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What about me time – Once your Baby is born? (Postnatal Yoga)

Part 1 – Focus on chest, back & abdominals

By Veronica Greene (Printed in Om Yoga & Lifestyle Magazine JUNE 2018)

 

Congratulations! Your baby has been born! You are relieved, excited, apprehensive but mostly exhausted. You were really looking forward to getting your body back but even though the baby bump is no longer there, you still don’t recognise the person you once were. That’s not just the physical you but also the emotional you.

The past nine months were spent looking after yourself and the bump inside your tummy. If you’re a first time mum then you had all the time in the world to pamper yourself and if not you still would’ve managed some ‘me’ time.

Now the focus has swiftly shifted from you, the expectant mother, to this beautiful bouncing bundle. You’re exhausted and no wonder – the strain of nine months pregnancy, not to mention childbirth are very apparent.

You stand in front of the mirror and assess the ‘damage’ from the front, back and sides. Many of you don’t like what you see and others simply don’t recognise what they see. Let’s look closer beyond the extra pounds which will go, with time, and shouldn’t be the main reason to undertake any postnatal exercise. Your posture on the other hand, does need urgent attention. Stand sideways and look in the mirror. Your pelvis is tilted forward, your buttocks are sticking out and your belly falls forward. This is due to the exaggerated curve of your lower back created by the weight of your growing baby inside your uterus. Your baby is now out, but you are left with overstretched stomach muscles and shortened lower back muscles. The muscles around the hips will become very tight as these will now be the main muscle group used in walking. Unless the muscles are rebalanced this will lead to backache, and pinched nerves. Your pelvic floor will be difficult to re-strengthen due to pelvic misalignment (this will be covered in more detail in Part 2).

Your body cleverly compensates to try and realign by dropping your chin to a position which is not neutral. Your upper back and neck muscles have to work overtime to maintain this position causing upper back strain, neck and jaw pain and headaches. Your shoulders will be rounding forward and your chest folding in. This is partly due to the repositioning of your head and partly due to the extra weight of your baby and breasts. This rounding of your shoulders now continues as you sit and nurse/feed your baby every couple of hours.

The human spine is unique among all mammals. It has 2 kyphotic curves – the thoracic spine (upper back) and sacral spine (tailbone) and 2 lordotic curves – the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back). It acts as a pillar to support the excessive weight of the skull while protecting the spinal cord. It is this curvature of the spine that helps it distribute weight evenly. These curves are now out of balance – no wonder you’re physically exhausted and feel you can no longer carry the weight of your own head!

In summary, your post-natal posture has excessive curvature in the thoracic, lumbar and cervical spine. This is not as depressing as it sounds. The following yoga based programme is designed to stretch your tight muscles (chest, lower back & hips) and restore tone to those that are over-stretched (abdominals).

Simply, the programme is designed to return your body to its pre-pregnancy posture. Once familiar, the complete programme should take about 20 minutes.

Postures can be performed on their own, at any time of day, or in the order given. There’s no need to roll out a yoga mat and no yoga experience is necessary. Each will open your chest providing fresh, oxygenated blood to your brain helping you feel better and more alive – the prefect programme when there’s no me time!

 

Constructive Rest Position

(opens chest, releases neck muscles and pelvis while lengthening back muscles) This is the go to pose if shoulders or lower back are aching or there’s no time for anything else!

  • Lie on back with lower legs resting on chair
  • Knees directly above hips, hip distance apart with 90 degree angle at back of knees (if chair too low then put cushion under legs)
  • Toes point up to ceiling
  • Stay for 5-10 mins working on abdominal breathing
  • (breathe in, let the tummy lift up , breathe out let the tummy drop down)

    Constructive Rest

 

Constructive Rest with Abdominal Strenthening

  • As above, now activate the tummy muscles while breathing out by pulling navel towards your spine.
  • Repeat above in 6 counts – each count draw the navel a little closer toward the spine.

 

Chest Stretch to chair

(opens chest, lengthens lower back, strengthens abdominals)

Chest Stretch

  • Kneel in front of chair, place elbows on chair seat, shoulder distance apart.
  • Move knees back until body is parallel to floor and knees directly under hips.
  • Tuck toes under
  • Stretch buttocks back to wall behind
  • Gently draw tummy and bottom ribs up towards spine to prevent dipping into lower back
  • Steady breathing. Each time you breathe out try to open the armpits towards the ground

 

Seated Abdominal Exercise

Seated Abdominal work

(works the transverse abdominis)

  • Sit at front edge of the chair
  • knees hip distance; ankles directly under knees; feet point forward
  • Place hands on tummy, shoulders relaxed with elbows at your side
  • Breathe in let tummy bloat out , breathe out let tummy move in)
  • As above, now activate the tummy muscles while breathing out by pulling navel towards your spine.
  • Repeat above in 6 counts – each count draw the navel a little closer toward the spine.

