body in balance

Maintain posture and grace with these easy mind-body moves

There's nothing like pregnancy to throw you off balance. Literally.

As you gain weight in your belly, your center of gravity shifts, and you start to feel awkward and off-kilter. You probably figure that your body won't be yours again until after you deliver.

Not so, says Virginia Reed, M.A., A.D.T.R., a New York City certified movement analyst and president of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, who designed the moves that follow. These three simple exercises can be used throughout pregnancy to help you stay in touch with yourself — and improve your balance and body confidence — even as your body goes through significant changes. Reed also directs you to focus on breathing.

"Pregnant women experience a profound change internally and begin turning inward," says Reed, who's also a psychotherapist and movement therapist, as well as an assistant professor in the creative arts therapy department at Pratt Institute in Manhattan. "Breathing into those internal spaces — maximizing the intake of oxygen — inspires movement."

A bubble of space

Laban (accent on the first syllable) theory, drawn from 20th century German modern dance pioneer Rudolf Laban, who also developed the famous Laban dance notation system, envisions the body as surrounded by a bubble of space called a "kinesphere." Guided by Laban's principles, fellow German movement theorist Irmgard Bartenieff developed basic movements to improve one's interaction with the surrounding space — and even with the space inside you, hence the emphasis on breathing.

The exercises here, along with the breathing, help extend or contract your body along three dimensions: height, width and depth. The first exercise, side-lying reach, helps realign your head with your neck, an important move since pregnant women tend to allow their heads to protrude along with their bellies. The breathing component helps expand your chest, which can constrict due to poor pregnancy posture (thus causing upper-back muscles to overstretch).

The second exercise, sitting extension, helps lengthen the hamstrings and build strength in your thigh muscles, enabling you to become less dependent on your lower back for support and less likely to strain it.

The third exercise, standing lift, helps extend your height. "There's a tendency during pregnancy to drop into gravity," Reed explains. "Instead, you want to lengthen your body upward and downward."

These moves will help you adjust more comfortably to daily activities, as well as to labor. "No matter what exercise you're doing," says Reed, "keep the whole of yourself in view."

The exercises You can do these moves daily, even up to 2 or 3 times a day. Always remember to breathe throughout the motion: In a comfortable standing position, inhale deeply; then exhale. Imagine your spine as a string of pearls on a straight elastic cord; visualize that cord lengthening and shortening as you inhale and exhale.

1. Side-lying reach Lie on your left side on the floor or in bed, head elevated on a pillow. Bend knees into a fetal position and keep arms close to body [A]. Inhale and extend your right arm overhead; extend right leg, leading with your heel [B]. Exhale and return to starting position as if folding up your joints. Repeat; then roll over on your back for just a moment, head elevated and knees bent. Place hands on inner thighs and let the weight of your hands open your knees to allow for widening of pelvic girdle rotators [C]. Roll onto right side and repeat twice, completing exercise by rolling on your back and opening knees. Concentrate on your breathing as you move. Improves posture by realigning head with neck, opening up chest area.

2. Sitting extension Sit back on a chair with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms relaxed at your sides [A]. Lift one foot off the floor; then extend that leg out heel first until knee is straight [B]. Keep your torso erect during the extension and hold for l0 seconds. Lower leg and repeat 2 or 3 times; then switch legs. Strengthens thigh muscles; stretches hamstrings.

3. Standing lift Stand facing a chair or countertop and place both hands on it for support. Lean diagonally forward, keeping left foot on floor to stretch calf [A]. Straighten torso and pick up left leg, keeping right leg bent. Extend left leg straight behind you by pushing your heel back, foot flexed [B]. Keep weight balanced forward. Lower leg and repeat 2 or 3 times; then switch legs. Improves proprioception (awareness of body in space) and circulation; increases flexibility of calves and hamstrings.