Doggie Style | Fit Pregnancy

Doggie Style

01.14.08: The best time and place for moms to practice yoga? Anytime and everywhere!

I've been writing about yoga more than I've been actually practicing the stuff lately. I love yoga, but it's hard to find the time to roll out the mat and squeeze a decent practice into my day—or even a bare minimal one. I have the best intentions, but I'm lucky if I manage to remember to just breathe. At all.

Lately, though, I've been paying an especially high price for all the time off the mat—I've developed a mysterious pain in my right knee, a tweaky lower back, insanely tight hip flexors, and general below-the-belt inflexibility. I rather suspect it comes from repeated ergonomically incorrect lifting of my hefty, squirming toddler, and a habit of then carrying him around on my right hip ALL of the time (for some reason, Truman hates it if I try to shift him to the left).

These aches are bothersome reminders of just how effective a regular yoga practice is at keeping the body in tune—I'd wager that if I'd been keeping up a relatively strong practice all this time, I'd be intrinsically doing a better job of lifting, carrying, and chasing. Whenever I let my practice slide, I might as well roll out the welcome mat for pain and discomfort.

When the pain in my right knee got to be literally too much to bear, I called my favorite Iyengar yoga teacher, Ron Felix of Knoxville Yoga Center (www.knoxyoga.com), to book a private therapeutic session. Ron is an experienced, no-nonsense teacher who got to the point immediately—hip openers were called for, and he'd develop a short practice for me. But they would only help if I would do them consistently.

"You have to practice more often," he said. When I set about explaining why I can't do that—the intensity of life with a toddler, blah-blah—he merely shook his head and said, "Then you have to expand your idea of what a yoga practice is. You don't have to have an outfit and a mat and an hour and a half to practice yoga every day. You can do a forward bend while you brush your teeth. You can do a squat while you're gardening. You can do Warrior Pose while you cook dinner and you're moving back and forth between the stove and the refrigerator. Look for opportunities to do your yoga whenever you can."

I was a little stunned. Of course, he was right. But it just seemed funny to hear this advice coming from an Iyengar acolyte, as that's the form of yoga I have, in my head, most associated with structure and formality and mats and classes and blocks and straps and bolsters and other special props. But then Ron shocks me again, "When you learn to see your daily activities as opportunities to do yoga, life becomes your prop," he says. Whoa.

This is, I think, the great workout secret for new moms, whether you're into yoga or weightlifting, or Pilates, or kickboxing, or whatever. Give up the dream of the hours-long uninterrupted workout, and learn to grab—and USE—snatches of time when you can get them. This may go against years of conditioned thinking, but you've got to do it, otherwise you'll end up like me, endlessly waiting for pockets of time that simply aren't going to show up.

My friend Judith Lasater, a famous yoga teacher and all-around smart cookie, likes to tell the story of how she practiced Headstand every morning no matter what, even when her three children were very small. When her kids would come in, interrupt her and ask for breakfast, she would simply come out of the pose, get a meal together for them, and then go back into the pose. She didn't let the kids go lacking, but she didn't let herself go lacking either. An interrupted pose, she knew, would be better than no pose at all. It's possible to nurture everyone, if you set your priorities properly.

Plus, it's a truism that all little kids like certain poses. Try Downward Facing Dog Pose, for instance—babies like to crawl under it, toddlers like to try to scale it, all kids like to try to do it. It makes a magic triangle! Do it every day (I've found I can sneak one in between readings of Green Eggs and Ham), and you're guaranteed to enhance your life, even if that's all the yoga you get time to do. Dog Pose is a full-body stretch that strengthens legs and shoulders; it's also thought to allay stress and rejuvenate the body. As Ron always says, "A day without Dog pose is like a day without sunshine." Who doesn't need a little more light in their life?

Hillari Dowdle is practicing hot shower Uttanasana ever chance she gets.