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.....
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.
... 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.