Yoga By The Bay

Mom-to-be Gena Lee Nolin prepares to give birth to her own “Baywatch babe.

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When it comes to prenatal exercise, sometimes mother knows best. That's certainly the case for "Baywatch" lifeguard Gena Lee Nolin. When the actress's mom, Patricia Nolin, a Duluth, Minn., yoga instructor, heard news of her 25-year-old daughter's first pregnancy, her immediate response was, "Great, let me fax you some exercises and help you find a good yoga teacher in L.A." The teacher they found was Hollywood-based Gurmukh, who has taught yoga to celebrity moms Madonna, Annette Bening and Rosanna Arquette. Here, Gurmukh shares some of the exercises she teaches at the 90-minute prenatal class Gena Lee takes three days a week, and — still "Baywatch"-beautiful at seven months along — models and endorses them: "[My body] is tight and uncomfortable in the morning, but these stretches and poses really do help," says Nolin, who's married to video producer Greg Fahlman. "Yoga makes me feel good all over." Nolin, a former beauty-pageant winner and a model on TV's "The Price Is Right," always has been athletic, playing basketball, volleyball and softball in high school. (As the tallest girl, she was much in demand.) Before her pregnancy, Nolin did step aerobics and light weight work and walked on her home treadmill, in addition to yoga. She continued shooting "Baywatch" until she was 31/2 months along and posed for her 1998 calendar at almost four months. "I really didn't begin showing until then," she says.

Back to the beach. Of course, getting back to "Baywatch" shape might be a little more challenging, especially because she'll be on the set the first week in August — two months after giving birth. She plans to take Gurmukh's postpartum yoga classes and do cardio exercise. "I'll ask for a lot of close-ups and chest-up shots for the first eight weeks on 'Baywatch,'" adds Nolin, who plays tough-as-nails lifeguard Neely on the show. When she is ready physically, Nolin will add weight work and ab crunches back into her routine. For now, yoga's the ticket. The nine moves that follow are designed to provide a total-body stretch-and-strengthen routine and to help ease pregnancy discomforts and prepare you for labor and delivery. Yoga is safe for pregnant women as long as they observe a few cautions, says Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D., author of Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program (Rodmell Press, 1992). "There are three [things] to avoid while pregnant: Don't overstretch; avoid supine positions in the second half of pregnancy; and don't do inverted poses such as headstands and shoulder stands," Schatz says. The younger Nolin is no yoga newcomer herself. As an 8-year-old, she watched her mother teach the art; Gena Lee's Tree Pose is testament to her early balance and flexibility. And her baby, Justin Michael (due to make his appearance June 5) almost certainly will be on his own yoga mat before long; his mother insists that he has been enjoying her workout in the womb. "We sing at the end of every class, 'May the longtime sun shine upon you,' and I can feel this thump, thump, thump from him," she says. "He loves it!"

The exercises Do these poses in the order listed. You can do this routine every day.

1. Cat/Cow Pose Get on all fours, wrists below shoulders and knees underneath hips, spine in a neutral, non-arched position. Spread fingers out wide so palms are in full contact with the floor. (If wrists hurt with palms flat, make a fist and rest on knuckles.) Inhale as you round spine upward as far as you can go, relaxing neck and head [A]. Exhale as you return to just beyond a neutral spine (there should be a slight arch in lower spine). Lift your head and look up at a point about 3 feet above eye level [B]. Repeat for 4-5 breath cycles, coordinating your breathing and movement. Strengthens abdominals; relieves aches in the lower back.

2. Tailor Sitting Pose Sit erect with knees bent and the soles of your feet together. Focus on your breathing, imagining that you're inhaling from your feet to the base of your neck. Exhale, feeling a release of tension in your groin area, and continue this breathing rhythm for 3–4 cycles of breath [A]. On an exhale, lean forward slightly from the hips, reaching out and touching the ground in front of you gently with your hands [B]. Focus on your breathing, feeling your spine slowly lengthen. Walk your hands back toward your legs and push yourself upright. (For a more supported stretch, do the Tailor Sitting Pose with your back against a wall. Use your hands and gently massage and release your calf muscles, if needed.) Relaxes the pelvic area and inner thighs. Improves circulation to the area.

