Pilates in the Third Trimester

 

In the third trimester, the focus shifts towards gentle mobilization, postural work, and awareness and relaxation. Additionally, exercise should aim to increase range of motion, especially in the hips as the mother prepares to give birth. Continuing to do pelvic floor work is equally important as the weight of the baby grows and the baby descends into the pelvis.

1. Posterior/Lateral Breath Work

As the baby begins to gain in size and creates pressure upwards into the rib-cage, this can make deep breathing more challenging. Focusing on posterior/lateral breathing is a great way to help this. Take the hands and place them around the rib-cage, providing your body with proprioceptive feedback. As you inhale, focus on allowing the rib-cage to expand in three dimensions, like you are filling your lungs like they are balloons. As you exhale, allow the rib-cage to draw back in towards the spine. Try to focus on keeping the navel connected towards the spine throughout all breaths, this will allow the rib-cage to move more with each breath. 

2. Seated Pelvic Clocks

Performing pelvic clocks helps to keep awareness of the deep abdominal muscles and to focus on abdominal muscle recruitment. While seated on the physio ball, think about keeping both sit bones connected to the ball as you rotate the pelvis in a circle. Repeat to the other side. Activating the deep abdominal muscles will both stabilize the pelvis and release pressure from the spine, and can alleviate back pain.
 

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

3. Quadruped Alternating Arms and Legs

Begin on the hands and knees. Shoulder should be directly over the wrists and hips directly over the knees. Head should be long and in line with the spine. Avoid dropping the head. Feel like you are pressing the floor away from you to engage and stay lifted. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, draw the navel towards your spine send the right arm straight overhead, parallel with the floor, palm facing in. Inhale to return the hand to the floor. Repeat to the other side. Focus on keeping the shoulders from hiking towards the ear, and the rib-cage and hips from rotating. Repeat the same exercise extending one leg at a time. Keep strong through the upper body; avoid rotating the hips to lift the leg higher. Keep both hip points even and parallel to the floor. Once you have mastered the arms and legs separately, try alternating opposite arm and leg; or try opening and closing the arms and legs out to the sides to challenge shoulder abduction and alternate hip extension.

4. Deep Squat Stretch

Focusing on a deeper squat will aid in the opening of the hips for labor. This is an excellent modified squat stretch during the end of pregnancy. Place the ball against the wall on the floor. Sitting in front of the ball, with legs greater than hips distance apart, lift the hips slightly off the floor. Legs should be externally rotated with knees tracking over the big toe. Allow the upper body to relax back over the ball with the head supported on the ball. Arms can be opened out to the sides or stay in closer to the body. Focus on nice deep breaths, allowing the hips to open and relax, while the upper body is supported again, do not squat when the baby is in a not optimal position or you feel pain when squatting! 

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

5. Cat/Cow

 Begin on hands and knees as described in the quadruped exercise. As you exhale, articulate through the spine to round the back upwards, tucking your chin lightly towards your chest, allowing your “head to chase your tail.” As you inhale, articulate your spine in the opposite direction, expanding your chest, keeping your navel towards your spine, while lengthening your neck. Try to avoid completely releasing the neck forward. Alternate back and forth with your breath to encourage a stretch in the spine and increase spinal mobility, release tension in the postural back muscles and bringing blood flow to the spine.

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

6. Don’t Forget Your Pelvic Tilts and Kegels

These exercises can and should be done throughout the entire pregnancy as both a moment to work on breath and pelvic alignment.  Keeping these muscles healthy and strong can help to decrease incontinence during and after pregnancy, along with keep up the endurance of these highly needed muscles during birth and recovery. 

Don’t forget to always talk to your doctor about your individual pregnancy to determine any medical concerns and/or issues to consider when exercising! Remember when in doubt ask about the safety of an exercise first. 