 

Seated Neck Stretch

(stretches neck muscles (scalenes) – when tight can elevate the first rib, causing compression on nerves leading to headache and numbness in arm)

  • Stretch arms down and grab chair seat to keep shoulder blades down
  • Breathe in and as you breathe out drop right ear directly towards right shoulder. Hold for around 30s while maintaining even breathing.
  • REPEAT other side

 

Seated Hip Stretch

(stretches inner thigh, deep hip muscles and buttocks)

  • Bring right knee towards chest, let the knee roll out to the right and place right ankle on left knee.
  • Press buttock bones into chair, stretch crown of head to ceiling while flexing right foot (flexed foot will take the movement into hip and protect you knee)
  • To intensify – bend from the hip crease, drawing chest towards the shin bone (hold 30s)
  • REPEAT other side

seated twist

 

Seated Twist

(opens chest; stabilises hips allowing deep twist and stretch to upper back)

  • As above ,right ankle on left knee
  • Place left hand on right knee, right hand through back of chair
  • Press buttocks down, stretch head to ceiling and lengthen spine
  • rotate chest to right (hold 30s)
  • REPEAT to left

 

 

 

Wide Leg Twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wide Leg Twist

(opens chest; lengths inner thigh & spinal muscles)

  • Sitting at the front of the chair, legs wide, toes turned out, position knees above ankles
  • place elbows on thighs
  • lean forward from the hip crease
  • Place right hand on right hip
  • turn chest to the right (hold 30s)
  • Repeat other side

Veronica Greene founded Little Greene Yoga® and offers a Certified Teacher Training packages for Children Yoga (3-8yrs & 8-12yrs), Teen – Mind & Body and Postnatal Yoga.

Printed in Om Yoga & Lifestyle Magazine (June 2017)

by Veronica Greene, founder of Little Greene Yoga

Little Greene Yoga a certified children’s teacher training package (3-5yrs; 5-8yrs; 8-12yrs & Teens)

 

Congratulations! You’ve passed and are now a fully qualified Yoga Instructor!

What now?

You have your 200 hours yoga qualification under your belt. You’re ready to take on the whole world and can’t wait to share your knowledge with everyone and I mean everyone – the benefits of yoga should be shared no matter age, sex, health, disability or life stage.

 

So does your yoga qualification really cover you to teach ‘everyone’?

You did attend a talk on children’s yoga as part of your course. You were also instructed to treat pregnant woman as individuals! So surely that means you are able to teach the whole world?

Absolutely – you can teach whomever you want. In fact given that there are no national standards you could’ve taught without actually having done you’re a yoga qualification, in the first place, and many people do!

But not you – you decided to arm yourself with knowledge and completed a ‘certified’ teacher training course!

So do you think that lecture on children’s yoga has equipped you to teach children; the pregnancy notes given are enough to see a student through the nine months of pregnancy and then the postnatal phase?

One could argue that a body is just a body no matter what age or what life stage; one could also argue that yoga is the same no matter who you’re teaching it to!

In part you are right ………………………let’s start from the beginning.

 

Conception!

As soon as a woman conceives and the fertilized egg becomes an embryo major, internal changes start to take place in her body. Hormone levels rise causing a range of symptoms from nausea to loosening joints. Cardiac output increases and blood pressure drops. All changes which are perfectly normal but will affect her balance, mood and body awareness. As the pregnancy progresses the weight of the baby will affect digestion, circulation, breathing not to mention the pressure on her pelvic floor.

Pregnancy Yoga

At this time many woman decide to take up yoga for the first time! Many health practitioners recommend it as they deem yoga a gentle form of exercise. This, of course, will depend on the class and the style that is being taught.

 

As 10 – 20% of spontaneous miscarriages happen in the first trimester taking up any new activity, at this stage is not recommended.

Even after the 1st trimester many instructors do not feel comfortable having a pregnant woman in their class as they have a duty of care for not only the mother but also the unborn child. This is unfortunate as yoga is wonderful physically and mentally for a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Many yoga postures are deemed unsuitable for pregnant woman as they may put too much pressure on the abdomen or pelvic floor – mostly closed twists, abdominal work and strong backbends. That’s the general guidelines for a ‘normal pregnancy’ but what about the common problems that can and do occur in pregnancy – high blood pressure; gestational diabetes, prematurely dilated cervix, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction? In some yoga traditions even standing postures would be avoided especially if there is a history of miscarriage and these are the mainstay of many a yoga class!

 

After the birth yoga is fantastic to rebuild the body without any risk to the now, born child.

Again many changes have to be made:- prone positions where the mother is lying fully on her abdomen and chest could be uncomfortable and lead to mastitis; unsupported backbends can be too energizing and dry up the mum’s milk supply.

What about pelvic floor issues, painful 3rd degree tears; cesarean scar tissue, carpal tunnel, separated tummy muscles (diastasis recti). In fact the popularised photo of the mum, in a variation of Boat Pose, with her baby balanced on her shins, is an absolute no-no for a mother with separated tummy muscles – who knew!

The child grows and the parents, knowing how great yoga is, send them to a yoga class. These children are just mini people so surely the same yoga can be taught in just a more child friendly way.

No! This small person has a developing body i.e. the arches of the feet are developing; bones are still fusing, hormone surges take place especially in boys aged 4-6yrs; the lumbar curve of the spine does not fully assume it’s adult shape until the age of 10 etc. etc.

 

Many yoga teachers will teach children and teens the same postures as they would an adult and in the same way.

Although inversions are beneficial for their developing endocrine system one really does need to tread carefully.

Children do not have enough body awareness or upper body strength to perform headstands (Sirasasana 1) safely without injury to their cervical spine! Shoulderstands held, as one would in adult class, can be overstimulating to an underdeveloped thyroid gland.

‘True’ Pranayama, as taught on many training courses, should not be practiced with children or indeed teens for a variety of reasons – the most important being that their lungs are still growing until late teens for girls and early 20s for boys. Bhastrika and Kumbhaka pranayama are actually considered dangerous for this age group.

That’s quite a lot of information and responsibility!

 

In the words of Aristotle – “The more you know the more you know you don’t know”.

Legally there’s no requirement for supplemental training but to best prepare for the myriad of life stages and challenges each presents, do consider embarking on some of the specialist training courses that are now available.