3. Child's Pose Kneel on the floor with your knees widely separated, and place your palms on the floor in front of you, keeping arms straight and spine in a neutral position. As you exhale, bring your chest toward the floor; as you inhale, elongate through your fingertips and spine. Release your chin slightly toward your chest to keep the back of your neck relaxed. If you need to, lie forward on a long cushion for support. Make sure there is no strain in your back, and continue breathing and releasing your spine. After 3–4 breath cycles, come up slowly to a sitting position, walking your hands toward you, lengthening and releasing the spine. Your shoulders should feel light, your weight settling into your pelvis. Tilt your chin slightly downward to center your head and relax the back of your neck. Do a few easy shoulder circles. Relaxes back and inner-thigh muscles.

4. Squat Stand with feet slightly wider than hips, toes turned out. Inhale; raise your arms above your head and look up at your hands [A]. On the exhale, bend your knees, slowly bringing your arms down and lowering yourself toward the floor into a full squat position, shoulders relaxed. You should bring your buttocks as close to your heels as possible without feeling any strain or losing your balance. Keep your heels flat on the floor, relaxed. (You can hold on to a chair for support if you like.) Once in position, bring your hands to a prayer position in front of your chest, letting your elbows widen your knees [B]. Hold while breathing softly for about 30 seconds. To stand up, roll on to your knees. Place one foot flat on the floor, knee bent and hands on thighs, and push yourself up to standing position. Gradually work up to holding the squat for 5 minutes. Strengthens legs and increases mobility of hip and pelvic joints, preparing you for a natural birthing position.

5. Thai Goddess Pose Kneel with your feet together and sit back on your heels. Drop your weight down toward your pelvis, relaxing your spine toward your heels, shoulders wide and down. Bring your palms together into a prayer position in front of your chest. Hold this for about 30 seconds, breathing deeply into your belly through your nose, then bring your hands forward to rest in an all-fours position (not pictured). Repeat 2–3 times.

6. Calf Stretches Face a wall about arm's distance away; place forearms on wall, shoulder-width apart. Keep feet together, legs straight but not locked, heels on floor. With fingers spread, walk hands up wall high over head. Bend left knee, keeping right foot flat on floor as your body releases toward wall [A]. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Release, then repeat with other leg. Then, stretch both calves simultaneously by keeping legs straight and heels on floor [B]. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Stretches calves and back.

7. Tree Pose Stand with left side to a wall, arm's distance away, feet hip-width apart. Center yourself with a few breaths. Then, shift weight to right leg, spreading toes and keeping hips square. Now, with right hand in front of chest in prayer position and left hand lightly touching wall for balance, slowly lift left foot off floor (hold foot with right hand, if necessary) and place it along right inner thigh, heel close to groin. If this is difficult, put left foot only as far up right leg as is comfortable [A]. Use toes, abs and a steady gaze to balance yourself. Breathe normally. If you feel stable, bring left hand off wall to meet right hand in a full prayer position [B]. Hold this position for a few breaths; lower arms and place left foot on floor. Turn around and repeat on the other side. Strengthens legs; works on balance and kinesthetic awareness.

8. Warrior II Stand with your left side to a wall, hands on hips, feet parallel and about 4 feet apart. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and left foot in slightly, so your left heel is braced against the wall. Inhale, extend right arm at shoulder height and place left hand on the wall at shoulder height, left elbow bent. Look toward your right hand [A]. Exhale and bend your right knee until it's directly over your ankle and your thigh is parallel to the floor; straighten your left arm and press the outside edge of your left heel against the wall. Feel the extension running through both arms [B]. Hold for 3–4 breath cycles, if you feel strong. Lift up through your spine; don't lean over or rest your belly on your forward thigh. Inhale. Press down through both feet and push back up. Repeat 3–5 times and change sides. Strengthens legs, hips and spine; opens up hip area.

9. Meditation Sit cross-legged on floor with spine straight, eyes closed, hands on knees or belly. Listen to your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale through nose. Sit breathing this way for at least 3 minutes.

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