 

Pilates in the Second Trimester

 

In the second trimester expecting mothers usually start to have more energy and feel like they can and want to do normal things again and sometimes even more. Nausea and the need for many naps may subside making it more comfortable to perform regular exercise. Pilates is a great way to continue maintaining strength and stability throughout the pregnancy. Exercises can focus on building more overall strength, postural muscle endurance, and keeping the abdominal muscles active and strong.

1. Seated On the Physio Ball- Knee Fold Sequences

This is an excellent way to develop both pelvic stability, postural endurance and coordination. First begin by practicing lifting one heel at a time off of the floor, alternating, while keeping the pelvis from shifting or the hip from hiking. Once stable, try alternating knee folds, by picking up one leg at a time off of the floor with the knee bent. To continue to challenge add a leg extension once the leg is lifted and/or combine these movements with arm raises overhead.

2. Kneeling Hundreds

This is an excellent exercise to challenge the postural muscles while working on abdominal engagement. Kneel on the floor with upper body upright, arms down at the side, palms facing behind. Without moving the torso, inhale pulsing your arms back for 5 counts, and then exhale pulsing for 5 counts. Repeat this for a total of 100 counts. With each exhale focus on drawing the navel back towards the spine to stabilize the pelvis. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

3. Standing Balances 

Balance exercises become very important as the baby grows. Your center of gravity will continue to change. Practicing standing one leg balances will help to keep your proprioception and postural muscles adapting along with the changes. Begin by standing with your weight on one foot, keeping the toes of the other foot on the floor. Exhale lifting that leg off the floor, bending the knee, keeping the leg to the front of the body. You can challenge yourself by bringing the knee higher, adding arms, raising up onto your toes for the standing leg, or even rotating the lifted knee outward with arms overhead. Just don’t forget to work both sides!

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

4. Squats with a Physio Ball behind the Back

This is an excellent modified squat exercise during pregnancy. Beyond helping to increase pelvic floor strength and stabilize the back and pelvis by strengthening the glutes, using the ball behind the back, also aids in postural muscle training. Feeling the spine remain in contact with the ball, provides proprioceptive assistance, which enable you to engage both the abdominal muscles deeper and recruit the spinal muscles in a healthy alignment during the movement. Again, do not squat when the baby is in a not optimal position or you feel pain when squatting! 

5. Upper Body Work On the Physio Ball

Doing these exercises while seated on a physio ball will help to challenge both the abdominals and focus, while increasing upper body strength and postural endurance. Using Thera bands and free weights to strengthen the shoulders and upper body, will help to keep an open posture and chest. Exercises such as biceps curls, internal and external rotation of the shoulders and deltoid flies are excellent examples to keep the upper body strong. Combing these exercises with knee folds or knee folds with leg extension are a great way to work both coordination and balance!

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

6. Don’t Forget Your Pelvic Tilts and Kegels

These exercises can and should be done throughout the entire pregnancy as both a moment to work on breath and pelvic alignment.  Keeping these muscles healthy and strong can help to decrease incontinence during and after pregnancy, along with keep up the endurance of these highly needed muscles during birth and recovery. The exercise position changes as the baby gets bigger. After the first trimester, laying on the back can cause dizziness. This varies with each mother to be. The tilts can performed on the back or seated in a chair to accommodate each individual. Upper body work, exercises in quadruped, and side lying leg exercises are good to keep in the mix too!

Don’t forget to always talk to your doctor about your individual pregnancy to determine any medical concerns and/or issues to consider when exercising! Remember when in doubt ask about the safety of an exercise first. Your body will be constantly changing, muscles will be stretching to accommodate the growth of the baby, and your balance will start to change. Positions and exercises can always be modified to accommodate individual needs!!!

 

Pranayama for Prenatal Yoginis

 

How to Breathe Your Way Through Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond


Whether you are an experienced yogini or are new to yoga, you almost certainly know that breath is central to a yoga practice. And, whether this is your first pregnancy or you are a veteran to all of the changes that pregnancy can bring, you know that breath will become a crucial part of your birth preparations! Maybe you have already begun some birth prep classes with your partner, and have started learning some of the many different breath techniques that are taught to expecting moms. 

