We happen to be in the midst of covering Pre- and Postnatal populations in our LYT Yoga Level 2 teacher training, which has me thinking of a whole other form of labor itself…the labor and delivery of babies! Having had three children of my own, I’ve been lucky enough to experience relatively uneventful labors. And while labor itself may not be the most fun, the end result is priceless. Looking back, I realize that I probably ignored what was right for my body both before and after delivery, in the pursuit of trying to feel “normal” and function like I always had. After listening to lectures given by our friend and fellow LYT instructor, Kristen Boccumini, I wish I’d been privy to her information while I was pregnant with my first 20 years ago today!
So much is happening during the nine to 10 months of pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimesters. The abdominals get stretched, the rib cage flares, and the diaphragm changes shape to accommodate the growing uterus and baby within. The ligaments all over the body get lax to prepare the body for this expansion and future delivery of the baby. Finally, our posture changes dramatically to support the weight of the belly. And yet, if you were me, you tried to keep running well into your second trimester (or longer), paying no heed to the effect this might have later on. Is there something we can be doing to prepare the body for Labor Day? Yes, there is.
According to Kristen, the first place to begin is with the breath and the posture. Both key components of LYT Yoga®, performing 360 degree breathwork and maintaining a neutral pelvis are integral to maintaining our connection to core, providing room for a growing baby, comfort in a growing body, and minimizing the risk of injury both pre- and post-delivery. Oftentimes, pregnant women will breathe only into the upper ribs, so the core musculature becomes dysfunctional and weak. The 360 degree breath, which includes breathing down into the lower lobes of the lungs and back body, helps to work the diaphragm down. This then helps fire the deep intrinsic core muscles clear down to the pelvic floor, getting it all to work in tandem and helping to prevent certain areas of the back from over-clenching. Maintaining good posture creates a balance and symmetry of the pelvis, which will, in turn, provide comfort for the pregnant mother, create space for the growing baby, and may increase the chances for better labor outcomes.
So what are a couple of things to look for as your pregnancy progresses through each trimester and what can you avoid? During the first trimester, a lot is left up to the comfort of the mother. While there is no evidence that exercise of any type predisposes a person to a miscarriage, the first trimester is when the risk is highest so it is up to the discretion of the mother as to what feels right. Towards the end, lying on the belly may no longer be comfortable and should therefore be avoided.
During the second trimester, quadruped is the better option as opposed to anything on the belly, like cobra or locust. You should watch for doming of the abdomen during any type of lumbar flexion, whether it be ab curls or getting up from lying down. Doming of the abdomen is a sign of too much pressure across the linea alba, which is the long line of connective tissue between the abdominals. So if this occurs, back off the abdominal work and begin rolling to your side to come up from a lying position. A wider stance in forward folds may be more comfortable to accommodate for the belly. Avoid deep backbends, which we don’t promote in LYT Yoga® anyway, as the abdominals are already stretched and don’t need any help in this area! Twists may also become difficult due to the belly and may place undue stress on the abdominals as well, so keeping rotation to the upper thoracic spine is key.
For the third trimester, continue the recommendations from the first and the second, but now we have to allow for the weight of the growing baby. So be careful with asymmetrical poses, which can put undue strain on the lower body ligaments. You’ll want to substitute with double leg postures and shorten the stance in order to keep the strain across the pelvis minimal and equal. During twists, a hand placed on the belly to keep it centered and encourage the twist from above is an option as well. Props such as the wall, blocks, bolsters, chairs, and blankets can be excellent ways to help modify your practice and keep you on your mat longer.
Finally, just remember mamas, LABOR IS UNPREDICTABLE. However, your baby arrives on your Labor Day, accept it with love. There should be no expectations with regards to labor, as a baby may have its own plans! So on this upcoming Labor Day holiday, celebrate our working classes and mamas alike. Feel free to check out either our Pre- or Post-Natal Series on LYT Daily for classes to help you through and past your own labor and delivery. Your body and your baby will thank you! Until then, I’ll see you on the mat!