The Power of Yoga
Get strong, stay centered and prepare your body for labor with this ancient art.
* There is probably no better way to prepare your body for childbirth than yoga.
It’s a mild, easy mode of exercise that nearly any woman can do (with a doctor’s permission, of course). And yoga isn’t just exercise but meditation as well, opening your mind and body to a world of opportunities — exactly what you need right now. This is something Sue Elkind knows well. Co-owner of City Yoga in Los Angeles, she recently gave birth to her first baby, a boy, Luca Sage Jezzeny. “Prenatal yoga classes teach a woman to connect more fully to the miracle of life growing within her,” says Elkind, who has been practicing yoga for more than 12 years and teaching it for six. “Childbirth requires a great deal of strength, stamina and focus; yoga helps you with this as well.” Elkind just made her first yoga video, Yoga Mama, from the Crunch Video series (distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment; to order, call Collage Video at 800-546-1949 or visit www.collagevideo.com).
A community of women One of Elkind’s yoga students, Tracy Blum, had been practicing yoga for three years before becoming pregnant. But when she was expecting, it became even more important. “I never dreamed of the positive effects that yoga would have on my body and mind during pregnancy, birth and now postpartum,” she says. In her classes, women who had given birth offered words of wisdom, and first-time moms related their excitement and fears to her. “Prenatal yoga offers this open community-sharing opportunity, since everyone is at different stages in their motherhood,” Blum says.
An easier childbirth “Research has shown that women who exercise during their prenatal period are able to either maintain or slightly improve their fitness, allowing them to better withstand labor than those who don’t exercise,” says Robert Ruhling, Ph.D., F.A.S.M., director of the Human Performance Research Laboratory at George Mason University in Manassas, Va. “And exercising mothers report more positive feelings toward the childbirth experience.” Other benefits from prenatal exercise include less weight gain, decreased risk of Cesarean delivery, and lower blood pressure in women at risk for hypertensive disorders.
Some cautions There are some exercise caveats, however. For example, Elkind warns against pushing yourself beyond your abilities. She also says to avoid deep twists, poses on your belly and deep backbends. After your fourth month, do not lie flat on your back; doing so can decrease the amount of oxygen to the fetus. Make sure you are propped up so that your head is above your heart. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel any symptoms such as chest or abdominal pains, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision or lack of fetal movement. Monitor your body temperature to avoid becoming overheated, and be sure to drink lots of water.
the moves Do this routine every other day for about 20 minutes. It’s best to use a yoga mat to keep your hands and feet from sliding, but it is not necessary. Wear loose, comfortable clothes and make lots of space for yourself. And take time to relax after you finish the poses; this will allow you to feel the changes in your body. (Try to alternate this yoga program with some aerobic exercise, such as walking, mild hiking or swimming, 3–5 days a week for 20–45 minutes a day.)
1. CAT/DOG TILT Kneel on the floor on all fours so your shoulders are directly over your wrists, arms straight, knees a bit wider than hip-width apart. Point your toes so the tops of your feet are on the floor (if you have any wrist discomfort, place a rolled towel under your hands). As you inhale, slowly begin to draw your tailbone up and behind you, roll your shoulders back and look up (A). Exhale slowly, pressing hands down into the floor, drawing your chin into your chest and rounding your spine (B). Repeat 4–6 times. Keeps spine relaxed; helps synchronize movement with breath.
2. DOWNWARD-FACING DOG Moving from the Cat/Dog Tilt, bring your spine into a neutral position. Lift your knees and hips off the floor until your legs and spine are extended and your body forms an inverted V. Press your heels toward the floor, keeping your legs slightly bent or straight, contracting your front thigh muscles so your hamstrings stretch. Look back at your feet, keeping your head and neck in line with your arms (if this feels like too much of a stretch, elevate your hands onto a blanket on the floor or bend your knees more). Relax your head and neck. Hold for 5–8 complete breaths, depending on how you feel, then lower knees to the floor and sit back into Child’s Pose (exercise 3). Strengthens arms, shoulders and spine; helps increase circulation and flexibility of hamstrings.
3. CHILD’S POSE From Downward-Facing Dog, bring your knees back to the floor and separate them wide apart, keeping toes together. Let your hips rest back toward your heels. Bend your elbows and rest your head on your hands (you can put a pillow under your head, if you like). Let the muscles in your lower back release. Relax. Hold for 3–5 complete breaths. Loosens muscles of lower back and hips; helps with relaxation.
4. YOGI PUSH-UPS From Child’s Pose, come back onto your hands and knees, wrists under shoulders, arms straight and knees under hips (A). Keeping your tailbone down to protect your lower back, inhale; then exhale, moving your chest forward and down as you bend your elbows back alongside your ribs (B). Inhale and push back up. Repeat 3–5 times; then exhale back to Downward-Facing Dog. Stay in Downward-Facing Dog for 3 complete breaths; then walk your hands toward your feet, put them on your knees and roll up to a standing position. Increases upper-body strength.
5. SUPPORTED RIGHT ANGLE With feet together, hands on hips, take a step back with your left foot, turning toes in about 30 degrees and the toes of your right foot out about 90 degrees (A). Inhale. On the exhale, bend your right knee and lean your torso out over your knee, taking your right forearm to your thigh (if you need extra support, place right hand on a chair seat). Keep your right knee in line with your right ankle; draw your tailbone down. Turn your belly and chest up to the sky. Inhale and reach your left arm up toward the ceiling in line with shoulder (B); if you can keep your balance, look up. Hold for 5–8 complete breaths. Switch your feet and repeat on the other side. Builds leg strength; stretches torso, hips and shoulders.
6. FORWARD FOLD From Supported Right Angle, turn your feet to parallel and slide left leg to hip-width apart. Face the front of your mat, hands on hips. Inhale and lift your rib cage away from your hips; exhale and fold your torso down from your hips, bending your knees (A). Bring hands to the floor and let your torso hang down, keeping legs straight, if possible (B). (Rest your hands on a blanket on the floor and bend your knees, if you need to.) Hold for 5–8 complete breaths. Exhale, place hands on thighs, bend knees and, with a straight spine, come up to stand with legs hip-width apart, arms hanging by your sides. Stretches backs of legs; loosens the back.
7. SQUATS Stand with feet separated hip-width apart, toes slightly facing out and hands on hips. Bend knees until they’re about 90 degrees. Place elbows on inside of your thighs, feet flat on the floor, palms pressed together (A). Hold for about 30 seconds, building to 1 minute. In this position, do your Kegels, 10 sets of 10 seconds each. Then straighten your legs, rest and lower one more time into the squat as in position A, this time lowering your hips toward the floor. Slowly begin to drop your hips down even farther toward your heels (B). 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. Strengthens legs; relaxes the pelvic floor.
8. BUTTERFLY 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 both hands around both feet; don’t pull. Press your feet together and continue to let knees fall open; lean slightly forward to increase the stretch. Relax here for 5–8 complete breaths. Stretches groin muscles and hips.
To finish your workout, lie on your left side with a pillow between your legs and another under your head. Inhale and exhale, 4 counts of each. Increase your breath count to 6 or 8 if you are familiar with deep breathing. Spend at least 5–10 minutes here, letting go of any tension or strain in your body.