Pre-natal 4-in-1 Stretch.

This post will take you through a stretch which can help to achieve the following:

  • Create mobility in your hips;
  • Improve circulation in your legs;
  • Improve flexibility in your legs and stability in your lower back;
  • Encourage digestive activity

You may need a yoga block, a stack of books or a chair for this one.  

This yoga pose is said to have many benefits ranging from help detoxify the digestive organs to encouraging flexibility in your hamstrings, buttocks and calves. Incorporating this pose into your weekly routine is a great way to target many of the key areas that if left un-stretched can lead to lower back pain particularly in the second to fourth trimester.

A larger bump means more weight and a more demand for your body to deal with than usual. One area that can show signs of strain is your legs with symptoms such as: leg cramps, water retention and restless legs. There is some evidence consuming foods rich in magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6 can help with these symptoms and of course staying well hydrated with at least 2.8 litres of water per day. Another well-researched way to battle and prevent these unwanted side effects of pregnancy, is regular stretching and exercise, to help encourage blood circulation back up from your legs. During pregnancy because your heart is working for two your circulation, particularly in the lower half of your body, can begin to struggle. So you will find you need to pay a little more attention than usual to helping your body function at its best.

The key aspect of this stretch is getting the 'hip hinging' forward bend correct. The bend must come from your hips, not from your lower back. If you hip-hinge correctly you will feel the full benefits of the stretch in your hamstrings and calf muscles. 

Hip hinge. Straight back and bend at the hips. A slight bend in the knees is OK for very tight hamstrings, aim to get the legs as straight as possible.   Image credit to: http://iiplab.com/the-iip-blog/   

Hip hinge. Straight back and bend at the hips. A slight bend in the knees is OK for very tight hamstrings, aim to get the legs as straight as possible.

Image credit to: http://iiplab.com/the-iip-blog/

 

These muscles make up a large majority of the muscle power that pumps blood from your legs back up to your heart, they need to be supple to perform this job effectively. Tightness here can also cause lower back pain due to the natural curvature changes of the spine, which occur during pregnancy causing an increased lumbar curve and anterior pelvic tilt.

Let's give the stretch a go…..

Start: Stand feet together on your yoga mat or on carpet, make sure your feet have a good grip on the floor.

Take a huge step outwards to the side and pigeon toe your feet i.e. heels apart big toes pointing towards each other.

Place your hands on your hips, activate your pelvic floor muscles and tuck your chin to keeping your head high and neck long. 

Action: Begin to hip hinge forward at your hips keeping your lower back joints completely still. There should be no change in your lordosis (lower back curve).  Keep hinging forwards, you will feel the stretch in your hamstring and calves slowing increasing. Stop just before your lower back wants to arch and place both hands on the floor. This is where you may need your yoga block, a stack of books or a chair, if your forward bend is not low enough to comfortably reach the floor without rounding your spine.

yoga forward bend and twist.png

Take your right hand, reach out towards the ceiling or place it on to your sacrum, with your fingers pointing away from your spine and elbow pointing towards the ceiling. Your left arm should stay straight and strong hands planted on the floor/yoga block. 

Take a deep breath IN and lengthen your spine. As you breathe OUT, aim to rotate your body round to the right, using your left arm as a lever. You are aiming to get your elbow/fingertips pointing directly to the sky. Breathe IN again and lengthen, breathe out and rotate a little further. Remember to keep your hips level, the twist is from your torso only

Turn your head to gaze up at your right elbow/fingertips remembering to keep your neck long and chin tucked.

Hold for 3-5 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.

To release, slowly unwind and return both hands to the floor. Then, bring your right hand to the centre and repeat the twist to the left for the same amount of number of breaths.

Then, return to centre and bring your hands to your hips.

On your next an inhalation, slowly return to standing with a flat back the same way you went down.

Couple...

...with a standing Psoas stretch. This will counter balance the forward bending action with standing tall and reaching up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-natal Psoas Stretch: Standing Variation.

Sensitive knees and swollen ankles are just two reasons pregnant patients of mine struggle with some floor based exercise. If that sounds like you, you may benefit from this standing variation of the psoas muscle stretch we went through in an earlier post. This is a good stretch you can easily incorporate into your day at any time. 

If we imagine your abdominal cavity is a box around your uterus where baby is growing, your psoas muscles make up the lateral walls of that box. When the psoas get tight that box changes from a nice symmetrical square to more of a funky trapezoid shape, creating less space for baby to wriggle around on the tight side. This will also have an effect on how balanced your body is on the whole. When huge postural muscles like your psoas get tight on one side, your torso will lean towards the tight side, creating an imbalance of your pelvis.