In this time of incredible rapid change in your body and mind, the breath can serve as a powerful anchor to yourself: a sense of familiarity, comfort, and steadiness amidst a sea of change. From a yogic standpoint, breath work is a way to harness your inner power and strength and channel it towards a specific objective, and that objective will soon be to bring a baby into this world! Pregnancy is a prime time to enrich your relationship with yourself and cultivate a pranayama (breath work) practice. Yes, you may experience some aches and pains. Yes, you may gain a little weight. Yes, you may feel off-balance physically and emotionally, so what better time is there than now to deepen your self-care practice? 

Below, you will find an guide to two pranayama techniques which are effective during pregnancy, during labor, and after you give birth. These techniques are safe for beginner and advanced level practitioners alike, and can be practiced whenever you want to soothe your nerves, slow your breath, and calm your body- there is really no such thing as doing them too often. In fact, I would advocate dedicating as much time as you can to these breath practices, as they can also be effective meditation tools to help you connect to your baby. Babies can absolutely feel energy, and when you are calm and happy, they are calm and happy. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

1. Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana)

Traditionally, alternate nostril breath is used to clear the mind, reduce stress, and promote a sense of balance in the body/mind. For prenatal yoginis, it can help to ease the pangs of sadness and anxiety that can be a part of being an expectant mother, and it can also soothe tension headaches. 

To practice:

Bring yourself into a comfortable seated position either atop a stack of blankets or cushions, or on a chair. You will be seated for a while, so situate yourself so that you can remain relaxed and not fidget. Close your eyes, and begin to focus on your breath. Watch the breath with your mind's eye, as though you could see it traveling through your body. You do not have to try and manipulate the breath or even make it deeper, but simply observe it. This is an important part of the technique, especially when you are in labor. 

Feel your spine lengthening by envisioning the crown of your head reaching skyward. Next, flip your left palm upwards atop your left knee, and connect your thumb and your first finger (pointer finger) so that they form a loop. This is called Gian Mudra. Then, place the first and second fingers of your right hand (pointer and middle fingers) onto your forehead or third eye point. Then, hover your third finger (ring finger) above your left nostril, and your thumb above your right nostril, but do not touch your nose quite yet. 

Take an exhalation. Then, place your thumb down on your right nostril, and take a long inhale through your left nostril. Cover both nostrils, then lift your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. Then, inhale through your right nostril (your ring finger is still covering your left nostril). Cover both nostrils, then keeping your thumb down, lift your ring finger and exhale through your left nostril. Next, inhale through your left nostril, and repeat this pattern. 

Continue for at least three minutes, or as long as you wish. 

Note: In non-prenatal yoga, we would hold the breath for a few seconds while covering both nostrils, but in prenatal yoga it is important that you do not hold the breath. Simply move seamlessly from one side to the other with the covering of both nostrils simply serving as a transition in between sides, not as a moment to contain the breath. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

2. Yogic Breath (Three Part Breath)

This technique serves to calm the nerves and sustain your energy level throughout the day. This technique also increases the amount of oxygen that your body takes in, and therefore it increases the amount of oxygen that your baby receives! Practicing yogic breath over time will increase your lung capacity, which is helpful during this time when you may feel constantly short of breath. 

To practice: 

As with Nadi Shodana, begin by finding a comfortable seat either on blankets/cushions, or on a chair. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your baby. First, take an exhalation to clear your lungs, and then INHALE into

1) The bottommost part of your abdomen, then

2) Into your middle ribs, then

3) Into your chest. 

Then, EXHALE from

1) The bottommost part of your abdomen, then

2) Into your middle ribs, then

3) Into your chest. 

Essentially, you are filling up with breath in three parts from the bottom to the top, like tea being poured into a cup, then releasing the breath from the bottom to the top. Continue this way, looking to find a sense of expansion in your body when you breathe in, and release when you breathe out. By separating the inhales and exhales into three parts, you are discovering the limits of your breath capacity, and expanding them. 

