A pregnant friend asked me what stretches she could do to help her lower back. I consulted the “Workout for Healthy Moms” handout* my midwife gave me and found that the exercises listed only needed a little organizing and fleshing out to constitute a full yoga sequence. This routine should be appropriate for most expectant moms, and it also makes a good gentle routine for non-preggos.
- Begin standing with feet hip-width apart.
- Breathing in, stretch the arms up overhead; exhaling, bend forward, allowing your hands to come down toward the floor.
- Be gentle with this forward fold – allow your knees to bend just a little (instead of locking them), and let your upper body hang. Don’t force yourself to try to touch your toes or bend farther; the bending isn’t the point. We just want to release any tension in the lower back. You can let your arms dangle or bring your hands to the opposite elbows.
- Shake your head yes or no, and if it feels good, let your upper half wiggle around, releasing tension in your lower back.
- When you’re ready, come up slowly: roll the spine one vertebrae at a time, and let your head roll up last. Stand up nice and tall.
- Next we’ll come down to the floor. Step your feet more widely apart and come down in a squat.
- Squats work the hips and thighs as well as the pelvic floor muscles.
- Work on balancing here; try to fold your hands in prayer while using your elbows to press back your knees.
- If you need a little extra support, it’s okay to put your palms on the floor.
- When you’re ready to be done, just sit your tush down.
- Alternate options for standing:
- For a more vigorous practice, complete four half sun-salutes after the initial forward fold before coming to the floor.
- For a gentler practice, or if standing forward bends are uncomfortable for you, just skip the standing and start out on the floor.
- Come into a comfortable seated position. If you can, cross your legs, but if that’s awkward, just get as comfy as you can. Try elevating your tush with a cushion or folded blanket.
- Neck rolls
- Begin by gently dropping your chin down toward your chest and then rolling your head around in a circle. Pretend that you’re drawing a big circle in the air with the tip of your nose. Go nice and slowly; after a few circles, roll your head the other way.
- Neck rolls can help relieve stress and tension in the neck.
- Shoulder circles
- Lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Rotate them backwards and let them drop down low, then bring them forward and back up. After a few backward circles, change direction and rotate them forward.
- Shoulder circles can help to relieve stress and tension. They also improve posture and expand the muscles of the chest, both of which are helpful when you’re pregnant.
- Arm stretches
- Inhaling, lift your left arm up by your ear, and exhaling, lean over to the right. This will stretch out the whole left side of your body. If your right hand touches the floor, you can press the fingertips or palm down for support. Repeat on the other side.
- You can also do the “stopping traffic”/”talk to the hand” move here: lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm. Then do the other side. This is great for your wrists if you work in an office.
- Arm stretches help to open the chest. They can also reduce swelling in the hands.
- Next, open your legs out wide. Let your legs be active, with toes pointing up.
- Reach your left arm up by your ear. Let your right hand rest on your right thigh, and, exhaling, lean over the right leg. You should feel a stretch all down the back of your leg as well as down your left side. Come up gently and repeat on the other side.
- Stretch your arms forward and reach straight out, hold for three breaths, and release.
- If it’s comfortable for you, you can rest your hands on the floor and bend gently forward. As with the standing forward fold, don’t push yourself to bend any more than what’s comfortable for you – we’re just looking for some release and stretch in the back. When you’re finished, rise slowly back up, letting your head roll up last.
- Lift each leg and bring it back to center.
- Leg lifts
- First, come down to lie on your side. The lower leg should be bent, and the lower arm can support your head.
- Extend your top leg. Lift it up, hold a breath, and release. Do a few repetitions, then repeat the stretch on the other side.
- This is a great exercise for stretching out the hips – very important during pregnancy!
- Next, come to lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about whether lying on your back is appropriate for you: if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy, don’t do it. In later stages of pregnancy, lying flat on your back can restrict the flow of oxygen to your baby, so be careful with this. In general, don’t lie on your back for more than five minutes or so.
- Pelvic tilts
- Rest your hands on the floor or on your belly. Notice how, as you lie on your back, your lower back naturally curves up and doesn’t touch the floor. Now tilt your pelvis and tighten your abdominal muscles to press your low back against the floor. Release, and repeat a few times. This simple little exercise can do a lot to relieve your lower back discomfort. (If you’re avoiding lying on your back, try this exercise with your back against the wall while sitting, standing, or lying on your side.)
- Return to a neutral position. Press into your feet, and lift your pelvis a few inches off the floor. Hold for a breath, then release, and repeat a few times. This move helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
- Head lifts
- From the same reclining position with knees bent, brace your arms across your abdomen as if you’re hugging yourself. Then gently lift just your head off the floor, then relax. Repeat. This exercise can relieve backache and strengthen abdominal muscles, helping to support the baby.
- Lift your feet and curl your knees in to your chest (as much as you comfortably can). Roll around a little on your lower back – this can nicely relieve some tension. Do some “happy baby” pose by grabbing your feet, letting your legs fall open, and rocking around. You can also widen your legs to get some nice hip stretch in. Just do what’s comfortable for you.
- Finish up with a gentle inversion, like legs-up-the-wall.
* Some exercises taken from “A Workout for Fit Moms”, by Cheryl Appel, in 1992 Lamaze Parents’ Magazine, page 36. Sequence of exercises is my own.