If both psoas muscles get tight, which is common for people who sit a lot with desk-based jobs, it creates an increase in your lower back curve (increased lumbar lordosis), tightness in your hip joints and a forward tilt of your pelvis. This is called a lower crossed posture and is a very common cause of lower back aches and pains during pregnancy and beyond.

Top left: Normal psoas anatomy. Top right: one psoas muscle tightened, creating postural tilt. Lower middle: both psoas muscles tighten creating anterior pelvic tilt.

Top left: Normal psoas anatomy. Top right: one psoas muscle tightened, creating postural tilt. Lower middle: both psoas muscles tighten creating anterior pelvic tilt.

You can see why chiropractic care has a huge emphasis on performing gentle psoas massage and stretching throughout a prenatal treatment.

Here is one way you can help reduce tension in your psoas muscles during pregnancy yourself.

Start: Stand tall with feet together, with a slight pelvic tilt. Looking straight ahead and chin tuck to stop your chin/head jutting forward.

Action: Reach your left arm up by drawing a big capital ‘C’ out from the side of your body till your finger tips are pointing to the ceiling. Firstly REACH UP towards the ceiling as you breathe IN. Then as you breathe OUT, REACH OVER as if you are creating a capital ‘C” with your body. Maintain the upwards reaching motion so not to crunch up your opposite side.

Repeat for 3 deep breaths, each time reaching further up and over.

On your third exhalation, bring your arm down in the big ‘C’ shape again, until you are back to standing straight and tall.

Tip: Make sure you don’t hunch your shoulders toward your ears.

Couple...

... with Childs pose. Come down onto your hands and knees and sit back into the active resting pose.

Pre-natal Downward Facing Dog.

Abdominal cramps and pregnancy can go hand in hand for some pregnant women. Downward facing dog is a fantastic yoga pose which can be very effective at alleviating upper abdominal tightness and general stiffness particularly in your upper body. It can however, be a difficult choice during pregnancy. A great modification of this exercise is the half downward facing dog. There are several reasons why, but the main standout factor for me is ease. You don't need to worry about getting on and off the floor or having a mat handy. If you are struggling with wrists or hand pain, which can be common during pregnancy (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome) this is a lot more gentle for those areas. This exercise is constantly being referred to as a 'life-saver' by women in social media posts and by patients of mine I have had in practice.

So why is this stretch so effective?

  • It stretches your pec muscles (we touched on the importance of pec stretching in an earlier post linked here)
  • It opens out the rib cage, allowing your lungs and diaphragm to work more effectively. This mid-torso area can get cramped particularly in the second trimester onwards, impacting your ability to take deep breath and can also restrict the natural flow of your digestive system. This stretch can help open things up and create space. 
  • You get a fantastic stretch to your buttock muscles, hamstrings, calfs and psoas muscles. You are effectively targeting tightness in some of the muscles that can lead to lower back pain and pelvic pain if left un-stretched.
  • This stretch encourages flexibility in your hips joints, thoracic spine (upper back) and shoulder joints, all key potential problem areas for pregnant women. 

Let's get to the HOW.....

https://www.instagram.com/p/BB7lEFQhYYw/?taken-by=femalewellness

https://www.instagram.com/p/BB7lEFQhYYw/?taken-by=femalewellness

Start: Stand a leg’s length distance from the wall, with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Actively press the finger pads and palms of your hands into the wall. Stand tall and pelvic tilt slightly to engage your core muscles, this will lengthen your spine.

Action: While lengthening your spine from crown of your head to the tip of your bottom, push your bottom backward directly behind you and let your torso drop towards the floor. Allow your chest to lead your torso downward not your belly, keep your pelvic tilt strong so not to create an arch in your lower back.

You will feel the stretch at the front of your shoulders, your chest, the backs of your thighs (hamstrings) and in your upper back. When you reach the peak of your stretch, take 3 deep breaths IN and OUT. Breathe deeply down inflating your chest and belly and then allow the breath to float up and out. Slowly return up to your start position after your third breath out.

This is one repetition. Repeat this two more times, thus a total of 3 sets of 1 repetition.

Couple with...

...  a warm cup of ginger tea. Ginger tea is great at relieving stomach upset, trapped wind and settling nausea, making these two perfect partners for alleviating tension in the upper body and abdominal related aches and pains.