Drawing inner strength in a time of change
Probably one of the first changes a woman experiences when becoming pregnant is the suddenly increased need to rest. Embrace and enjoy this time by allowing yourself more time for sleep and relaxation. Your body's reaction to the additional physical demands of pregnancy is to not allow you to get too exhausted, and as a result it gives you clear signals to slow down and take breaks. Even at the very beginning when to the outside world you seem no different, there are incredible changes underway as a new being emerges and grows, requiring additional energy. Even at this very early stage, your child is developing tendencies based on their experience in the womb.
At the same time, you have the unique opportunity to observe and participate in an absolute miracle of nature. Pregnancy is a very particular event which women have the privilege to experience, albeit often only once or twice in their lifetimes. So if you are currently pregnant and reading this, we invite you to mindfully embrace this time with joy and wonder.
Epigenetics: Just the right amount of stress
Epigenetics refers to the switching on or off of specific genes due to external factors. This means that during a given pregnancy the amount of stress versus relaxation the mother experiences directly influences which genes are activated or remain latent in the child. It is vitally important for the mother to maintain a healthy mental balance during pregnancy, because it lays the foundation for the mental balance of the child.
That said, stress itself is not unhealthy per se. Through different tasks and challenges we learn how to channel our energy and exploit our full potential. During pregnancy there is no exception. Recent studies suggest that moderate stress strengthens the resilience of the child, which promotes his or her psychological resilience. The right level of stress can in fact prepare the child to cope with stress later in life (Unternaeher 2016).
In today's hectic society we don't need to worry about a lack of stress. What we need to be careful of is to balance that stress with the right amount of rest. Being under constant stress or extreme levels of stress can negatively influence both the mother and child.
In the case that stress levels exceed a reasonable level or persist over long periods of time, certain genes can be expressed which are marked as carrying risk factors for depression or anxiety disorders. It doesn't mean that your child will suffer from one of these, but it increases the chances (Laplante 2016).
Create space for calm
Considering all of the reasons to rest more during pregnancy, it makes sense to integrate small breaks between activities to give you a chance to recharge. In doing so, you are not only doing something good for your baby, but also giving yourself the opportunity to connect with and enjoy this special time in your life, which is filled with changes and exciting experiences.
The following restorative sequence is intended to help to inspire you to take some time out to connect with your body. It is well documented that such poses help you to physically relax which in turn also allow you to mentally relax. You can use the practice to consciously give yourself a few extra breaks during the day. All you need is a few minutes and a bolster. If you don't have a bolster at home, a couch cushion or nursing pillow work equally well. Enjoy!
Baddha Konasana - with a bolster
Place the soles of your feet loosely in front of you. Let your knees sink toward the ground. Place one or two bolsters on or in front of your feet. Relax the upper body over the bolster, letting the entire weight of your torso to be supported by it.
Fully relax the arms and lay them wide across the bolster. Consciously release any tension in the neck and shoulder girdle and enjoy the spaciousness created in the light stretch of the hips. Let go completely and feel the sense of being carried. You might even doze off for a moment as your body takes the opportunity to refresh.
Effect: This exercise releases tension in the hip and relaxes the upper back and shoulders. It promotes a sense of physical and mental calm.
Supta Baddha Konasana – with a bolster
An alternative if this pose is uncomfortable, or if you prefer to rest on your back, you can take Supta Baddha Konasana. The only change here is that the bolster(s) are placed long and directly behind you. Two bolsters can offer much better support when reclining on your back, so keep that in mind if you are still trying to get comfortable. Roll the arms outward and the palms face the ceiling. Just as in the first alternative, release your full weight onto the bolster and allow your full weight to be carried by it. Stay and breathe as long as you like.
Effect: In this pose you are promoting the opening of the hips from a slightly different angle. It is also a release for the back muscles. Especially in late pregnancy, your upper back is constantly holding more and more weight against gravity. This type of pose can help to counter some of the strain and bring you back into balance.
Virasana with bolster
Kneel and place a folded blanket or bolster under you so that you are sitting with support and your sitz bones are grounded. Depending on your flexibility, the support may not be needed and you can take the pose directly on the ground. Place one or two bolsters in front of you or between your knees and let your torso sink onto them.
Now there's nothing to do but relax. Stretch the arms long and release them across the bolster. Consciously release any tension present in the neck and shoulders.
Effect: This pose stretches the quadriceps and lengthens the back.
Supa Virasana – with bolster
Again, if the pose is uncomfortable you can come out at any time. As with the last pose, you can alternatively bring the bolsters behind you and lay your back along them. Here, if comfortable, you can let your hands rest on your heels as an additional support for the arms. Stay here and enjoy the release in the quadriceps and the relaxation in the back.
Effect: Especially during pregnancy, restorative backbends can be very beneficial, because they counter the strain of carrying a growing baby in your belly. The stretch in the front of the thighs and hips is more intense.
Viparita Karani – the modified shoulder stand
Set the back of your pelvis into a bolster and stretch your legs upward toward the sky, directly under your hips. Your arms lie relaxed along side the body with the palms facing upward.
Release the neck by drawing the knees slightly into your chest. Enjoy the regenerative effects of this pose.
Effect: This is a classical inversion taught in many yoga classes. It is extremely beneficial because during pregnancy circulation is more difficult as blood accumulates in the lymph nodes of the legs. With the legs above the heart, you promote the circulation in the lower extremities. The result is feeling refreshed and more alert.
Matsyasana – the modified Fish pose with a bolster
Place one or two bolsters behind you. Find the most comfortable height that will support your entire body. Your arms lie at you sides and the palms face the ceiling. In this pose, the legs are stretched long in front of you. Let the feet fall outwards. Enjoy the stretch in the chest and breath deeply and calmly to stretch even further.
Effect: This backbend creates space in the upper chest, which is necessary for deep breathing. At the same time it releases tension in the back. Spaciousness between the intervertebral discs is also created.
Savasana - constructive rest on your side
Lay next to your bolster. Stretch out the lower arm upward and rest your head on it. You could also place the hand of the upper arm under your chin or over the boster. Place the lower half of the bolster between your legs and enjoy a few moments of rest and relaxation.
Experiment with different combinations and find out what works best for you. The picture is only one possible option. The goal is to find an optimal position to relax into.
Effect: Laying flat on your back is often uncomfortable for pregnant women. The weight of the child and uterus weighs down on the Vena Cava, a major vein which transports blood to the heart. This exercise provides an alternative which feels comfortable for many pregnant women.
Melanie and Ronald wish you a relaxing and enjoyable restorative practice!