Soothe your mind as you prep your body for childbirth. Try this simple yet powerful set of prenatal poses.
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Prep Your Body for Labor
There is probably no better way to prepare for childbirth than with yoga. The practice involves not just exercise but mindfulness. "Prenatal yoga teaches a woman to connect more fully to the life growing within her," says Sue Elkind, a certified anusara yoga instructor at Yogaphoria in New Hope, Pa., and the mother of two. What's more, she says, "Childbirth requires a great deal of strength, stamina and focus; yoga helps you with all of this." (A study of 74 first-time mothers in Thailand found that those who did prenatal yoga experienced less pain and a shorter labor.)
What to Expect This workout can be done every other day. Do the poses in the order shown and take the time to relax after you finish and feel the changes in your body. Try to alternate this workout with some aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, three to five days a week for 20–45 minutes a day.
Get down on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly over your wrists (if you have any discomfort, place a rolled towel under your hands). Keep your arms straight and knees a bit farther than hip-width apart. Point your toes so the tops of your feet are on the floor. As you inhale, slowly draw your tailbone up, roll your shoulders back and look up.
Exhale slowly, pressing your hands into the floor, drawing your chin into your chest and rounding your spine. Repeat 4–6 times.
Move your knees even farther apart, keeping toes together. Let your hips rest back toward your heels. Bend your elbows and rest your head on your hands [shown]. (Put a pillow under your head, if you like.) Let the muscles in your lower back release. Relax and hold for 3–5 complete breaths.
Come back onto your hands and knees, wrists under shoulders, arms straight and knees in line with hips.
Keeping your tailbone down, inhale, then exhale, moving your chest forward and down as you bend your elbows back along-side your ribs. Inhale and push back up. Repeat 3–5 times; then return to Child's Pose as you exhale. Stay in Child's Pose for 3 complete breaths.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing out and hands on hips. Bend your knees about 90 degrees. Place elbows on the insides of your thighs, feet flat on the floor, palms pressed together. Hold for about 30 seconds, building to 1 minute.
Then straighten your legs, rest and lower one more time into a squat, this time lowering your hips toward the floor. Slowly begin to drop your hips down even farther toward your heels. If your heels lift up, put a blanket underneath them so your buttocks are resting at your heels. Hold for 30 seconds, building to 1 minute. To release, place knees on the floor and rest in Child’s Pose.
Sitting cross-legged, slide the soles of your feet together. If you feel your lower back rounding, sit on the edge of a blanket. Press your feet together, tuck your tailbone under and let your knees drop open. Cup your hands around your feet; don’t pull. Press your feet together and continue to let your knees fall open; lean slightly forward to increase the stretch [shown]. Hold for 5–8 complete breaths.
[COOL DOWN] To finish your workout, lie on your left side with a pillow between your legs and another under your head. Inhale and exhale for 4 counts each. Concentrate on your breathing for 5–10 minutes, letting go of any tension or strain in your body.