I use healthy biomechanics in prenatal classes to teach the principles set out by my teacher, alignment expert Katy Bowman.
On the Restorative Exercise program, Katy teaches that the body's mechanics don't change with pregnancy, but that expectant mums do experience an increase in the strength required to hold themselves in correct alignment. Prenatal yoga classes with me focus on building that strength and teaching you how to correct postural habits that contribute to discomfort.
Restoring your natural range of movement in alignment is the secret to having a fit and comfortable pregnancy.
The following stretches bring relief and build strength. Give them a try!
1.Back your hips up
Modern habits nudge us into poor alignment putting excessive pressure on the spinal bones. Rather than tucking your pelvis, back your hips up over your heels and allow your pelvis to gently work towards finding neutral.
When standing, back your hips up so the weight stacks evenly over your heels. To test this, make sure you can lift your toes (try it when you are standing in a queue anywhere!) This takes the pressure off your lower back and pelvis and really strengthens the pelvic floor.
2. Stretch your upper spine
Sleeping on your side as well as the decreased space for breathing as your baby grows can lead to tension in the upper body. The thoracic stretch is part of every prenatal class and can and should also be done at home whenever you remember to (!)
Stand with the back of a chair facing you. Place your hands on the top of the chair back, palms facing up, slowly walk your feet back into a forward bend until your arms and legs are straight. Back your hips up until your torso is fully extended and your hips are behind your feet. Take deep breaths so that you feel the sides of your rib cage expanding.
3. Seated 'number 4' stretch for the hip
Pain in the hips and pelvis is common owing the softening of connective tissues and the increasing weight of the baby. Keeping the deep hip rotators (the muscles underneath the buttocks and around the lower hips) flexible can keep pain at bay.
Sit in a chair and bring one ankle across the opposite knee. Wanting to tuck your pelvis under at this point is common, especially if your hips are tight. Instead, untuck your pelvis (in other words, stick your butt out) to increase the stretch in this area. Sitting on a rolled towel will help you move your pelvis forward into the correct position. Switch legs and repeat.
4. Stretch your hamstrings
The habit of tucking your pelvis under to relieve back pain, wearing high heels and simply carrying extra pregnancy weight can tighten your hamstring (rear thigh) muscles. Stretching these large muscles will create space in your knee joints and help ease tension in your legs.
Standing barefoot, bend forward to place your hands flat on the seat of a firm chair. Slowly straighten both legs. If your hamstrings are very tight, your spine will round up like a mountain. Allow your pelvis to untuck, creating a natural lumbar curve, or “valley,” in your spine. The tighter your muscles, the more you will feel this down the backs of your legs.
5.Stretch your calves
Tight calves can reduce circulation in your lower legs. Gently stretching your calves not only soothe achy feet but also helps increase blood flow in your legs, aiding circulation and decreasing ankle swelling.
Place a rolled up towel or yoga mat on the florr and stand facing it. Pace the ball of one foot on the towel and gently lower your heel to the floor. Take a few seconds to straighten both legs, keeping your thigh muscles relaxed. When you have settled into this position, take a small step forward with the other leg. To increase the stretch, continue to move the front foot forward. Hold for 60 seconds then switch legs and repeat.
Try these stretches at home, holding each stretch for at least 60 seconds. Frequency is key to really reap the benefits so I recommend you try the one that gives you the most relief or all five as a sequence, several times a day. Morning and evening is a great place to start, then you can work towards increasing to 3 or 4 times a day. The whole sequence can take about ten minutes.
Give these a try for a few days and see how you feel. Pregnant or not, my students tell me they feel the benefits every time.