Wrapping up National Yoga Month, we have guest writer, yoga instructor, and Lamaze educator Leslie Lytle providing us with simple and effective yoga poses to help with common pregnancy discomforts.
By Leslie Lytle, MS, LCCE, RPYT, ERYT500
The capacity of the female body to shift and change in order to grow a new little person is nothing short of amazing – but it can be challenging too. As your body morphs into a carriage for two, you may experience a variety of novel but normal sensations, some of the most common of which are backache, achy wrists and fatigue. Fortunately, yoga has some simple poses and sequences to address these common discomforts of pregnancy and postpartum. Practice these regularly to help minimize discomfort and maximize overall wellbeing.
Help for Achy Wrists
Discomfort in the shoulders and wrists is common in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester when increased blood volume can lead to compression of nerves that travel through the interior shoulders to the hands. The increased weight of breast tissue may also contribute to the problem by pulling the shoulders forward, further compressing these nerves. After birth, the weight of holding your baby also drags the shoulders forward, and the many times a day you pick your baby up places further stress on your wrists.
Here are two yoga moves that can open your chest, relax your shoulders, and bring relief to sore wrists:
- From sitting or standing, inhale as you lift your arms up overhead, palms facing each other. Clasp the right wrist with the left hand, inhale and pull up, then exhale as you lean over to the left. Breathe evenly and fully for several breath cycles, as you allow the right side body to stretch and open. Inhale as you come back to center. Then switch arms, clasping the left wrist with the right hand; lift and lean to the right.
- From sitting or standing, raise your arms out to the sides, turn your thumbs down, and press your palms toward each other behind your back. Interlock your hands, right thumb over left, as you squeeze your shoulderblades toward one another. Stretch your knuckles toward the floor and slowly raise the pinky side of your hands toward the ceiling. Be careful not to poke your ribs forward; instead soften your lower ribs toward the floor. Breathe and stretch for several breath cycles, opening the muscles across the front of your upper chest (see photo 2). Repeat the sequence with the left thumb over the right.
Benefits: Movements that bring your arms overhead work to minimize swelling, traction on your wrists relieves achiness, and stretching the front of your chest helps address compression on the nerves, arteries and veins that supply your hands.
What if: You’re not able to interlock your hands behind your back. Use a strap, dishtowel, or tie to bridge the gap.
Backache Relief: Forward Fold at a Chair or Ledge
It’s not unusual to experience backache during pregnancy as hormonal changes loosen your joints and a growing baby places pressure on your spine. Alleviate backache with this simple yoga pose:
Stand close to a chair, desk or counter with your feet hip width apart. Bend your knees, place your hands on the chair, and walk back until your legs are approximately perpendicular to the floor. Line up your outer heels with your little toes.
Press the inner and outer edges of your feet down as you lift your arches, kneecaps, and front thighs up. From your waist, stretch your hips back and your spine forward, keeping your ears in line with your upper arms. Exhale slowly, gently squeezing your belly muscles toward your spine. Inhale smoothly as your belly softens and your ribs expand. Continue for 6 – 8 breath cycles, modulating your effort so that you feel yourself lengthening into the pose rather than feeling overly stretched.
Bend your knees and walk in toward your support to come up. Stand tall and notice the effects of the pose.
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, lengthens the spine, strengthens the abdominals, and relieves pelvic pressure caused by baby’s weight on the pelvic floor. Practice several times daily to refresh the muscles of your back.
What if: Your lower back rounds in this pose. Tight hamstrings may be preventing proper low back alignment. Try bending your knees slightly as you stretch your hips back and slightly up to create a slight natural curve in your lower back.
Energy Reboot: Goddess Squats
Practicing Goddess Squats are a great way to boost your energy when you’re feeling low. They will also strengthen your legs, open your chest, and as an added bonus, tone your pelvic floor!
Walk your feet comfortably wide apart, with your toes pointing in the same direction as your knees. Inhale as you raise your arms overhead, interlocking your fingers above your head. Press your palms toward the ceiling. Stretch the base of your skull upward as you allow your tailbone to drop toward the floor. Exhale and bend the knees, being mindful to keep your knees tracking over your toes. To come up: inhale as you actively push your feet into the floor and straighten your legs. Release your arms down by your sides. Repeat 10 – 12 times. Laugh, smile, rejoice in how powerful your body is becoming.
Rest for the Weary: Side-lying Relaxation Pose
Getting comfortable for relaxation or sleep can become challenging as pregnancy progresses. Your baby takes up more and more of your internal space, making it difficult to shift positions and placing a pull on your lower back. Check out these photos for a demonstration of side-lying Savasana that can be adapted for sleep using pillows instead of yoga props.
Shown is a basic set-up for side lying Savasana which uses a minimum of props: a block (or pillow) for your head, a blanket to cushion your torso, a rolled-up blanket to support your belly and upper arm, and a bolster to support your upper leg.
Lie down on the set-up with lower armpit even with the top of the blanket: this creates a channel that takes some pressure off your lower arm, which can become compressed when resting or sleeping in a side-lying position. Bring the rolled up blanket underneath your belly to reduce the pull of the belly on your lower back. Your upper arm cradles the blanket. Then bend your upper leg and rest it on the bolster. Bring your lower hip slightly behind you, so that your belly rolls towards the floor. Settle in and let go.
When setting up for sleep at night or naptime, use pillows instead of yoga props to ease yourself into this well supported position
Added benefit: This can be a great position during labor, especially if you’re tired and needing some rest.
Photo Credit: Meghan McSweeney Photography
Leslie Lytle, MS, LCCE, RPYT, ERYT-500 is Executive Director of Nurture, a Richmond, Virginia based nonprofit organization committed to improving the health of childbearing families through fitness, education, social support, and community engagement.