Thursday, 15 January 2015

Yoga for common pregnancy niggles

In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.

Yoga is an excellent way to maintain your wellbeing in pregnancy. A simple daily practice will raise your energy levels and keep you relaxed and feeling well through your pregnancy. Sometimes however, specific pregnancy symptoms leave you feeling below par.
Through both my pregnancies, I used the following exercises to banish those troublesome niggles, and my prenatal yoga students do the same. Here are some of the most useful exercises to help with common pregnancy symptoms.
Shortness of breath
As your baby grows, particularly into the third trimester, they will start to take up some of the space previously allocated to your lungs. As a result your breathing becomes shallower, and you become short of breath more easily. The 3 part breath sequence opens up your chest, improving your posture and optimising your breathing, making the best of the space you still have available.
Start in a comfortable seated posture, sit up tall and roll your shoulders back. Place your hands on your lower abdomen. For 8 breaths, breathe deeply into your hands, in through the nose and out through the mouth.. Visualise your breath vitalising your baby, Keep the breaths as slow as you find comfortable.
Move your hands to your ribs, just above your bump. For another 8 breaths, breathe wide, into your hands, imagine your ribcage expanding with each breath.
Now move your fingertips to your collarbones. Still breathing deep and wide, fill your lungs right up, until you feel a slight movement in your fingertips. Keep breathing like this until you feel relaxed and refreshed.

Pregnancy is a time of great change for the individual, and external influences such as work, relationships and financial issues can lead to high stress levels. Stress contributes to nausea, dizziness and blood pressure problems. High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the mother have also been shown to affect foetal development.
Ujjayi breath is an extension of the above exercise. Once you are breathing steadily and deeply, close the throat slightly. You will hear the sound of your breath rushing through your throat, which is why this is sometimes called "ocean breath". You can use this breath while sitting quietly, or during other exercises.
Brahma Mudra is a simple exercise to quiet the mind. Begin seated comfortably, and breathing gently. Close your eyes and very slowly turn your head to face over your left shoulder. Move at about half the speed you want to. When you reach your shoulder, rest there for a couple of breaths, then turn to the right shoulder. Pause for a couple of breaths and return to the centre. Raise your head so your forehead faces the ceiling - do not crunch your neck back - take a couple of breaths. Drop your chin to your chest, slowly. Rest there.
If you have problems with blood pressure of dizziness, please consult your midwife.
Your constantly shifting centre of gravity, along with increased flexibility is a recipe for low back pain. Be mindful of your posture, check in with yourself regularly. Stand with the weight evenly distributed between your feet. Tuck your pelvis underneath you and pull in your lower abs, as if you were trying to do up some tight trousers - these muscles are stretched, but it is important to keep them active as they stabilise your pelvis.
Cat to child is a gentle sequence to ease back pain. Begin on all 4s. Try to keep your back flat, look at the floor between your hands. As you breathe in, arch your back up like an angry cat. Pull your tail and shoulders down and your mid back up. Exhale and return to the neutral posture with a flat back, do not let your back fall into a hollow. Repeat 3 or 4 times, then, on an exhale, drop your hips back to sit on your heels (widen your knees to accommodate your belly, you could also place a pillow on your heels for support), with your forehead resting on the floor, or a firm stack of pillows (modified child pose) rest here.
Shooting pains down the back of the legs are quite common in pregnancy. Pigeon pose is quite an intense stretch, although with support from cushions and blocks, it can be adapted for most women.
Begin on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Bring one knee forwards to the same-side hand. Draw the foot of the same leg across to the opposite hand, so that your lower leg is at a right angle to your spine. You will feel the stretch across the outer side of your hip. Relax into this, and practice ujjayi breath, imagine the breath is directed into the tension in your hip. For a more intense stretch take your other leg back behind you until it is straight. You can pile folded blankets or firm pillows under your pelvis for support if you need it. You can stay up on your hands - you could use a birth ball or chair for support here, taking the weight off your wrists and resting your head. Alternatively, lower your upper body to the floor, your forward leg will be hooked around your bump, and with some support you may be able to rest there.

Be sure only to practice within your own comfortable limits. It is best to attend a prenatal yoga class for feedback from an instructor who will be able to help you adapt positions to suit your needs.

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