Continue for at least three minutes, or as long as you wish. 

Above all, use the breath as a tool to open your body and your awareness so that you experience this incredible time in the fullest possible way.

Namaste!

 

Yoga on the Beach

What could be better than a relaxing day at the beach?  Easy!  A relaxing day on the beach with yoga!  When I am lucky enough to have the sand between my toes,  I know exactly what poses I am going to practice.  I’m going to take advantage of the soft ground beneath me and practice my forearm and handstands!  Kicking into an arm balance in class or in my apartment is sometimes scary.  The proximity of other students or furniture can certainly hold me back from really going for it, but with a wide open, pillowy beach as my yoga mat,  there’s no fear!

My tip for pinchamayurasana or forearm stand is to press down through your fingertips and take your gaze forward.  Allow your spine to backbend slightly, and support your lower back by drawing in your abdominals.

When practicing handstand, begin in down dog, lift one leg, bend the other leg and take some kicks.  Keep the lifted leg super straight, and don’t over think it.  Imagine you are weightless and play!

I also find warm sand to be an absolutely lovely place to practice some of my favorite reclined and seated postures.  Just lay out a beach towel or yoga mat so you don’t burn your hiney!

Nothing feels quite as good to me as a reclined twist.  It feels so nice for the spine and is wonderful to regulate digestion.  

How about a hip opening forward fold like baddha konasana?  Bring the soles of your feet together and hinge forward with a long spine.  When you cannot fold forward anymore, allow your spine to round gently and your head to soften toward your toes. 

Don’t forget to take a nice long savasana while listening to the waves.  Heaven.

Pranayama and Pregnancy

pranayama

In the yoga tradition, Pranayama refers to breath exercises.  Learning to control our breath brings us that much closer to controlling the mind.  When feeling stressed or overwhelmed,  bringing your attention to your breath and consciously slowing it down can ease your thoughts considerably.  Expecting a baby and feeling overwhelmed go pretty much hand in hand.  Here are three breath techniques to bring a little stillness and coolness to that busy mommy-to-be brain:

Ujjayi means victorious breath.  This is the pranayama that we practice with all of the poses, but it is just as powerful practiced on its own while seated comfortably or reclined.  To practice this pranayama, breathe through your nose keeping your mouth gently closed.  Slightly constrict the back of your throat so that your breath takes on an audible, ocean like quality.  Allow your mind to rest on the sound of the breath.

Ancient yogis believed that most people breathe predominantly through one nostril.  Alternate Nostril Breath or Nadi Shodhana opens both nasal passages resulting in an even flow of breath and an equilibrium of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  

A clear, peaceful feeling comes when both sides of the brain are in harmony.  Place the pointer finger and middle finger of your right hand on the point between your eyebrows (the third eye).  Plug the left nostril with your ring finger and inhale through the right; plug the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left. Continue like this for a few minutes, and then spend a few more minutes breathing freely through the nose noticing the effects of this pranayama.

Sometimes it’s not just our minds that need to chill, but our bodies as well.  When I was pregnant with my son, I was hot, hot, hot!   When feeling overheated, Sitali Breath can cool you down.

Inhale through a curled tongue and exhale through your nose.  Some people cannot curl their tongues.  If this is you, touch your top teeth to your bottom teeth, and inhale through the teeth.  

Pranayamas to avoid during pregnancy: anything involving breath retention or holding the breath and kapalabhati.  

Your growing belly doesn’t leave a lot of space for your lungs, especially in the third trimester.  When you feel like you can’t take a deep breath, focus on breathing into the sides of your torso, your rib cage, and back.  

Breathe well and Be well Mamas! 

Pregnancy and Lower Back Pain

It’s no secret that a growing belly can put an enormous strain on the lower back, but with a little postural awareness and some healing yoga poses, you can get some sweet relief.  I tell my pregnant clients all the time to lengthen their tailbones!  This simple action helps us avoid further arching of the lower back which will spare you a lot of pain, believe me!   Keep this in mind when practicing standing postures like warrior II and vrksasana or tree pose. 

