise to standing.


This is a great exercise to train and strengthen all of your core muscles. The core muscles hug and secure the skeleton but do not bring the body into movement.

• Start on the hands and knees.
• The shoulders should be above the wrists and hips above the knees.
• On the inhale, lengthen all the curves of the spine.
• Try to find and hold a neutral spine in this all fours position.
• Hold and exhale.
• Keep the bones in place (keep the neutral spine) and with the breath, sink and stretch the deep abdominals across the pelvis.
• Hold the stretch of the deep abdominals and on each consecutive exhale try to go deeper.

~ by Jennifer Gianni

Did you know that our Fusion Pilates for Pre & Post Natal is world renowned and has been presented across the country and around the world – including Pilates on Tour London; Pilates on Tour Chicago; MFit Expo in Moscow; Pilates Lab in Fukuoka, Japan; and Natural Flow in Tokyo, Japan – just to name a few? If you have any interest in this course, please check the schedule HERE!

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