I'll update with all of the exciting details in another post, but for now, I've had some requests from friends regarding yoga poses that help with back pain. I should start off by saying that I am neither a doctor nor a trained yoga instructor, so please consult with your physician before trying anything you read here.
I should also add that although I've been doing yoga for over 4 years, I've selected beginner's poses for my recommendation. I believe that more advanced moves should be done in the presence of a yoga instructor (if these are new to you). Some things I will recommend before practicing these poses:
- Practice in a warm body. Pre-natal women should NOT participate in hot classes, but I do believe in a good warm up before starting any form of a work out. You'll be less likely to cause injury and the poses will feel much more comfortable. to warm up, you can take a short walk (10-15 minutes), do sun salutations, or even just dance around the room for a while.
- Always listen to your body. If anything feels uncomfortable, don't do it. You should push yourself, of course, otherwise you won't get the benefit of the stretch. But, nothing that you do should feel painful or wrong.
- Depending on how far along you are, you may need to modify the pose. For example, I'm 8 months in. If I do a forward fold, I often need to place my feet a little farther apart to make room for the baby/belly. If you aren't sure on proper modifications, Google and YouTube can be your friends :) Simply search for the pose name and add "modification" or even "pre-natal."
- If ever a pose requires more balancing than you feel comfortable doing, try the pose near a wall or even against a wall. Your safety and your baby's safety are the most important things to consider, so when in doubt, use the room around you to make you feel more comfortable.
- Learn to breathe using the standard yogic ujjayi breath. Deep inhales and exhales through the nose, using your diaphragm. You'll know you are doing it correctly if (1) it's relaxing, (2) it helps you to focus, and (3) your belly looks like it's breathing (as opposed to your upper chest). The goal with ujjayi breath is to fill the oxygen through the entirety of your lungs. Most people do not breathe fully, and we typically only fill about 1/2 of our lungs. In order to provide your body with more oxygen, these deeper, slower breathes allow us to take in as much oxygen as possible. (Good to remember for during labor...!)
- Types of poses to avoid or be extra careful in: back bends, inversions, twists. Again - listen to your body!
And now, my personal favorite yoga poses for back relief. I've grabbed videos from YouTube to help explain the moves.
Standing Forward Fold/Forward Bend
Good for entire back (focus on lower back) and hamstrings.
- You can stand with your feet farther apart than hips' width, especially if you are working with a bigger belly.
- If your hamstrings are really tight, start with your feet 2-3 apart and do the fold. Adding the angle between hips and ankles makes it easier. As you feel a little more comfortable, work your feet closer together.
- Always keep your feet parallel, like skis.
- Release your head and neck as much as possible. They should act like dead weight in order to get a lot of the tension out of your head and neck. To test, gently shake your head "no" in the pose. This helps release the muscle a bit.
- If you like this, add in some standing half forward folds. I usually work my way into a forward fold, then come up into half forward fold, then back down into forward. This feels fantastic on your lower back.
- When coming out of this pose, roll up one vertebrae at a time, SLOWLY. The roll upwards should start at your lower back, and your head should be the last thing to come up. Do not rush to stand back up as you may feel lightheaded.
Garland Pose (or even squats in general)
Great for opening your hips, lower back.
- To help open up your legs, use your elbows to push against your knees. You'll know you are doing well when you can get to the point that your forearms are parallel with the floor.
- If you are feeling very strong, skip the block and do the pose as the instructor on the left does it.
- If you are having trouble balancing or find this pose very difficult, do the pose so your back is against a wall. The wall will help support you. As you practice more and more, you'll find that you won't need the wall.
- This is also a great pose to remember for labor. If you don't get an epidural and are able to be mobile, this position provides open hips for easier passage, and also uses gravity to help pull baby down.
Great for entire back and shifting baby a bit if he/she tends to be resting too much to one side/on one nerve/etc.
- Spread your fingers wide. This will give you better support.
- Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders, and your knees are directly below your hips.
Wide-legged Child's Pose
Great for entire back.
- This is more of a relaxation pose, but feels fantastic on your back.
- No major tips here - she does a great job explaining the pose.
Legs Up the Wall
Great for reducing/preventing foot swelling, lower back.
- If you feel comfortable, you can do this without the cushion (I prefer without the cushion).
- If you extend your legs as far as part (into a large V), you'll also stretch your inner thighs.
- I like to extend my arms out (like a T) for a while, then to put them straight out above my head on the floor. Try out different positions for your arms, it will change the way your upper back relaxes.
Lying Spinal Twist
Great for lower back, hips, groin - a nice, light spinal twist.
- If you feel comfortable pulling your knees to the chest as she does in the beginning, then that's fine. I personally (at 8 months pregnant), do not, so I skip that part. Your other option is to pull your knees in, but keep them wide to make room for baby.
- When your knees are over to one side, make sure that both of your shoulders are flat on the ground. if one of your shoulders lifts, you are losing the benefit of the stretch.
- If the combination of the 90 degree angle of the legs and keep your shoulders against the ground is uncomfortable, try moving your knees closer to where they normally are. Knees closer to chest = harder, so knees further from chest = easier.
Great for upper back and shoulders.
- No major tips to add, she does a nice job explaining the pose.
These are a few of my personal favorites. I've selected poses that are fairly simple to understand via some YouTube instruction, however, there are plenty of other poses to choose. Some of my other favorites include sleeping pigeon, hero pose, and camel. However, I'd recommend doing those with a yoga instructor around to ensure that you are doing the pose correctly and getting the full benefit of the pose.
And always remember to end your practice with corpse pose (shavasana) or some simple meditation. Take the time to relax and appreciate the hard work you have done, as well as to thank yourself for taking good care of you and baby. It's as important to work hard in your yoga practice as it is to give your mind some time to silence itself and relax. Namaste :)