And there’s nothing like a nice long child’s pose to ease the back on the painful days.  

Legs up the wall pose or vipareeti karani is very healing for the lower back. Remember to have your hips resting on the floor or folded blanket, and if you are 20 weeks or further along, place pillows under your back so you are not laying flat.  

Although pregnancy can come with its fair share of pain, remember ladies that we are designed to do this!  And the pay off is so great!



Prenatal Yoga: Triangle Pose How-to & Its Benefits

triangle pose

During pregnancy, the body changes in both subtle and dramatic ways, all of which are so beautiful and exciting! I encourage you to use yoga as a means to look inward and take note of every physical, mental, and emotional experience you have, big or small. This awareness will help strengthen the bond between you and your baby, and enrich your experience of your own self during this incredible time.

TRIANGLE POSE - Trikonasana

To Find Triangle Pose:

Start facing forward at the top of your mat. (tadasana) Step one foot about halfway down your mat, and align the outer edge of your foot with the back edge of your mat. Your front toes will be facing forward, and your back foot will be perpendicular to your front foot. In prenatal yoga, we keep the feet a bit closer than we normally would, so that the base is narrower.

Distribute the weight evenly through your feet and lift up with the quadricep muscles in your thighs so that your base is strong and grounded, and your knees are not locking.

Open your arms into a wide “T” shape, and slide your shoulders away from your ears so that your chest can open and your back can strengthen. Find energy flowing from fingertip to fingertip so your arms remain active throughout the pose. Inhale deeply.

Maintaining this “T” shape with your arms, look down towards your front toes and you shift your pelvis toward the back of your mat, allowing your torso to elongate out over your front leg. The tilting forward occurs from the hip joint, not the back or the waist. Your front hand will rest either on your shin or on a block on the inside of your front foot. Fix your gaze ahead of you. Exhale as you tilt forward. 

Lift your pelvic floor (which I refer to as activating the “I have to pee” muscles) to tone them, and to give yourself grounding and balance in the pose.

Breathe deeply for 3-5 breaths, and experience the sensations of the pose.

To come out of the pose:

Softly bend your front knee, ground through your legs, and lift your torso upright into a Warrior II position, arms in a wide “T.” (If you’d like more leg strengthening, stay here for another 3-5 breaths) Simply step your back foot forward, and repeat on the other side.

For a modified Triangle Pose:

As you continue into your pregnancy, you may experience difficulty balancing in Triangle Pose, because of your ever-shifting center of gravity. You may also experience tenderness in the joints or low back that make holding triangle pose difficult. In this case, practice a modified Triangle Pose.

Place a chair in front of your mat, seat facing you. Line up your toes with the legs of the chair. Practice the pose as described above, only instead of bringing your front hand onto your shin or a block, place it onto the seat of the chair.

Benefits of Triangle Pose for pregnant women:

Strengthens the back and spine

  • Your spine is working to remain long, even with your arm propping you up. Your shoulder blades are yearning towards one another, which will engage the muscles of the back. It is important that your back and spine are healthy during your pregnancy to prevent back strain and pain as you adapt to bearing additional weight.

Opens the chest/shoulders

  • As the shoulder blades drawn together behind your back, your arms firm up and your chest and shoulders will open. You may find during pregnancy that your shoulders will begin to round forward as the weight increases (especially if you work at a desk for long periods of time), so practice opening your chest and shoulders at every chance you get!

Stretches the hips/hamstrings/pelvic area

  • These areas of the body can become overworked or tense from bearing weight, and if they become too tight, the chances of low back pain increase.

 Improves digestion/prevents constipation

  • The sidelong angle of your torso paired with the deep cleansing breaths provide an internal massage for your digestive organs which keeps your digestive system functioning efficiently.

Tones pelvic floor/encourages deep breathing

  • Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles will aid you during delivery. Practice engaging these muscles while breathing full, fluid breaths which will be useful in between contractions.